Note: This post is written by Alex Moore
In our fast-paced, always-on society, sleep can feel like an enormous waste of time. With so much pressure to get ahead, work hard, and put in as many productive hours as humanly possible, it might feel hard to justify spending an entire third of every single day lying in bed doing nothing.
If that’s how you feel, though, you don’t really understand the importance of sleep.
As it turns out, sleeping is the furthest thing from doing nothing: it’s actually an important and valuable activity that scientists claim is at least as important to our survival as eating or drinking water.
If you can build a healthy sleep habit and know how to get the most out of your sleeping cycles, you will see enormous benefits in every area of your life which will more than make up for the time you “wasted” in bed.
The Importance of Sleep
Everyone has a vague idea of the consequences of getting or not getting enough sleep.
You either wake up feeling refreshed and energized or drowsy and bleary.
Given that you can overcome any amount of drowsiness with enough coffee, most people do not consider waking up tired that big of a deal.
Recent research, however, reveals that a sleep debt can have a surprising and dramatic range of negative health impacts:
- Increased risk of viral infection, since the immune system lacks the resources to produce disease-fighting cytokines without sufficient rest;
- Increased weight gain, as the appetite suppressant leptin is produced more during periods of sleep while the appetite stimulant ghrelin is produced less; people who do not sleep enough are more likely to eat more and to prefer unhealthy foods;
- Higher risk of developing diabetes, due to the body’s inability to process insulin without sufficient sleep;
- Higher blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease, since reduced heart activity during REM sleep is essential for cardiovascular health;
- Increased risk of developing a mental illness, as neural pathways essential to normal brain activity are created and maintained during periods of deep sleep;
- Early death, as a tired body is more vulnerable to complications of all types.
In addition to the long-term health risks of poor sleep, a restless night can also have immediate consequences.
The day after getting insufficient sleep, a person experiences poor focus and slower thinking, and is more likely to make poor decisions or take unnecessary risks.
They are also more likely to feel unhappy and irritable, and chronic poor sleep is even linked to the onset of depression.
On the other hand, a person who is well-rested will benefit from a heightened ability to learn new information and a greater recall of information that was previously learned.
In addition, after getting a good night’s sleep you will feel happier and more energetic.
Celebrity singer Beyoncé, claims that getting enough sleep is her secret to always looking and feeling her best.
Understanding Sleep Cycles
Sleep is broadly divided into REM sleep and non-REM sleep, which is further divided into three distinct stages.
The conventional wisdom is that REM sleep is the sleep that really matters, but healthy sleeping cycles actually consist of every stage in the right amount.
- Stage one non-REM sleep is very light and it is easy to wake up from this stage. The body begins to relax and muscles move more slowly.
- Roughly half the night should be spent in stage two non-REM sleep, in which brain waves begin to slow.
- Stage three non-REM sleep is extremely deep and difficult to awaken from. This is the restorative stage of sleep, and you must get enough of it to feel rested.
- REM sleep should occur about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. Your eyes move quickly and your body is paralyzed as you begin to dream. REM sleep is when your brain sorts and stores information acquired throughout the day, and sufficient REM sleep is absolutely essential to learning and memory.
Building a Healthy Sleep Habit
Here are six tips on building a healthy sleep habit.
1. Sleep for eight whole hours.
Your body naturally alternates between the various sleeping cycles throughout the night, and spends more time in the REM stage the longer you are asleep. That is why it is essential to sleep for a full eight hours every night, and why missing even a single hour of sleep can leave you feeling as if you hadn’t slept at all.
The first step in building a healthy sleep habit is accepting that you need eight hours every night and making sure you prioritize it on your schedule.
2. Manage your time.
You may see this as bad time management, but keep in mind that good time management is doing a few things well, not doing a lot of things poorly.
Getting enough sleep will ensure that you are at your best when you take on any other task. Serial entrepreneur and lifestyle guru Timothy Ferriss calls quality sleep “the currency of high-performance living.”
It is easy to get the right amount of sleep you need if you fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day.
3. Unwind before you go to sleep.
In addition to scheduling eight hours for sleep, you should also schedule at least half an hour of relaxing activity to allow you to wind down before sleep.
This activity can include reading or listening to music, or taking a hot bath which will cause your body temperature to drop and naturally make you feel drowsy.
4. Create a dreamy sleeping environment.
A good sleeping environment is essential to getting quality sleep. It should be free of noise and light, as well as any electronics including computers and phones.
There should not be a visible clock face in the room where you sleep. Your mattress and pillow should be as comfortable as possible.
Experiment with different levels of softness or firmness, and consider using side sleeping pillows for additional comfort.
5. Keep your fitness routine for daytime hours.
While aerobic exercise during the day has been proven to improve the quality of sleep, you should refrain from exercising within three hours of going to bed.
6. Eliminate energizers.
You should also avoid eating or imbibing alcohol during this period and limit the amount of fluids consumed of all kinds.
If you drink caffeine, you should limit it to the morning hours, as stimulants can actually disrupt your sleep for eight or more hours after they are consumed.
Author bio: Alex Moore is the writer behind Side Sleeper Guide. Com. He wants to help sleepers find a personalized level of sleeping comfort, thus, is continuously researching and sharing the latest studies on sleep cycles, relaxation and concentration. For more of Alex’s work, visit his Twitter.