Sleep Matters More Than We Realize Pt.1
Sleep accounts for around a third of our lives. Yet, most people don’t realize why that is or what the importance of sleep is. This is shocking while being in the field of mental health. Since it is seldom talked about being a factor contributing to many mental illnesses or affecting wellness.
Sleep can be thought of as the most fascinating feature of our evolutionary gifts. It helps us grow at all stages of life. It promotes a healthy nervous system that affects our productivity. It is a must for our survival, which has been shown in many studies that it influences our well-being.
Different functions of sleep
When we lay down to go to sleep each night, there are stages that we go through. If you use an Apple Watch or some other device that tracks your sleep. You might have seen how there are waves to your sleep pattern. You might even recall waking in the middle of the night for a few seconds to roll over but fall right back to sleep. These stages are separated into two categories, NREM, which stands for Non-Rapid-Eye-Movement, and REM. You guessed it, Rapid-Eye-Movement.
Non-Rapid-Eye-Movement (NREM) has three different stages involved inside of it.
In Stage one, you are in the lightest part of your sleep cycle. It can even anywhere from five to ten minutes, and is the part where everything starts to slow down. Sometimes during this stage, you can feel yourself dozing off. Then you will have a muscle spasm that wakes you. Which is normal and happens to everyone.
The second stage of NREM is when you begin to fall asleep. Your body temperature will begin to decrease and your heart rate slows down. If you are sleeping next to your partner and see that their muscle tone is flexing and relaxing that could signal that they are entering this stage. This is when your body is preparing for the deep restful sleep we all need.
The third stage of NREM is when you are entering deep sleep. This is when it becomes difficult to awoke from and no muscle activity or eye movement is happening. If you’re woken up from this stage you could feel groggy or disoriented for a few minutes, which has all happened to us at some point or another.
Wait! we haven’t even reached our first full cycle of sleep yet, which a full-cycle finishes with REM sleep. Throughout the night, we will go through three to five full cycles of sleep. Of course, five would be better than three, but we have no control over that. We can control how long we will allow ourselves to sleep by building a healthy routine.
REM sleep, which is Rapid-Eye-Movement sleep, is essential to our brains and bodies. During this stage, our brain activity will show as much activity as if we are conscious! During REM sleep we become paralyzed, faster breathing, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and rapid eye movements. Please don’t try to open your partner’s eyes in the middle of the night, nobody wants to awake like that.
Important facts about our cycles of sleep are that as the night goes on, our REM part of sleep gets longer. The first REM cycle will usually last around 10 minutes. But as the night goes on and each cycle happens they become even longer! A typical cycle can last between 90 to 110 minutes. This is why 8 hours is the recommended standard and for developing children, even more!
In the rest of this piece, we cover factors that contribute to or hurt a healthy night of sleep. The effects of caffeine and the misconceptions of our most-used drug in the world. The fascinating effects of the chemical called Melatonin. But a few points to cover before moving into the next section are that throughout the week if you don’t get enough sleep.
There is a popular belief you can “make it up” on the weekends. That is known as a “sleep debt." What we have seen is that this is not actually how sleep works as we will discuss during the routine section in part two. Another popular belief is that it does not matter if you go to sleep early or late as long as you get to sleep. While discussing REM sleep. You might have noticed that we stated that each consecutive cycle of sleep you get during the night REM sleep increases in time. Thus, meaning that your last cycle is the most impactful.
The first REM cycle will usually last around 10 minutes. But as the night goes on and each cycle happens they become even longer! A typical cycle can last between 90 to 110 minutes.
Factors sleep contributes to
We all have that friend or family member that claims they don’t need more than four hours of sleep. This is untrue and they might not realize that their memory, response time, and executive decision-making skills are being corroded due to that decision. For many of us, we justify our lack of sleep by saying the movie we stayed up watching or studying we had to get done has a means to an end. That one day, we will focus on our sleep when we can. The first step in improving your sleep is understanding some of the factors that contribute to sleep hygiene.
It is wise to understand the amount of sleep different individuals need. Since it is an evolutionary process. We need different amounts of sleep at different stages of our lives. Infants need about 16 hours of sleep a day! No wonder they are always sleeping and are cranky when they are not getting it. Toddlers and preschoolers need around 12 hours of sleep for healthy development. Teenagers need about 9 hours per night, and adults need seven to nine on average.
There is one specific category worth mentioning and that is pregnant women. They need more sleep than the average adult in the first trimester. But it is smart to generally get more throughout the pregnancy.
We all have that friend or family member that claims they don’t need more than four hours of sleep. This is untrue and they might not realize that their memory, response time, and executive decision-making skills are being corroded due to that decision.
Different external factors that affect sleep are alcohol, stimulants, medications, smoking, even temperatures, and blue lights. How do we get a healthy amount of sleep if everything I enjoy affects my sleep you might be asking? Well, understanding what affects our sleep is the first step in making a change for the better.
Alcohol might relax you while conscious. But it inhibits the ability to fall into the deeper portions of NREM and REM sleep.
As for stimulants, they are pretty obvious why they would affect our sleep. We will cover caffeine by itself since it is the most used drug (80% of Americans consume some form of caffeine per day).
Certain medications can lead to shorter REM cycles. That should be discussed with your primary care physician if you notice an effect on your sleep.
Nicotine worsens your sleep due. That is because you experience withdrawal while sleeping. Which affects your sleep.
Temperatures, sometimes the most surprising. Being too hot or too cold can cause you to have a difficult time falling and staying asleep. For many individuals, there is an optimal temperature you want when going to fall asleep. It ranges between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
For millions of individuals in America, they might not even realize that caffeine is the most used drug and they have some form of dependence on it. Yes, you can form a dependence on your coffee. One fascinating feature of coffee as a stimulant though is how it functions. If you are feeling tired and drink coffee, it doesn’t only stimulate your nervous system which gives you energy. Caffeine also is equal to sticking your fingers in your ears to stop sounds. The reason being is the neurotransmitter Adenosine. Which causes drowsiness doesn’t stop being produced, but caffeine will inhibit it. This is why when the caffeine rush wears off, there is the effect called a “caffeine crash.” Which is the adenosine finally not being obstructed anymore.
Another factor with caffeine is its half-life. Half-life is how long it takes for the body to absorb 50% of the chemical's concentration. We all would think that once that burst of energy cedes to be effective, the caffeine must be out of our system. But that is not true, since caffeine has an average half-life of five to seven hours. This means the consumption of caffeine five to seven hours before trying to fall asleep influences how you sleep.
What about "Decaf"? Decaf is thought of as a non-caffeinated version of coffee or other caffeine-riddled supplements/foods. Decaffeinated items will contain 15-30% of the caffeine that their caffeinated counterpart has. Which, is far from being caffeine-free or not influencing your sleep.
At this point, in this blog post, you are asking yourself what next could be ruined or am I doing wrong? Well, Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone found in the body. Melatonin’s main job in our body is to regulate sleep-wake cycles. A simple way of explaining how melatonin functions is that darkness helps produce melatonin. While light decreases the production and also functions as a signal to the body to awake. It is why, electronic screens and light while sleeping can be difficult. Sleep experts recommended sleeping inside a dark room.
Now, we have all seen commercials or melatonin pills at our local food or drug stores. But do they work? Many doctors will tell you or prescribe melatonin if somebody is having sleep issues. The problem would be that without adjusting other factors when preparing for sleep or regularity it won’t influence sleep. Matthew Walker, a prominent sleep expert in his book “Why We Sleep” even discusses how the most prominent reason melatonin works is the placebo effect.
The placebo effect is “a clinically significant response to a therapeutically inert substance or nonspecific treatment (placebo), driving from the recipient’s expectations or beliefs regarding the intervention. (APA)” In easier terms, this means that if I gave you a sugar pill and told you that it was melatonin, as long as when you took it you believed that it was melatonin which should make you tired. It most likely would make you tired. For millions of individuals around the world. The placebo effect is a prominent bias that we all use many times per day. We can consider melatonin pills that are over-the-counter functioning more through this effect. Instead of inhibiting more melatonin production inside the brain.
We have concluded and I hope that you have taken a second to step back and realize that sleep is more complicated than you might first think before reading this. This is only a simplified version of all these concepts and ideas. If you go to our YouTube channel we have a playlist of TedTalks covering sleep and its importance. They go through research dealing with productivity, health, and wellness.
Remembering that there are four stages of sleep is important and that we should cycle through those four stages three to five times each night. The factors that influence sleep can affect your sleep hours after they are done or consumed. Because it might relax you during the day, does not mean it is enabling more effective sleep.
For most of us, we do not realize how long that caffeine is in our system. how much influence it plays on our actual lives either. Remember, caffeine has a half-life of 5 to 7 hours and will influence your sleep cycles. It is one of the most regarded reasons for individuals to have sleep loss. It is widely ignored throughout the world for that effect. Many individuals will regard their sleep loss as insomnia. Which is a real medical condition. While they can attribute to their afternoon coffee or late-night expresso ice cream or soda to unrestful sleep.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that is affected by light and influences our wake and sleep cycles. But, for the majority of individuals who use it as a sleep aid, it functions more through the well-established “placebo effect” than it does through its prescribed purpose. Like when it comes to weight loss, you can’t do it with a supplement alone. Sleep is complex and has many different functions and variables.
Caffeine has a half-life of 5 to 7 hours and will influence your sleep cycles. It is one of the most regarded reasons for individuals to have sleep loss.
Finally, keep an eye out for the second part of “Sleep Matters More Than We Realize.” It will cover the dos and don’ts of building good sleep hygiene. There is a lot of information out there if you google “how to get good sleep.” But many do not take into account the scientific perspective of how sleep functions, which we will.
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