What is the one thing we (probably) all need more of, yet sacrifice the most? SLEEP! You may grab an extra nine minutes with every hit of the snooze button, but unless you’ve had hours of quality sleep before your alarm, it’s probably not helping much. This week, we’re here to show you how beneficial sleep is to your body and brain, and what you can do to get a little more of it!
The Stages of Sleep
Your body does amazing things while you’re snuggled up. Scientists have determined there are four stages of sleep, with each cycle lasting about 90 minutes. Theoretically, we should be getting around 7.5-8 hours of sleep per night, or roughly five cycles.
- Stage One: During this stage you are easily woken up, your eyes move back and forth, and your muscles begin to relax. You may even have some muscle twitching during this stage.
- Stage Two: Half of your sleep is spent in this stage. Your body temperature begins to drop, and your brain waves are (mostly) slower. Your heart rate and blood pressure also slow down and regulate. This gives your cardiovascular system a much-needed break.
- Stage Three: We spend about 20% of the night in this deep sleep stage. This stage of sleep gives us that “well-rested” feeling and is the hardest to wake up from. During this time of restorative sleep, our brain waves are slow, high-amplitude waves. Our blood pressure drops, our breathing slows down, blood flow moves to the muscles and tissues that need repair, and hormones such as the human growth hormone are released.
- REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep: Researchers call this stage “paradoxical sleep.” Your body is asleep, but your brain looks like it is still awake. Usually, your most vivid dreams take place during REM. The first round of REM sleep is the shortest but gets longer throughout each sleep cycle. We spend about 25% of our night in REM.
Unexpected Health Benefits of More Sleep
Aside from feeling refreshed and aware, there are some startling health benefits to catching more zzz’s every night.
- A Better Sex Life: There is evidence to support that men who do not get enough sleep are associated with lower testosterone levels, which can decrease libido. As far as research into women’s libidos? A poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation said 26% say their sex lives suffer because they are “too tired.”
- Better Control Over Your Weight: This is a two-fold issue. For one, if you are too tired, you may be less likely to have the energy to exercise or cook healthier meals. But there is a physiological aspect as well. While we sleep, leptin — the hormone that makes you feel full — is released. When you don’t get enough sleep, your leptin levels drop. This can cause you to feel hungrier throughout the day, and lead to high-fat and high-calorie food cravings.
- Better All-Around Health: Not only can getting enough rest boost your immune system and help fight illnesses like the common cold, sleep can help fight such issues as heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, and even obesity. (One study even concluded that after only four days of disturbed sleep patterns in young and healthy adults, some had blood glucose levels that qualified as pre-diabetic!) Sleep alone won’t keep you disease free. But, it will give your body and your immune system time to recover and strengthen.
- Better Brain Power: While we sleep, our brains consolidate our memories from the day. Without enough sleep, those memories might not be stored correctly, and subsequently, be lost. Research also suggests that grabbing a quick nap during the day can help your brain be more effective, productive, and efficient.
So How Do We Actually Get More Sleep?
Okay, so we know that getting more sleep can help us lead healthier lives. But, how do we train ourselves to actually get more sleep? These tips may be easier (and more relaxing) than you think!
- Start A Sleep Diary: Writing down how you sleep and what wakes you up at night may help you find determine patterns or issues you see with your sleep or sleeping habits. It can also be helpful if you need to see a sleep specialist in the future.
- Perfect A Night Time Routine: Around the same time each evening, begin your “wind down” process. For some that may be reading, or doing your self-care routine. The best (and fastest) way to train your body to be ready for bed is to do the same routine at roughly the same time every night (give or take an hour.) Once you start your process, your body will begin to do the rest.
- Put The Electronics Away. Really.: You may think catching up on the latest and greatest will put your curious mind at ease and make you ready for sleep, but you’re actually giving your brain more stimulus that may keep you up longer. Not only will the additional information keep your brain active, but the particular type of light that emanates from these devices is also activating the brain and helping to disrupt your circadian rhythm. Try to stay away from your devices for at least 30 minutes before bed, but try for an hour. We know you can do it!
- Your Bedroom Is (Mostly) For Sleeping: If you find yourself tossing and turning, go to a different room and do something that relaxes you until you feel tired. Over time, your body will begin to associate your bed with sleeping, making it easier to fall asleep faster.
- Get Your Exercise: Getting any amount of additional exercise (but especially vigorous exercise) during the day will do wonders for your sleep patterns. Just try to avoid exercising two hours before you begin your bedtime routine.
- Get Comfy: Your mattress should be changed about every 9-10 years. An unsupportive mattress can lead to nighttime discomfort and irritability. Change your pillows around every 4-5 years and clean your bedding every 1-2 weeks.
Do you think you might need a little more than a new mattress to get your sleep back on track? The professionals at Miami Center of Excellence are here to give you additional resources, helpful tips, or help to put you in touch with a qualified sleep specialist. Give us a call, or conveniently make an appointment online! Sweet dreams!