If you’ve reached the point where you hit snooze five times before begrudgingly falling out of bed, you’re not alone. Lots of us don’t get adequate sleep at night, despite an overload of information about its benefits. Sometimes, we hit the hay with the best intentions, but somehow still wake up hazy after what we thought was an early night. What’s going on here?
The problem is we’ve moved away from natural sleep cycles and into structured, scheduled lifestyles. Everything controls our time - from smartphones to our screaming children and bosses. While you can’t control a tantrum, you can schedule your sleep and wake times to align with your cycles. Use your sleep cycles to wake up with more energy rather than swimming upstream.
While sleep might pass in the blink of an eye, your body is quite active during the long night. Sleepers will experience four distinct cycles, including REM sleep, during which activity shifts in the brain.
This is the stage where you’re just falling asleep. Sometimes you can still hear what’s going on in the room, but you’re also too groggy to interact. Your brain produces alpha and theta waves here for a brief 5-7 minute period. It’s light sleep, as an introduction to what’s coming for the rest of the night.
Similar to the first stage, you’re still sleeping lightly. The main difference is that sleep spindles start to appear in stage two. These are characterized by sharp, increased brain wave frequencies followed by a decline. Most 20-30 minute naps only reach stage two of sleep. You’ll feel refreshed, but you won’t be knocked out.
Slow delta waves and an almost paralyzing muscle state greet you at these stages. Your body barely responds to any external stimuli, and the brain starts to dole out delta waves. Stage Four isn’t much different, so the differences between these two are hard to see. However, there’s a gradual movement between the two into a more restorative state. It’s here where your body does most muscle repair, energy conservation, immune function, and growth and development. You need slow wave sleep to feel truly energized.
About 70-90 minutes into sleep, we reach the stage where dreaming occurs. Your brain lights up with activity, eyes begin jerking around, and your heart and breath rate increase. Why does this all happen while we’re asleep? REM sleep function to codify memory and learning in order to process the information you obtained the previous day. It’s incredibly important to storing information and long-term memory, which is why your dreams can be so weird. It’s just your brain trying to organize everything.
The Trick to Sleeping Better - Multiples of 90 min
Multiple studies have shown that lack of slow wave sleep contributes to daytime grogginess and poor mood. Additionally, waking up during REM cycles interrupts our flow of aggregating memory. In order to make sure you wake up during light sleep, try and schedule your sleep in 90-minute multiples.
For example, if you know you need to wake up at 6 AM to get to work on time, you’ll need to be asleep by midnight or 10:30 (or 9 PM, if you have that luxury). Note: that means be sleeping by that time, not in bed.
How long does it normally take you to fall asleep? 10 minutes? 30 minutes? An hour of scrolling through your phone? Make sure you take that into account as well.
Tricks to Falling Asleep
Make your sleep environment conducive to sleep! Turn off phones, computers, TV’s and such at least an hour before bed. Sleep in a cool, dark room in comfortable clothes, nice sheets, and a good mattress. If you’ve got all of these covered (get it?), then try some of these tricks as well.
Your body naturally produces melatonin when triggered by changes in light and temperature to produce sleep onset. If you’re struggling with falling asleep, taking extra melatonin can help kickstart things. Start with around 3 mg a night, which is a normal pill from the pharmacy. Too much melatonin can make you wake up tired, however, so experiment with the right amount for your body.
Carbs before bed
Does your diet make you cut out carbs? That might be why you’re having a hard time sleeping. Excess carbs, during the day, can make our energy levels drop. However, this is great for sleeping. As noted above, muscle repair also occurs during sleep, so the perfect time to feed those hungry muscles is before bed.
Side note: you actually have to use these muscles in order for them to need a re-feed. So make sure you’re staying active during the day.
Ear Plugs, White Noise, Music, or a Sleep Podcast
Maybe you just live in a noisy neighborhood. Or maybe your mind is racing and you can’t stop thinking. Try putting in earplugs or putting on some relaxing music to soothe you to sleep. They even make podcasts now specifically to bore you to fall asleep, much like the bedtime stories of your childhood. Take some deep breaths, take your mind off the day, and zone out.
You spend a third of your life asleep, so make sure those hours actually promote a productive day. Schedule your sleep with your cycles and sleep on the right mattress to help yourself feel more energized.
Kimber Rozier, CSCS
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