Sleep is a part of our daily routine and for most it takes up a third of their 24-hour day. Over an average life time this equates to approximately 229, 961 hours! It is said to be as essential to our wellbeing as drinking and eating, but why? Scientists will tell you that sleep is a complicated and dynamic process. One that we still have much to learn about. So, what do we know about it?
What is Sleep?
Sleep is characterized by decreased consciousness and sensory activity as well as reduced muscle activity. Additionally, most people sleep in a lying down position with their eyes closed. Overall, this means that when we sleep, we are less interactive and aware of our surroundings. While we sleep our heart beats, breathing and brain activity slows down. In fact, your muscles may become so relaxed that in deeper sleep periods it might be difficult to wake you up!
The Internal Biological Mechanisms
The mental, physical and behavioural changes that happen within our bodies in a 24-hour cycle are called circadian rhythms. They are affected by light and dark. The hypothalamus is the part of our brain which controls our sleep and sensors light. It helps us match our circadian rhythm with a light-dark cycle. If there is damage to this area of the brain, it can result in erratic or problematic patterns.
The release of melatonin and a brain chemical called GABA, work with our circadian rhythms to relax our bodies thereby enabling sleep. Your drive to sleep is also driven by a chemical called adenosine, which is released in the basal forebrain. The process of tracking how much sleep we need as well as reminding us to sleep is called the sleep-wake homeostasis. Thus, circadian rhythms and sleep-awake homeostasis are the two internal biological mechanisms which work together and control when we are asleep or awake.
Types of Sleep
Sleep occurs in cycles. This means that throughout the night we move through varies types or stages of sleep. It is divided into Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-REM (NREM) cycles.
The 4 Stages of Sleep
- Stage 1: Non-REM sleep which is relatively light and occurs between being asleep and being awake.
- Stage 2: Non-REM sleep that takes place between falling asleep and deeper sleep. This stage is repeated more than the other stages of sleep.
- State 3: Non-REM sleep which is deep and refreshing. It tends to occur in the first part of the night and ideally lasts for long uninterrupted stretches at a time.
- Stage 4: REM-sleep is characterized by back-and-forth eye movements and typically first takes place about 90-minutes after falling asleep. Dreaming can occur during all stages of sleep, however mostly it takes place during REM-Sleep.
Why does Sleep Matter?
Everybody needs to sleep. How much sleep you need varies across your lifetime. However, most people actually need between 7-9 hours’ sleep. While many claim that they need less sleep than the average person, in reality these people are the rare exception. Interestingly, people who genuinely need less sleep often tend to want to exercise more than the average person.
Three Health Reasons Why Sleep is Important
- Physical Health: As we sleep our body repairs itself. Practically this means that it repairs muscles, tissue and cells as well as restocks its energy. Research shows that a lack of sleep can result in chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
- Mental Health: Sleep aids in maintaining and forming brain pathways which enable us to learn and create new memories. Our body also removes toxins from our brain as we sleep. This allows our brain to function more optimally.
- Emotional Health: Good sleep can help us be less reactive and more even keel. As a result, it leads to better moods and enables us to have a more positive outlook on life.
Did You Know?
- A lack of sleep can result in weight gain and not being able to lose weight!
- Caffeine counters sleepiness by blocking adenosine from working, that’s our sleep driving chemical.
- If you eat earlier (ideally before 8pm) and don’t snack in the evenings, you are more likely to have a good night’s rest.
How Sleep Deprivation Affects You
Sleep deprivation is the impact of not having enough sleep. This can be linked to a single night’s bad sleep or a cumulation of not sleeping enough or bad quality sleep. It can drain and impact every area of your life.
7 Possible Results of Sleep Deprivation
- Memory problems.
- Hampering of concentration and the ability to focus.
- Negatively impacting your mood. And causing feelings of demotivation, depression and anxiety.
- Weakened immune system.
- Increased risk of chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure and diabetes
- Escalated risk of accidents due to increased reaction times, poor balance and/or constant drowsiness.
- Lowered sex drive.
How to Sleep Better
There are various factors which influence the quality of our sleep. For instance, light and dark, temperature as well when and what we eat and drink.
5 Tips to Get a Better Night’s Rest
- Set a schedule of when you are going to go to sleep and wake up.
- Create a bedtime routine (bath, teeth, read in bed, listen to music…).
- Try to avoid or minimize caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and any other stimulating substances during the latter part of the day.
- Eat a lighter meal as early as possible in the evenings and limit after dinner snacks.
- Reduce screen time in the evening and if using a screen activate the blue-light filters. Ideally your sleeping area shouldn’t have a TV or computer.
Hiring a Coach to Help
Many times, the reason we battle to sleep, or we sleep badly, is because we are worried about something. Alternatively, we feel overwhelmed and are trying to figure out how to reach a goal. This could be linked to work or our personal lives.
Life coaching is about assisting you to get what you want. A life coach isn’t a therapist. Rather they are a partner. They help you to understand what you want and to define a sustainable plan to get there. They then assist by holding you accountable and encouraging you, while they help keep your focus on obtaining that goal. By tapping into the skills of a life coach, you can alleviate worry and feelings of being overwhelmed. This is because you have a plan and someone to help you achieve it. Which in turn, will help you sleep better.
Are you interested in assisting people on their life journey? To assist them to achieve personal and work goals as well as a healthier all-around life approach? If so, consider the coaching study options at SACAP. These courses are designed to enable you to have a successful coaching career. Enquire now.