How sleep works.
Even though I specialize in pediatric sleep, it is just as important for the parents to get adequate rest and also understand why it is so important for the whole family! Sleep is a biological human need that is 100% necessary. Contrary to popular belief it is not a luxury, we actually have to have it or we will be dead sooner rather than later. Let’s look at sleep & how it works.
Here is how sleep works in adults (children’s sleep cycles are different and I will address this separately).
We have 4 stages of sleep that we cycle through in 90-minute segments. Since we wake up between cycles (even if you don’t remember it) we count “wake” as stage 1 of sleep.
- Non-REM stage 1: is light sleep right when we lay down to go to sleep.
- Non-REM stage 2: Light sleep going into deep sleep.
- Non-REM stage 3: Deep Sleep
- REM Stage 4: REM sleep occurs. This is active sleep when we dream.
Each sleep stage is equally important. They all have their own jobs within our body and you need all stages to feel rested and for your body to recover. For a healthy adult REM should account for 25% percent of your sleep, 75% should take up stages 1-4.
What happens in each sleep cycle?
When we doze off. We get sleepy, our body starts to relax and we fall asleep. We are easily woken up during this time, but luckily it only lasts 1-5 minutes during this stage before we move into deeper sleep.
Non-REM stage 2:
Our bodies start to relax including our muscles, heart rate, breathing, and eye movement. Brain activity starts to slow down. We spend half of our sleep time in stage 2.
Non-REM stage 3:
This is our restorative sleep. Our whole entire body slows and relaxes even more as we go into “deep sleep”. This restorative sleep contributes to our memory, creativity, and our immune system. We spend the earlier portion of the night in the deepest sleep and as your cycles progress throughout the night deep sleep gets shorter and shorter.
REM stage 4:
REM sleep is weird. It actually temporarily paralyzes your muscles except for eye movement and the muscles used to breath. Pretty incredible right? Your brain is as active as it would be during the day except you are actually sleeping. REM sleep is when you have vivid dreams, and has been known to be the most important component for consolidating our memories. For a healthy adult 25% of your sleep should be REM. REM gradually increases as your sleep cycle progresses throughout the night. Another reason why it is important to get 8 hours of sleep each night.
Why is sleep important?
Human beings are literally the only living beings that purposely deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent gain. Any other species allows for adequate rest. We are literally built to sleep from the time we are born.
When I say no apparent gain I mean that we think we are gaining productivity for whatever we are skipping sleep for but the truth is we are not only hurting our bodies but our creativity, focus, and productivity will suffer even more after the sleep deprivation.
“One of the biggest reasons that people don’t get enough sleep is because they feel they have too much to do or because they are stressed about what they need to work on. So we’re not getting enough work done because we’re sleep-deprived and we’re not sleeping because we’re not getting enough work done.”Dr. Matthew Carte PhD Sleep Specialist
Productivity is obviously important in our everyday life for our jobs and balancing parenthood and life. I think if we look at the bigger picture though, the risks we encounter with sleep debt and the impact it has on our health is disquieting.
Trouble thinking and concentrating
Weakened immune system
High Blood pressure
Weight gain or trouble losing weight
Prone to accidents
Risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Well that’s a downer.. It gets worse.
Dr. Matthew Walker
“Did you know that routinely sleeping less than 6 hours a night can increase your risk of cancer by 50%? After just one night of less than 5 hours of sleep Natural Killer Cells (which fight cancer cells) drop by 70%!”
328,000 drowsy car accidents occur each year. On an annual basis the United States economy loses 1.2 million dollars in working days due to insufficient sleep.
Want to be successful? Follow the leader.
Jeff Bezos sleeps 8 hours per night. Lebron James sleeps around 12 hours (including naps). Sheryl Sandberg, a billionaire, goes to bed at 930 and wakes up at 530am giving her 8 hours of sleep. Tobia Lukte, founder of Shopify sleeps 8 hours, I’m sure you get my point! This also doesn’t have to be financial success, think better parenting, and overall health and happiness for yourself and everyone around you!
“When we prioritize our well-being, everything else in our life gets better, including our products, including our performance at work, including our success.”Ariana Huffington
Here are some easy ways to start making sleep a priority.
First of all, sleep is a practice. It isn’t going to happen overnight. Just as I talk about with children’s sleep, a consistent bedtime routine is going to be your best friend, and is always where to start.
- Set a bedtime and a wake time. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time everyday. The more consistent you are with this the quicker your biological clock will catch on. (this includes the weekends).
2. Your day starts the night before. What does this mean? Whatever you choose to do in the evening the night before will affect tomorrow. Staying up late, alcohol, a big meal, watching television or any technology before bed.
3. Bedtime activities should be relaxing and quiet. Dim the lights, stretch, play a game, read a book.
4. Avoid technology 1 hour before bed.
5. Have your room at 68 degrees or below and very dark (blackout shades or curtains are great).
6. If you want 8 hours of sleep, give yourself extra time. We naturally wake between sleep cycles, and or take a little time to fall asleep. Factor in those losses within your total sleep time. If you are in bed for 8 hours you are most likely getting around 7.
7. The only way to truly know how you sleep is first, how do you feel? Do you feel energetic or fatigued? Second, start tracking your sleep. Sleep is super fascinating and you can really get some great insight about your health from tracking it.
Knowledge is power, my friends. Knowing how our bodies work during sleep and why it is so important is life changing. Sleep research is still so new and data literally comes out each day all pushing us toward prioritizing rest. Keep educating yourself on sleep, and be open to making changes in your life to prioritize it and you will never look back!
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