We have all grown up hearing the adage ‘early to bed and early to rise, makes you healthy, wealthy and wise’. But as you grow, you seem to forget it and adapt your sleep cycle to pull all-nighters for studies or work. Other important tasks take precedence over a full, good night’s sleep. However, there is more substance to that little rhyme than you realise. There has been plenty of scientific research to prove the importance of an undisturbed sleep cycle in maintaining optimum physical and mental health.
Effects Of Sleep
Here are a few ways sleep affects us:
Every good trainer will tell you that good sleep is an essential component of a weight-loss routine. While the direct relation may not be apparent, it is because a shorter sleep cycle affects hormones which impede weight loss. It also has an effect on your mood, which can adversely affect your willingness to exercise. Inadequate sleep also disbalances appetite and people who sleep poorly tend to consume more calories.
Have you realised how difficult it is to work after pulling an all-nighter? Sleep deprivation severely hampers how well your brain can concentrate. This, in turn, impedes comprehension and overall productivity. Good sleep, on the other hand, is essential for brain health and improves memory. You should also practice yoga for concentration and to improve overall sleep cycle.
Insufficient sleep makes you slow and dull. Good sleep makes sure that your brain is attentive and your muscles are well-rested. That, in turn, improves speed, accuracy and reflex in physical activity and sports.
4. Lifestyle Diseases
People who get inadequate sleep are at a greater risk of heart disease and stroke. Poor sleep reduces insulin sensitivity, making one more susceptible to diabetes. Your immunity also takes a big hit every time you lose sleep. Digestive issues and inflammation too, get exaggerated with poor sleep.
5. Social Interactions
People with poor sleep quality have also been noted to have a lesser willingness to interact with others. Impulsiveness, undue anger, mood swings, sadness and lack of motivation are all symptomatic of poor or inadequate sleep.
There is ample evidence to prove that we should be taking our sleep more seriously. But what are the things that determine the quality of your sleep cycle?
6 Factors Affecting Sleep
There are various factors that govern your sleep pattern. Knowing and understanding them will help you to alter your surroundings and habits so you can get the best sleep possible.
1. Circadian Cycle
Also known as the ‘body clock’, the circadian cycle repeats every 24 hours and controls when we fall asleep and when we wake up. Every hour that you are awake, adenosine (a compound), keeps increasing in your brain. When it reaches a peak, it signals to the body that it is time to sleep. When you are sleeping, this adenosine gets broken down and your body gets ready to wake up. The circadian cycle also responds to external stimuli like light, sound, and darkness to determine when you may feel awake or drowsy.
Light in your surroundings indicates to your brain the time of day. Your brain perceives more light as day time when it should be awake. Similarly, lesser light is perceived as the night when you should be sleeping. This is why it is advised that there should be minimal to no light when you go to sleep.
Melatonin, also called the ‘sleep hormone’, gets released when it is dark and induces sleep by making you drowsy. Melatonin peaks in your body around the evening, which is the best time to sleep. The longer you avoid sleeping then, the more melatonin wears off and the harder it becomes to sleep. On the other hand is cortisol, the hormone responsible for waking you up.
It is difficult to get a sound sleep if the ambient temperature around you is too high or too low. While the ideal temperature varies for individuals and also depends on the weather, good sleep is associated with a cooler temperature.
5. Time Taken To Sleep
If you fall asleep as soon as you hit the sack, it is an indication that you are getting adequate and quality sleep. However, if you take longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep while in bed, it is time to have a relook at your habits. Investing in a relaxing activity like a warm bath or light reading may help.
6. Pre-Sleep Habits
If you have disruptive habits before bedtime, they will reflect on your quality of sleep. These include long screen time right before bed, eating a big heavy meal for dinner, or consuming caffeine or other stimulants before going to bed. These should be avoided at all costs to achieve good sleep.
4 Stages Of Sleep
There is more to sleep than simply ‘going to bed’. There are various stages of sleep with different qualities of sleep at each stage. They have a restorative and curative effect on our body and mind, so it is important that we know about them.
Broadly, there are two categories of sleep:
- Non-REM Cycle: Non- Rapid Eye Movement (REM) cycle is when the eyes move inside the eyelids while asleep.
- REM Cycle: It is when the eyes remain still inside the eyelids while you sleep.
Together they constitute a single cycle, wherein you go through the following stages of sleep:
This is the stage at which you lie in bed waiting to fall asleep. In sleep cycle time, it should ideally last for 10 minutes.
2. Light Sleep
From awakeness, the mind enters the stage of light sleep. Its characteristics are:
- Relaxation of muscles
- Slowing down of breathing and heart rate
- Drop in body temperature
3. Deep Sleep
From light sleep, the body transitions to deep sleep, where:
- Blood pressure lowers
- Muscles, tissues and cells get repaired
- Long, slow brain waves
This is the stage when you are the deepest state of sleep and will not be easily woken up. Its duration depends on your age and health condition, but generally it lasts for 2 hours.
4. REM Cycle
Out of all the sleep cycle stages, this is the most important one for your brain health. It is associated with dreaming and improvement of memory and cognitive ability. It occurs 90 minutes after you fall asleep. In sleep cycle time, REM keeps lengthening with each cycle.
- Respiration and heart rate increases
- High brain activity where dreams occur and eyes move
In one night’s sleep, your body goes through these sleep cycle stages 4-5 times, with earlier ones being NREM and later ones being REM.
5 Tips For Improving Sleep
Having understood the restorative and health benefits of good sleep, let’s look at how you can get the best sleep:
- Set A Routine: Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Also, try to follow a definite pre-bed routine like brushing teeth, warm shower or light reading. Your body and mind will get habituated to this and it will be easier for you to fall asleep.
- Quieten Your Mind: Right before going to bed, avoid doing activity which may invigorate the brain, like video games, intense reading, texting, or TV. Instead, meditate or write in a gratitude journal to unburden your mind and calm it.
- Relax Muscles: You can do this by taking a warm shower, massaging any tense areas in the body
- Sleeping Environment: Keep your sleeping space uncluttered and clean, and at cooler temperature as it induces better sleep. As discussed earlier, darkness helps you sleep better too.
- Uberman Sleep Cycle: If traditional sleep patterns do not fit with your routine, you can try the Uberman sleep cycle which involves 20 minute naps throughout the day, instead of an 8-hour sleep once.
Remember the ‘3 Rs’ for a good night’s sleep:
- Regularity is key. Sleep at the same time and for the same duration everyday. Follow this on weekends as well.
- Relax your mind and body as much as possible, before bed.
- Regulate your sleep. Sleeping too much or too less is bad for long-term quality of sleep.
FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What things should I avoid to get sound sleep?
A. Avoid the following to get better sleep:
- Artificial Light: exposure to bright, artificial blue light reduces quality of sleep. Stop using your phone, TV or computer 1-2 hours before going to bed.
- Caffeine and Nicotine: Found in coffee and tobacco respectively, both are stimulating substances. They keep your brain from snoozing and can interfere with sleep.
- Heavy Meals: Right before bed, they will make you feel bloated and uncomfortable and will hamper sleep.
- Naps: Do not sleep for more than 20 minutes in your mid-day naps. If you still have trouble sleeping, try to avoid them altogether.
- Alcohol: Even though it makes you drowsy, the quality of alcohol-induced sleep is very low. You do not get very deep sleep and miss out on its restorative benefits.
Q. Are there any foods that can help me sleep better?
A. Below are some foods that can help you sleep better:
- Warm Milk: It has melatonin, the sleep inducing hormone. The warmth also has a comforting effect that helps you to sleep.
- Chamomile Tea: It has traditionally been used to cure insomnia. Apigenin, a compound found in it, is supposed to be responsible for the sleep promotion.
- Fatty Fish: You can have it for dinner. Not only is it a light meat and easily digestible, it also has Vitamin D and Omega-3. They improve the production of the serotonin hormone in the brain, which is important for sleep regulation.