The purpose of sleep
Sleep is essential for our brains to function properly, but also gives our minds and bodies time to recover, repair and recharge. Getting enough sleep will help improve your learning, memory, decision-making and even your creativity. It will also help keep the body healthy, supports recovery, and reduces the risk of getting diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.
Most adults require between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a day. Children need more.
Analysing & fixing my own sleep problems…
A few months back I noticed I was having problems with my sleep. I was heading to bed at a reasonable time (or earlier if I could) but kept waking up early or struggling to get back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night, or even if I slept all the way through, I still felt exhausted when I woke up. This resulted in relying on lots of caffeine to keep me going and focused during the day. I couldn’t understand what was going on, I knew the higher levels of caffeine now were also impacting on my sleep too and something needed to change. So, I decided to do some research into it…
I downloaded an app called Pillow.
This app offered me a free 7-day trial to track my sleep patterns – I needed to know what was going wrong at night…
Using the free trial, I tracked my sleep for several nights and soon realised my sleep cycles were out of whack…
I was dropping off to sleep super quick – no problem there! However, the app had tracked I was in deep sleep over 55% of the night and light or REM sleep levels were low around 23% and 15% of my time in bed. At first you might think over 50% of the time you are in deep sleep – that’s good right?! But no. You should perhaps only be in deep sleep for around 20% of the night, less as we get older. It’s about creating balance within the phases of your cycle, you need to transition between all four stages and get enough time in each stage to get the best, healthiest night’s sleep. The REM sleep stage is possibly the most important part of our sleep cycle, and the lack of sleep in the stage for me was the exact reason I was waking up exhausted…
Our bodies work to a “Body Clock” also known as the circadian rhythm.
In our primal days, our rhythms were influenced by light – mother nature wakes us up with sunrise, as light increases our bodies release the hormone Cortisol which promotes energy and alertness. Then as the day ends and the light decreases, our bodies release the hormone melatonin, nature’s way of sending us into a state of drowsiness, followed by sleep. However, the modern-day world can dramatically mess up our circadian rhythms due to artificial light and the glare from the screens of our various tech gadgets, hence why so many of us suffer from poor quality sleep and diseases potentially caused by lack of sleep.
The phases of sleep
There are 4 main phases to our sleep cycles. Our bodies move continuously through these phases throughout the night multiple times, each cycle takes roughly 1-2 hours, and a typical sleep session, of 7-9 hours, will go through 4-5 sleep cycles.
The transition between wakefulness and sleep typically lasts several minutes.
Muscles relax, heart rate, breathing and eye movements begin to slow down.
This phase can take up to 40-50% of most adults’ sleep sessions. During this phase, the body might move, and some may even sleep talk. It’s easy to wake up during this phase, but most of the time we don’t even notice it.
REM Sleep – Rapid Eye Movement
Also known as Paradoxical Sleep, and the stage when most dreaming occurs. During this phase, the body is paralyzed but the brain’s activity is still high in a similar way to when we are awake. This phase should occupy 20-25% of your typical sleep session.
- Too little time spent in the REM phase of sleep can typically suggest you are sleep deprived or consuming alcohol which disrupts your sleep cycle completely. REM is our mental
- Too much time spent in the REM stage can be too intense for the dreamer, especially if they are having nightmares and can result in waking up feeling exhausted and lacking motivation and sometimes depressed.
Also known as slow-wave sleep and is the most rejuvenating type of sleep. It is much harder to wake up from this phase. This phase is also called the healing stage when tissue growth and repair take place, important hormones are released to do their jobs, and cellular energy is restored. As adults though we only need about 20% of our sleep sessions to be in this phase, and less as we get older going down to 5% during our 70s.
- Too much deep sleep can cause you to feel sleepier during the day, with increased levels of anxiety, low energy, and memory problems.
- To little deep sleep can result in memory and concentration troubles, mood swings, increased risk of various cardio problems, weight gain and weakened immunity.
As a rule of thumb – everything in moderation!
Too much of any phase can be just as bad as too little.
By creating better bedtime habits and sticking to a consistent sleep schedule you can improve the quality of your sleep and your overall health.
If you want to track your sleep and discover your sleep cycle, try a sleep monitoring app such as Pillow, test it out for a few nights before making any adjustments – see what a general overview of your current sleep sessions looks like. Then start to analyse and implement changes to see if you can improve the quality of your sleep.
Alternatively, get in touch and I will be happy to help and advise on routines, supplements and more…
Benefits of sleeping well
Sleep and health
- Feel healthier and develop a stronger immune system
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Reduce your risk of serious health problems
- Think and function better
- Better mood
Sleep and training
- Recover better after workouts both physically and mentally
- Improved energy levels for workouts
- Retain and consolidate memories – particularly important for athletes learning new skills
How to create good sleep hygiene
- Decide how many hours your need to sleep each night, then work out what time you need to go to bed and what time you need to wake up.
- Aim to go to bed at the same time each night. A consistent sleep schedule is very important when it comes to the overall quality of sleep. You should try to go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time each day.
- Your bedtime routine should start at least 1 hour before the time at which you want to be in bed starting to sleep. Things you might want to include:
- Think about reducing blue light – this includes screens, room lighting, any unnatural light basically. You may be able to find filters to help with this.
- Switch off from tech at least 1 hour before bed – minimise disturbances, stay off social media, maybe even try reading a book instead of watching TV. Top tip – you can use the focus settings on your phone to switch off notifications and lock access to apps for certain times of the day.
- Give some relaxation techniques a go – perhaps try a gentle bedtime flow, some breathing techniques or even some mediation to help calm and soothe the body ready for bed.
I also include in my own routine washing my face, brushing my teeth and have a cup of herbal tea and taking sleep supplements 30 mins before lights out.
Sleep supplements and aids
Natural oils such as lavender can help create a sense of calm in a room and lull the body into relaxing, below are my top 5 scents…
- Ylang Ylang
I tend to use Tisserand oils a fair bit for both my classes and my wind-down routine, they have a mixture of products that can be used in diffusers, sprayed on your pillow or roll-ons for your skin.
SL:PT is a new herbal supplement that I have been testing out, and has definitely helpt me improve the quality of my sleep. The one thing to remember with these types of tablets, they are not there to knock you out but will help to relax you and improve the quality of your sleep once you drop off. So don’t get frustrated if you have problems dropping off and the tablets aren’t working – that’s not their purpose.
Drinks and teas
Pukka do a great sleepy tea mix that’s quick and easy to make and sip on your way up to bed. Again, the purpose is not to know you out, but rather to improve the quality of your sleep. If you struggle to drop off, try looking at your bedtime routine and see if there are any changes you can make there to help you relax?
Top yoga poses for supporting better sleep
Check out my Instagram post demonstrating my top yoga poses to help you get better sleep…
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