Do you sleep enough? Its more important than you think!
With the hustle and bustle of everyday life, making time to manage all our needs seems like an impossible task. While trying to fit in a day at work, a workout, meeting with friends and time to eat, we often find ourselves cutting into the single most important physiological recovery tool that is disposable to the human body, sleep. In the UAE, 9 out of 10 people do not get the 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night that is recommended for optimal health and general well-being. With such a large number of individuals being affected by sleep deprivation, we must ask ourselves, what should we do to improve our sleep?
Firstly, to improve our sleeping habits, we must understand sleep and its benefits. Sleep is a naturally occurring state of mind and body were altered consciousness and inhibition of voluntary muscle actions is present. Sleep is mainly comprised of 2 phases:
- Rapid Eye Movement phase (REM)
- None Rapid Eye Movement phase (NREM) also known as dream sleep
The NREM phase can be further subdivided into 4 phases conveniently named Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3 and yes, you guessed it, Phase 4. Across the night, the REM and NREM sleep cycles every 90 minutes within a repeated cycle daily, while the ratio of REM and NREM sleep shifts around night to night. During the start of the night, Phases 3 and 4 of NREM sleep dominate while Phase 1 and 2 prevail on the later part of sleep. Deep stages 3 and 4 are responsible for body replenishment which is great for the cardiovascular and the metabolic systems. When awake, low levels of brain damage take place as we go through our day as exposure to environmental factors stimulate the production of multiple free radicals that deteriorate the body. During this deep sleep, the sewage system in the brain kicks into high gear and cleanses the brain of all free radicals and metabolic toxins that have been built up during the day being exposed to these environmental factors. Phases 1 and 2 are know as the light sleep phases in which the body cools down, muscles relax, and the brain electrical activity decreases to a lower intensity. REM sleep on the other hand is associated with vivid dreams due to the increase brain activity that is present during this stage. Furthermore, the cardiovascular system goes into periods of massive acceleration and then big deceleration unpredictably while the mind paralyzes the body (muscular system) to allows you to dream safely.
Therefore, what should be done to improve sleep?
- Regularity: Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time no matter if it’s the weekend or it’s a weekday. Regularity is key!
- Stay away from light: In the last hour before bed, try to stay away from the television, computer or mobile phone screens. The darkness hormone, melatonin, can be skewed depending on the amount of light that the body is exposed too. Also, by switching off most lights in the household, your melatonin secretion will be higher making you feel drowsy and sleepy faster.
- Keep your sleeping environment cool: Your brain needs to drop 1-1.5 degrees Celsius to initiate sleep. This is the reason for which it will always be easier to fall asleep in a room that is colder then warmer. People who sleep semi naked also get better sleep due to the cooling effects on the body. The paradox falls here as ideally you would want to warm up your feet and hands to charm the warmth from your core onto the surface of the skin so that it can radiate that heat. So, going to sleep with socks and gloves on helps. Better yet, taking a hot bath helps get the vasodilation and blood to the surface of the skin which will lead to a big thermal dump of heat that evacuates from your body which will intern decrease your core temperature drastically leading to better sleep.
To conclude, achieving between 7-8 hours of sleep a night can totally transform the way you feel, think, perform and live given that this is being done consistently. Remember, the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life and this is something you don’t want to gamble with!