It may feel like losing sleep is not such a big deal but it really is. Depriving yourself of sleep has a wide range of negative effects that go way beyond just daytime drowsiness:
- Fatigue, lethargy, and lack of motivation
- Moodiness and irritability
- Reduced creativity and problem-solving skills
- Inability to cope with stress
- Reduced immunity; frequent colds and infections
- Concentration and memory problems
- Weight gain
- Impaired motor skills and increased risk of accidents
- Difficulty making decisions
- Increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems
The average adult needs between 7.5 and 9 hours of sleep everyday. If you are not getting this much then you are likely to be sleep deprived. The effects are subtle, so it is possible to not even know that you have an issue. It is not always as obvious as falling face first into your dinner plate!
You may be sleep deprived if you:
- Need an alarm clock in order to wake up on time
- Rely on the snooze button
- Have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning
- Feel sluggish in the afternoon
- Get sleepy in meetings, lectures, or warm rooms
- Get drowsy after heavy meals or when driving
- Need to nap to get through the day
- Fall asleep while watching TV or relaxing in the evening
- Feel the need to sleep in on weekends
- Fall asleep within five minutes of going to bed.
So what happens during the night?
A normal sleep cycle typically lasts about 90 minutes and is repeated four to six times over the whole night. Each cycle is made of different sleep stages (see diagram and table below) and you predictably move back and forth between deep restorative sleep (deep sleep) and more alert stages and dreaming (REM sleep). The amount of time you spend in each stage of sleep changes as the night progresses. For example, most deep sleep occurs in the first half of the night. Later in the night, your REM sleep stages become longer, alternating with light Stage 2 sleep. This is why if you are sensitive to waking up in the middle of the night, it is probably in the early morning hours, not immediately after going to bed.
Stage 1: Transition to Sleep This stage lasts about five minutes. Your eyes move slowly under the eyelids, muscle activity slows down, and you are easily awakened.
Stage 2: Light Sleep This is the first stage of true sleep, lasting from 10 to 25 minutes. Your eye movement stops, heart rate slows, brain waves/activity levels slow and body temperature decreases.
Stage 3: Deep Sleep In this deep stage of sleep, your brain waves are extremely slow. Blood flow is directed away from your brain and towards your muscles, restoring physical energy. You’re difficult to awaken, and if you are awakened, you feel groggy and disoriented for several minutes.
Stage 4: Intense Deep Sleep This is the deepest stage of sleep and lasts about 30 minutes. It is an essential stage for proper restful sleep. As with stage 3, your brain waves are extremely slow. Blood flow is directed away from your brain and towards your muscles, restoring physical energy.
Stage 5: REM/Dream Sleep About 70 to 90 minutes after falling asleep, you enter REM sleep, where dreaming occurs. Your eyes move rapidly, your breathing shallows, and your heart rate and blood pressure increase. Also during this stage, your arm and leg muscles are paralysed.
Just as deep sleep renews the body, REM sleep renews the mind by playing a key role in learning and memory. During this stage, your brain consolidates and processes the information it has picked up during the day, forms neural connections that strengthen memory, and replenishes its supply of neurotransmitters, including feel-good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine that boost your mood during the day.
To get more mind and mood-boosting REM sleep, try sleeping an extra 30 minutes to an hour in the morning, when REM sleep stages are longer. Improving your overall sleep will also increase your REM sleep. If you aren’t getting enough deep sleep, your body will try to make that up first, at the expense of REM sleep.
Do you struggle to get up when your alarm goes off even though you have enjoyed a full night’s sleep? This could be because you are in the middle of deep sleep (stage 3). Try setting your alarm for a time that is a multiple of 90 minutes from when you fall asleep. For example if you go to bed at 10pm, set your alarm for 5.30am instead of 6am or 6.30am. You will feel more refreshed at 5.30am because you will be getting up at the end of a sleep cycle when your body and brain are already close to wakefulness.
So how do you ensure that you get a good night’s sleep?
Here are some simple nighttime habits:
Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool.
Noise, light, and heat can interfere with sleep. Try using earplugs to hide outside noise, an open window or fan to keep the room cool, and blackout curtains or a sleep mask to block out light.
Stick to a regular sleep schedule.
Support your biological clock by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, including weekends. Get up at your usual time in the morning even if you’re tired. This will help you get back into a regular sleep rhythm.
Avoid naps. Napping during the day can make it more difficult to sleep at night. If you feel like you have to take a nap, limit it to 30 minutes before 3 p.m.
Avoid stimulating activity before bedtime. This includes vigorous exercise, big discussions or arguments.
Avoid electronic stimulants before bedtime. This includes watching TV, and playing on computers, laptops, ipads, and mobile phones. These devices emit bright lights and deceive the brain into thinking it is still daytime, thus increasing the likelihood of insomnia.
Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Stop drinking caffeinated beverages at least eight hours before bed. Avoid drinking alcohol in the evening; while alcohol can make you feel sleepy, it interferes with the quality of your sleep. Quit smoking or avoid it at night, as nicotine is a stimulant.
Engage in activities that induce feelings of calmness and tranquility. These can include some gentle stretching exercises, listening to soft, slow relaxing music, meditating or listening to a guided meditation.
Increase light exposure during the day. The brain produces the hormone melatonin to help regulate the sleep-wake cycle. As melatonin is controlled by light exposure, not enough natural light during the day can make you feel sleepy. To stay alert during the day, take breaks outside in sunlight, remove sunglasses when it’s safe to do so, and open blinds and curtains during the day.
- Limit artificial light at night. In order to boost melatonin production at night and make yourself sleepy, use low-wattage bulbs, cover windows and electrical displays in your bedroom, avoid bright light and turn off television and computer screens at least one hour before bed. If you can’t make your bedroom dark enough, try using a sleep mask. This will help induce restful sleep.
Are you having difficulty sleeping?
Everyone has a rough night or two once in a while and this is usually nothing to be concerned about. However, regular sleepless nights can start to seriously affect your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. It is important to identify the underlying causes of insomnia so that you can take the appropriate steps to lead you back into restful sleep and balance.
The following list of questions is a good place to start:
- Are you under a lot of stress?
- Are you depressed or feel emotionally flat or hopeless?
- Do you struggle with chronic feelings of anxiety or worry?
- Have you recently gone through a traumatic experience?
- Are you taking any medications that might be affecting your sleep?
- Do you have any health problems that may be interfering with sleep?
- Is your sleep environment quiet and comfortable?
- Are you spending enough time in sunlight during the day and in darkness at night?
- Do you try to go to bed and get up around the same time every day?
If you suffer from insomnia and would like some support in identifying the underlying causes, and devising strategies to remedy the situation, then give me a call. I would be very happy to help.
Harinder Tel: 07969 807934 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org