Why does the quality of our sleep matters so much?
Although an occasional sleepless night usually does not pose much of a problem, running a sleep deficit over time will cause a lot of problems. Restorative sleep is an essential ingredient for a healthy mind and body, and every bodily system will suffer for lack of it. Even the best energy supplement can't take the place of quality sleep.
Many people think of sleep as a waste of time or a luxury. We buy into this odd notion that successful people get by with just a few hours of sleep a night or that sleep is “unproductive” time. Clearly these are the thoughts of a foggy, sleep-deprived mind.
An inadequate amount of quality sleep not only adversely affects brain health (retention, judgment, and reaction time), but also damages our overall health by weakening our immune system. Proper sleep is a fundamental necessity of your body. Since we often push our body to its limits on a daily basis, it needs adequate time to recharge, recover, and rejuvenate.
What is sleep?
There are two phases of sleep: Rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM). The various brain activities underway during different stages of sleep are as distinct from each other as they are from wakefulness, and each of them serve a critical purpose for brain health and bodily restoration.
Non-REM sleep consists of four stages, which range from light dozing to deep sleep. Throughout this state of sleep, muscle activity is still functional, breathing is low, and brain activity is minimal. Approximately 75 percent of the sleep cycle is spent in non-REM sleep. Simple thought processes may be reported if you are awakened in any stage of non-REM sleep, however you will likely not recall any specific dream. The non-REM “deep sleep” stage in the sleep cycle is absolutely essential for our body to regenerate and recharge, and to strengthen our immune system. Key processes such as repair and growth of muscle and tissues, immunity, and energy production all require quality deep sleep to take place.
REM sleep typically occupies 20% - 25% of total sleep among adults, so during a normal night’s sleep we usually experience about four or five periods of REM sleep. These periods are short at the beginning of the night and longer toward the end. During REM, the activity of our brain's neurons is similar to that during waking hours. REM sleep is physiologically different from the phases of non-REM sleep. Vividly recalled dreams mostly occur during REM sleep, as do nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT).
While non-REM sleep recharges our body, nightly REM sleep recharges our mind by strengthening neural pathways, especially those related to memory, and boosts our brain’s healthy supply of key mood-balancing neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine.
What are my best strategies to improve my sleep?
First of all, consciously mange your levels of avoidable stress since there is a strong connection between sleep and stress. Try not to "stress over" matters that you will likely neither remember nor care about two weeks from now. (Tips on Stress Reduction)
Secondly, understand the domino or ripple effect in play here. For example, managing stress helps with sleep. Quality sleep helps us to manage stress. Exercise reduces stress and helps us to sleep better. The better nourished we are, the better we are able to manage stress and the better sleep we will get. And so on.
And thirdly, here are some actions you can take right now to improve your quality of sleep:
- One of the simplest solutions to poor sleep is turning off all lights and electronic devices.
- Make sure the room is completely dark, so that you cannot see your hand in front of your face.
- Keep electric clocks with their digital displays at least 3 feet away from your head.
- Take the TV out of the bedroom. This one can be difficult, but it makes a big difference. While you may think that watching TV helps you go to sleep, the opposite is actually true. Some other white noise, like a fan or sounds of ocean waves, can serve the same purpose without lowering melatonin and interfering with deep sleep.
- Establish regular sleep and wake schedules, even on weekends. When it comes to sleep, your body craves consistency.
- Consider creating a regular, relaxing bedtime routine—which you should begin an hour or more before the time you expect to fall asleep—such as taking a hot shower or listening to soothing music.
- Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows. And opt for natural fabric as bed sheets—cotton or wool is good.
- Use your bedroom for sleep and sex only. Keep "sleep stealers" (e.g., watching TV, using a computer, or reading in bed) out of the bedroom. And definitely have more sex.
- Finish eating at least 2 to 3 hours before your regular bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.
- If you get up often at night to urinate, stop drinking fluids, including water, 3 hours before bedtime.
- Try a melatonin dietary supplement. Many high quality options are readily available.
If you follow these recommendations, but still are struggling with sleep, see a doctor. It is important to pinpoint the deeper cause behind your insomnia.
Sleep must be a priority. We can get away with one or two late nights, but on the third night, we need to pay back the sleep time lost.
We should schedule sleep like any other daily activity: put it on our "to-do list" and cross it off every night. Make it a priority. Let’s give our body a chance to recharge. Let’s not needlessly compromise our immune system.
As always, let’s make smart choices that will improve our odds of success in life. Improving the quality of our sleep is a smart choice. And a great way to get more Rooster back into your life!
David & Dr. Geo