Feeling rested is not something to take for granted. Sleep is a big part of the process that helps one feel rested. Most of us are unaware of what happens when we go to sleep. Sleep is an activity, did you know that?
There is so much that happens when you sleep. When sleeping you restore and heal frazzled nerves, renew inflamed organs and relax tension filled muscles. Every part of body gets attention when sleeping. This is why sleep is vital to health and peace of mind and really helps to prevent chronic stress and burnout.
There are 5 stages of sleep that range from light sleep, to deep sleep to REM sleep (rapid eye movement).
When we are preparing to drift off, we go through Alpha and Theta, and have periods of dreaminess, almost like daydreaming, except we are beginning to fall asleep. These are interesting states; in that we experience them throughout the day and some people may have more of these waves than others.
Those who practice meditation, or deep prayerfulness, often kind of “hang out” in Alpha. It’s a restful place. During this stage, it’s not unusual to experience strange and extremely vivid sensations, or a feeling of falling followed by sudden muscle contractions. These are known as hypnogogic hallucinations. You may even feel like you are hearing someone call your name, or the phone ringing. Recently, I thought I heard the doorbell, but realized that it was a hypnogogic hallucination and went back to sleep.
We then begin to enter Theta, which is still a relatively light period between being awake and asleep. This usually lasts for 5-10 minutes. Research has shown that the average sleeper takes about 7 minutes to fall asleep. You may fall asleep sooner, or take longer.
The second stage of sleep lasts about 20 minutes. Our brain begins to produce very short periods of rapid, rhythmic brain wave activity known as Sleep Spindles. Body temperature begins dropping and heart rate starts slowing down.
Deep, slow brain waves known as Delta Waves begin to emerge during this stage. It is a transitional period between light sleep and a very deep sleep.
This is sometimes referred to as Delta Sleep because of the delta waves that occur during this time. Stage Four is a deep sleep that lasts for about 30 minutes. Sleepwalking and bed-wetting typically happen at the end of Stage Four sleep. It is hard to wake up someone who is in deep sleep.
Stage Five: REM
Most dreaming occurs during Stage Five, known as REM. REM sleep is characterized by eye movement, increased respiration rate and increased brain activity. Dreaming occurs because of increased brain activity, but voluntary muscles become paralyzed. Voluntary muscles are those that you need to move by choice, for example, your arms and legs. Involuntary muscles are those that include your heart and gut. They move on their own.
During REM sleep this is a built-in protective measure of not being able to move arms and legs to keep you from harming yourself. When you are paralyzed, you can’t leap out of bed and run.
Sleep does not progress through all of these stages in sequence, however. Sleep begins in Stage One and progresses into stages 2, 3, and 4. Then, after Stage Four sleep, Stages Three, then Two are repeated before going into REM sleep. Once REM is over, we usually return to Stage Two sleep. Sleep cycles through these stages approximately 4 or 5 times throughout the night.
We typically enter REM approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep. The first cycle of REM often lasts only a short amount of time, but each cycle becomes longer. This is why we need long periods of sleep each night. If we get short periods of sleep, we cannot really get through the stages we need to heal and stay healthy. REM can last up to an hour as our sleep progresses. I was not joking when I started off with, sleep is an activity!
The widespread practice of “burning the candle at both ends” in western industrialized societies has created so much sleep deprivation that what is really abnormal sleepiness is now almost the norm. Sleep debt is created when your body consistently does NOT get enough sleep. Eventually your body demands payment. While you may get used to being sleep deprived, your body will never adapt to getting less sleep. It effects your judgement, reaction time and many of your body systems that keep you healthy.
Let’s look at just a few:
Sleep deprivation means your immune system does not have a chance to build up its forces. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies show that if you don’t get enough sleep, it’s more likely that your body won’t be able to fend off invaders. It may also take you longer to recover from illness. Long-term sleep deprivation raises your risk of developing chronic illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Since sleep deprivation can weaken your immune system, you are more vulnerable to respiratory problems like the common cold and influenza. If you already have a chronic lung disease, sleep deprivation is likely to make it worse.
According to Harvard Medical School, a few studies have found a link between lack of sleep and weight gain. Along with eating too much and not exercising, sleep deprivation is one of the risk factors for obesity.
One of the primary causes of excessive sleepiness among Americans is self-imposed sleep deprivation.
What can you do to STOP self-imposing lack of rest and good sleep for your body?
Tips to help you sleep and feel rested:
Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night. Experts recommend that adults need between 7-9 hours. If you are sleepy during the day, this is a sign that you need more sleep!
Avoid electronics before bed. If you have trouble sleeping, this may be one of the culprits. Think of the LED lights which are blue that are in all electronic devices as the blue sky. It relates to the daytime when you are awake. It also prevents the pineal gland from producing melatonin, which is hormone that is produced in response to darkness. Experts recommend shutting down 90 minutes prior to bed. I often suggest starting with 30 minutes and every week increasing that by 5 minutes.
Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode; so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity, such as reading. For some people, using an electronic device such as a laptop can make it hard to fall asleep because the particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices is activating to the brain.
Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime practiced away from bright lights, helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep or remain asleep.
Exercise regularly. Exercise helps to increase hormones that can enhance your sleep. It helps muscles relax and relieves stress too! 10 minutes of vigorous walking is a wonderful way to start!
When we have good routines that support our sleep activity, we can really begin to restore our body to health and peace of mind. Remember to take it slow and steady this year and practice your New Year’s Restorations all year long!