It is widely considered that the four pillars of good health include exercise, good nutrition, rest, and sleep. We use daily routines to ensure we employ? these pillars every day. When it comes to sleep, there is nothing quite like it, especially when we get a good night’s slumber.
Sleep, although seemingly passive, is an incredibly active process that rejuvenates our bodies, strengthens our minds, and nourishes our souls. It's an integral part of our daily lives, yet often underestimated and neglected. If neglected, it can leave us feeling drained, unfocused, and disconnected. Unlike other things we practice to maintain health, sleep is truly its own unique mystery. It involves little to no physical activity, with our brains doing all the work!
What happens when you sleep?
Overall, your body goes through several changes during sleep with different stages of the process affecting your body differently. When you sleep both your heart rate and blood pressure drop, along with your breathing and body temperature. Meanwhile, your brain begins to work differently than it would if you were awake, now free of all that complicated and energy-consuming need to process your vision. Instead, its focus turns to laying down memory, restoring your mental function, and helping your body both heal and grow.
Matthew Walker, a world-renowned sleep expert, is busy telling the world we need more sleep. He says sleep is the best thing we can do for our mental and physical health and that ‘it’s the best life insurance there is’.
“There is not one process in the human body, (that we’re aware of) that isn’t improved by sleep”.
The stages of sleep
During a typical night’s sleep, we cycle through different stages numerous times:
·Light Sleep (N1 and N2): This is the stage when you're just drifting off to sleep. Your body relaxes, and your brain produces slower brainwave patterns. You may experience fleeting thoughts or images. It's relatively easy to wake up during this stage, and you may not feel fully rested if you wake up at this point.
·Deep Sleep (N3): Also known as slow-wave sleep, this is the stage where your body gets the most restorative benefits. Your brain produces slower and larger brainwaves. Your breathing and heart rate slow down, and your muscles relax deeply. It's harder to wake up during this stage, and if you do wake up, you may feel groggy and disoriented.
·Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep: This is the stage where most dreaming occurs. Your brain becomes more active, and your eyes move rapidly beneath your eyelids. Your muscles become temporarily paralyzed to prevent you from acting out your dreams. REM sleep is important for memory consolidation, learning, and emotional processing. It's easier to wake up during REM sleep, and if you do, you may recall vivid dreams.
Feeling tired is a commonly heard complaint – here are some top tips to help improve the quality of your sleep:
·Stick to a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps regulate your body's internal clock and promotes a more consistent sleep pattern. Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night.
·Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment: Make your bedroom conducive to sleep by keeping it dark, cool, and quiet.
·Limit Exposure to Screens Before Bed: The blue light emitted by electronic devices can interfere with your sleep. Avoid using screens (such as smartphones, tablets, or computers) for at least an hour before bedtime.
·Avoid Stimulants and Heavy Meals: Limit your consumption of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime.
·Keep it cool: To fall asleep our body temperature needs to drop 1O. The optimal bedroom temperature for this to happen is around 18-18.5O.
·Walk it out: Your brain needs to know that your bed is for sleeping. If you can’t fall asleep, or wake up in the night, and are awake for longer than 15 minutes. Get up and read or meditate in dim light before trying to go back to bed.
With 2 out of 3 adults not getting enough sleep, there’s plenty to improve on. Just like how we try to eat well and exercise, sleep is no different. We should constantly strive to get our fair quota of sleep because the health benefits are endless! If you want to live longer and live well, prioritize your sleep. It’s the cheapest life insurance there is, don’t sleep on it!