How do you know that sleep is what you need?
The cliché 'You should sleep on it' is probably a cliché for a reason. Sleep does wonders for improved thinking, greater mental clarity, and better sense of humour.
Sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. It needs to be a regular daily wake/sleep pattern. It's not all about sleep though. We need to ensure that we plan for both sleep, and time for rest (relaxation), but today, let's focus on sleep.
Research has shown that sufficient sleep is required to not only rebuild our physical energy, but also rebuild our thinking energy.
Why does sleep help our brain and our thinking?
The brain doesn't actually stop when we go to sleep. Sleep is an important part of our day. The brain uses sleep time to review what we have been doing and prepare for what we are going to do; and if we haven't had the sleep period our brain isn't as ready for the next active period. Therefore it can't function as effectively.
During sleep, we go through different sleep cycles, alternating between Rapid-Eye Movement (REM) sleep and slow wave sleep. Each night, slow wave sleep predominants in the early part of the night when we first fall asleep, and then we have more REM sleep if we stay asleep longer. You need to be asleep long enough each night, to have sufficient periods of slow wave sleep and quality REM sleep.
Slow wave sleep is helpful for making a record in your memory of things that you have done and learnt (personal experiences and what you know). REM sleep is important for emotional memories and procedural memories (storing how to do things). A process of 'replay' occurs in the neurons of your hippocampus while you are sleeping. This is a very important aspect of the memory process as it strengthens the connections between brain cells and as a result, consolidates the learning from your day.
It is possible to think about sleep as a 'refresh'. It's the opportunity for your brain to review what you have done for the day, sort out what needs to be remembered (including your emotional stories) and decide what doesn't need to be stored for later. Some scientists also consider that sleep is an opportunity for your brain to release unnecessary toxins and experience a physical clean as well as a mental clean.
Can you tell if you aren't getting enough sleep?
We've focused on the work that your brain does while you sleep. Some signs that you aren't getting enough sleep are:
- Less focused, memory problems [as expected] (losing 2 hours or more of sleep on a regular basis can start to impact memory and focus.
Two other areas where your emotions and thinking are affected include:
- Moody (lack of sleep makes it harder to suppress annoyance - are you more irritable);
- Depressed (lack of sleep can lead to depression, which is more than feeling down; but worse still, being depressed leads to sleeplessness so it becomes a cycle).
Lack of sleep doesn't give your brain time to work, but it also doesn't give your body time to do it's work as well. Physical signs of lack of sleep could include:
- Poor skin (lack of sleep impacts your immune system, and hormones, which affects your skin);
- Weight gain (without the right amout of sleep, your body finds it difficult to manage the hormones that control your hunger; which leads to overeating);
- Junk food cravings (poor judgment kicks in with lack of sleep);
- Sore eyes (at first just red, puffiness and dark circles; but then lines and wrinkles. Hormone control and tissue repair occur at night);
- A desire for more caffeine (if the usual caffeine is not doing the trick and you feel the need to add more).
What you can do to make a difference?
Sleep is so important to how we function each day that it is worth making it a priority. Sleep is free health care, and we are often too relaxed about protecting this very important personal resource. Four tips for improving your sleep:
- Stick to a schedule (Go to bed at a similar time; wake up at a similar time);
- Put away the electronics before you go to bed (30 mins. if possible);
- Keep the bedroom from feeling overly warm;
- Exercise regularly.
Do you need extra support: If you have had a period of lack of sleep and you have tried working on a routine to improve your sleep, but it doesn't seem to be working; you may have some medical issues associated with sleep. What may have started out as poor sleep may have become a deeply rooted sleep problem that needs support to overcome; it might even have some elements of a clinical issue that could be supported with treatment, for example depression, sleep apnea, snoring or acid reflux. If you regularly wake up in the morning feeling terrible, have a dry mouth, a headache or a sore throat, and you have had trouble trying to fix your sleep routine, I would encourage you to seek medical advice about your sleep. It's worth getting support to get a good night's sleep.
I'm wondering: How regular is your bedtime? Has that been something you thought was only for children; or do you sleep like a baby? Let me know in the comments below.