How Is Your Sleep?

 As humans, we are gifted with a perfect machine called our “body”. Just as cars require gas, various fluids, regular maintenance, and rest to extend their longevity, so do our bodies.  The body requires food, water, exercise, and sleep.  These are all essential for the body to perform at its best.  For the purpose of this paper, we will focus on the importance of quality sleep.

Sleep hygiene is a set of habits that support quality sleep and align with natural body rhythms.  This includes both the bedroom environment and daily routines that promotes consistent, uninterrupted sleep.   Sleep is very essential to a healthy life. During the sleeping process, the body uses this time to rejuvenate, repair, and restore systems in the body. Length of sleep is not an indicator of quality of sleep.  It is possible for people to sleep 6 to 8 hours and still awaken tired and groggy in the morning.There are 4 stages of sleep.  Quality includes going through multiple rounds of the various stages of sleep over a period of time averaging between 7-9 hours as adults.  More time is required in the younger years.

The processes of rejuvenation, repair, and restore occurs on a cellular level.  During the process of rejuvenation, nerve cells reorganize and new cells grow to replace old cells.  Nerve cells reorganizing is essential to healthy brain function.  This step impacts our memory, ability to focus, and impacts emotional regulation.When you awake irritable and cranky, this can be the cause.  During repair, cells restore energy by releasing various molecules.  Some of these molecules include hormones and proteins.  This leads to restoration which is where hormone and emotional regulation comes into play.  Very importantly, especially during COVID this is when our immune system gets its boost.  Interruption of these processes can lead to heart problems, weight gain, diabetes, chronic pain, emotional instability, depression, anxiety, memory loss, high blood pressure, stroke, and difficulty focusing to name a few.  As you can see, how this can shorten one’s quality of life and longevity.

The stages are categorized by REM (rapid eye movement) and NON-REM sleep.  There are 4 stages of NON-REM sleep.  During these stages, the body behaves differently. You remain in each stage for different time periods.  Here’s a short summary of the stages:

  • Stage 1– light sleep- initial, can still be easily awoken during this time. Time of duration about seven minutes.
  • Stage 2– light sleep, deeper than stage 1. Brain waves begin slowing down; most of sleep time spent in this stage
  • Stage 3 & 4 – deep sleep- eye & muscles do not move.  Heart rate and brain waves slow down.  Restoration, repair, and rejuvenation occurs during this phase.  Energy is restored; cells are repaired.  (leads to awaking refreshed)
  • REM– this is the dream phase of sleep.  Information processing takes place during this phase.  Learning and memory are taking place during this time.

As stated earlier, during the rest time, one will go through these cycles at least 4 times.  This is necessary for good quality sleep.  It generally takes on average 6-9 hours to complete for adults.

Now that we understand quality sleep, let’s discuss what lifestyle changes can be implemented to achieve proper sleep.  It is important to develop proper sleep hygiene.   The definition of sleep hygiene is having both a bedroom environment and daily routines that promote consistent and uninterrupted sleep according to the American Sleep Association.

Lifestyle Habits:

Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.  These chemicals impair and interfere with the body’s natural function. Both caffeine and alcohol are stimulants that interfere with the ability to fall asleep.  (Alcohol behaves as a depressant initially but then then turns into a stimulant chemically to the brain.)

Agree and accept the idea of the bed is only for sleep or sex.  This is important in retraining the brain. Do not watch TV or use the computer or other electronics while in bed.  Behaviors and associated surroundings are remembered by the brain.  So we must train the brain to recognize when going to bed, it is time for sleep.

Go to sleep when tired and ready to fall asleep.  If you’re not asleep within 20 minutes of lying down, then get up and sit in a chair until you are ready to fall asleep.  At that time, then return to the bed.

Do not stare at the clock while trying to fall asleep. It is stress inducing.

Avoid taking naps during the day. If you must nap, do it early in the day and keep it short, less than 1 hour. 

Eat light evening meals and finish them at least 3 hours prior to your bedtime.  Make sure to have a healthy water intake. Exercise regularly early in the day or at least 3 hours prior to bedtime.

Use natural light in the bedroom.  This will help with developing a healthy sleep-wake schedule.

Try to maintain a consistent schedule. Your internal clock becomes more stable with consistency.

Turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment.  No TV, computers or other electronics that can emit the blue light.  The blue light contains EMF’s that stimulate the brain versus allowing it to slow down.  Have the bedroom to be quiet and with window coverings to decrease outside light and noises.  Keep the room at a cool, comfortable temperature.  (no work materials in the BR where you sleep.)

****This is very IMPORTANT in retraining the brain to associate the bedroom with sleep or sex.*****

Develop a pre-sleep routine involving relaxing, calming activities.  These activities include bathing, comfortable sleepwear, powering down electronics, quieting the environment, limit calls, reading, or listening to music.

In conclusion, be consistent with your healthy habits.  Reaching good quality sleep on a regular basis helps with anxiety, irritability, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and control weight gain. Quality sleep is imperative to overall good health.  Sleep cannot be banked.  Once lost, that is it.  Each day you start anew.  Make it your goal to attain quality sleep every night.  Remember your good morning begins with a good night.