Beep, beep, beep. Hits snooze alarm. Repeat 5x. Another morning that you are dreading waking up because you feel like you got zero or very little sleep once again. Hopefully, I am catching you with a little bit of energy. I want to go over a few thoughts and concepts about sleep because sleep doesn’t get talked about much, except to complain about how tired, whipped, and drained we are. This section will help you to start understanding the complexity of sleep and how to remove layers to get better sleep.
What is sleep? Why do we sleep? For many people when they think of sleep they have a vision in their head that it is just a power switch. When we are awake the power switch is on and when we go to sleep the power switch is flipped off. This could not be further from the truth. When you sleep, it is like your body is living a whole separate life. Your brain activity when you are asleep is about the same as when you are awake during REM sleep. Isn’t that crazy to think about? Your brain is working just as hard, while you are asleep and you don’t even know it.
Some of the processes that go on while you are asleep are the release of certain hormones like growth hormone to help strengthen muscles, fortify bones, flush your brain of built up protein waste, repair skin, bolster the immune system, and process and store memories and information.
This is why when you don’t sleep enough or get enough high quality sleep you seem to get sick easier, injured more, can’t think clearly, and look ragged. It is true when people say they need their beauty rest. That is when the skin repairs and rejuvenates itself.
So why do we sleep? Well the simple answer is to keep you alive. Plain and simple. The body is all about homeostasis. Homeostasis is all about keeping your systems in balance. It would make sense then, that if the body is awake for a period of time, then it needs a period of rest to rebalance those energy systems and perform processes that it can’t do while you are alert. Could you imagine you are in the middle of a meeting and your brain decides to defragment itself? You just completely shutdown for 30 minutes.
There are a few definitions that I want to cover that will help with some of the language used in the blueprint.
Sleep Stage: A sleep stage is a period during sleep where certain biological processes are occuring. There are 4 stages of sleep that your body cycles through during the night.
Sleep Drive: Your body’s biological need for sleep.
Sleep Deprivation: The difference of sleep you are getting compared to what your body needs.
Adenosine: A chemical that builds up in the brain throughout the day that decreases wakefulness.
Melatonin: A hormone produced by the pineal gland in the absence of light that promotes sleepiness.
Circadian Rhythm: Recurring naturally on a 24 hour cycle even in the absence of light fluctuations.
Chronotype: Your specific natural circadian rhythm schedule.
Sleep Architect: A cyclical pattern of sleep as it moves through stages through the night.
Insomnia: symptoms including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and early morning wakings.
Sleep Dysfunction: Fragmented sleep
Sleep Efficiency: The amount of time spent in bed actually sleeping.
Vigilance: The wakefulness promoting systems in your brain that allows you to decide when you will be awake.
Paradoxical Insomnia: Phenomenon in which an individual thinks they are either not sleeping at all or a very reduced amount compared to the actual amount they are sleeping.
Sleep Hygiene: A regular bedtime routine that promotes sleep.
Stages of sleep
While it may feel like you close your eyes and wake up some odd hours later, there is al ot going on. Let’s run through real quick the stages of sleep that you go through during the night.
Light Sleep – This is where it all begins. You start nodding off and sometimes even have that feeling of falling as you drift away. During this stage you are very easy to wake up. Your threshold to disturbances is low. From this stage you move into the other stages of sleep which are deep sleep and REM sleep. Your brain will always come back up to the light sleep stage before moving into next stage during normal sleep.. People that suffer certain sleeping disorders will bypass this stage. For example people with cataplexy, they will go from an awake state directly into REM sleep.
Deep Sleep – This stage of sleep is when the body does all of its regeneration. During this stage the body is releasing its highest amounts of growth hormone. This is your fountain of youth elixir. It helps to strengthen muscles, repair skin, and boost your immune system. Have you ever noticed when someone hasn’t been sleeping well it looks like they have aged a few years or more?
The other really cool and extremely beneficial process that happens during sleep is your brain flushes out all of the protein waste it has accumulated throughout the day. These proteins have been found built up in people that have developed Alzheimer’s disease.
During this stage is also when the adenosine is set back to zero in your body. Adenosine is the chemical that builds up in the brain and as it builds up, it increases your sleepiness. Caffeine blocks the receptors for adenosine. This is why you feel more awake when you have caffeine.
On average people will spend around 25% of their sleep in a deep sleep stage. More of this happens in the first half of sleep compared to the second half.
REM Sleep – REM sleep has nothing to do with the band and everything to do with dreaming and memory consolidation. On average people will spend around 25% of their sleep in this stage. In the beginning of your sleep cycles, this stage is short, but as the night moves on and you enter into the second half of your sleep, the timing increases. The brain uses this time to move memories and learned information from short term storage to long term storage. It also clears out information you have not used in awhile, and dreams.
If you are not getting sufficient REM sleep it can lead to memory difficulties, attention problems, poor concentration, and mood problems.
Two cool phenomenon happen during REM sleep. One, your body turns off temperature regulation. It no longer tries to keep itself warm or cold. Second, your limbs are paralyzed so you don’t act out your dreams. In some sleep disorders, this paralysis does not happen and you move your limbs which ends with you punching your spouse as you reenact Fight Club.
There you have it. The stages of sleep and what goes on during them. Sleep is definitely not just a power on and off button.
Now I want to touch on a few misconceptions around sleep. These need to be recycled if you are to move onto your new sleep house. They can be a big impediment to you achieving the sleep you want.
- I don’t sleep – This just isn’t true. Why? Because you would die. The first step to improving your sleep is to change this narrative. You don’t sleep as well as you would like is different than never sleeping. Sleep is one of the body’s primary drives. This means that your body, when it is lacking sleep, will focus on getting it. Just like when it needs food you get hungry or when you need fluids you get thirsty. Your brain will initiate sleep when it gets to critical mass. This is why people fall asleep driving.
- You need 8 hours – This is just an average and does not apply to everyone. It is common to fixate on numbers whether sleep, the scale, and the number of likes you get on Facebook. This fixation creates anxiety because as you crawl into bed you are calculating your sleep for the night and each minute that passes decreases that number. It keeps amplifying each minute that passes increasing your anxiety. The right amount of sleep is enough.
Sleep misconception – Another scenario that comes up is people are a poor judge of how much sleep they are really getting. Why is this? Well, because when you are asleep, how do you know you are asleep? What happens many times is you drift into light sleep which isn’t very restorative and then wake up and look at the clock. Then you doze again into light sleep and wake up again and look at the clock. This gives you the impression you are not sleeping and just staring at the clock all night. In the morning you feel tired because you missed out on enough deep sleep, but you did sleep.