Sleep is a luxury that we just can’t do without, however how many of us can say they consistently get quality sleep every night? Sometimes it seems that waking up feeling tired or lethargic is the normal and having an awesome night sleep seems like a distant memory, something that is rarely attainable. It doesn’t have to be that way though. With a bit of focus and planning there’s no reason why you can’t be getting some quality sleep to give you bundles of energy to tackle all of your goals head on.
It’s no secret that lack of sleep is one of the biggest productivity killers. Stats such as the one discussed in the Zapier blog post show the importance of a quality nights sleep for workforces across the world. On a personal level lack of sleep affect so many areas of your life, ask nearly any parent of a newborn how their sleep has been recently!
So if we can get quality sleep night after night, can you imagine what you would be capable of?
What is sleep and why do we need it?
The Cambridge dictionary defines sleep as “the resting state in which the body is not active and the mind is unconscious” however sleep is a lot more than that. It’s an activity that allows you to recharge your body and mind, to grow, to heal, to recover, to dream.
Sleep (quality sleep) boosts your immune system, improves your memory and productivity, allows for better exercise, helps control weight gain and also improves your mood. In short you feel better, sharper with good quality sleep. Ask yourself how much better do you feel after a good nights sleep?
Typical the human body needs between 7 and nine hours of sleep to get optimal recuperative benefit.
On the surface it may appear that your body doesn’t do much during sleep however your brain is quite active during sleep. It’s only been in the last few decades that we understand how the brain works during sleep and how active it actually is during the sleep process.
What is the sleep process or sleep cycle?
The sleep process is a cycle (usually lasting for 90 minutes) that the body goes through several times during sleep. Essentially the sleep process can be broken down into 4 areas (determined by changes to your brain activity while asleep), awake/falling asleep, light sleep, deep sleep and REM.
During a typical sleep cycle you will travel from an awake/falling asleep state, to a light sleep state, into a deep sleep state, then into the REM state over a timeframe of 90 to 100 minutes. Then it’s back to the awake/falling asleep state to start the cycle again, a cycle which (hopefully) will be repeated several times during the period you are asleep. Let’s look at the stages in a little more detail:
Awake/Falling Asleep Stage (Non REM)
This is the first stage of the sleep cycle and the beginning of your sleep journey. If awoken in this stage of the sleep cycle you may not feel like you have been sleeping. This is ideally when you want to wake up or be woken up at. Not a lot happens in this stage though you may experience the odd twitch or involuntary movement. In the Awake/Falling Asleep stage your brain is likely in the Alpha wave stage heading towards the Theta wave stage.
Light Sleep Stage (Non REM)
This is the stage that your body goes into a deeper relaxation mode. Your body starts to slow down in this stage, your heart rate slows as does your eye movement as you move into a slower brain wave (though you may occasionally experience a dose of a higher brain wave in this light sleep stage. If woken in this stage you may feel a little groggy though it won’t take too long to recalibrate. In the light sleep stage your brain is also likely in the Theta wave stage.
Deep Sleep Stage (Non REM)
This is the stage where your body repairs itself, tissue and bone is healed, the immune system is replenished. If you’ve been hitting the gym hard this is the period where your muscles grow and repair. Eye and body movement is basically non existent in this stage and if someone woke you up in this stage of sleep you’d likely be disorientated for a little while. Your brain also moves into the Delta wave state during the Deep Sleep stage. As you get older your sleep gets lighter and it isn’t as easy to get prolonged time in the Deep Sleep stage.
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Stage
This is the stage where you dream, your eye movement is rapid, hence the name being Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage. Breathing and heart rate increases as does your brain activity. Control of your body is temporarily removed. At this part of the sleep cycle your brain waves are similar to that of someone who is awake. As you get older the amount of time spent in the REM stage decreases (particularly compared to when you were a child or adolescent).
For those who want to read up more on brain waves during sleep this article goes into it in more detail.
It is important that your sleep allows you to go through all the stages of the sleep cycle and to spend time in the deep/restorative sleep stage. When not going through your sleep cycle and getting that deep restorative sleep, this can be very dangerous to your overall health (compromised immune systems, mental fragility, etc.). That’s why health issues such as insomnia and sleep apnoea are so dangerous if left untreated.
Ideally you will wake up (or be woken up) at the end of one of these 90 minute sleep cycles to allow a positive, energetic start to your day.
So what can we do to get a better sleep every night?
1. Planning your wake up time around the 90 minute sleep cycle
Hands up who has woken up to the sound of a blaring alarm half asleep not really knowing what was happening? Chances are you were woken while you were in the deeper sleep stage of a sleep cycle. One tip to avoiding this is to determine what time you want to get up tomorrow morning and work backwards in 90 minute cycles. For example let’s say that you
want to get up around 6am, working backwards in 90 minute cycles you would look to go to bed at either 12am (6 hours sleep comprising of 4 90 minute sleep cycles), 10.30pm (7.5 hours sleep comprising 5 90 minute sleep cycles) or 9pm (9 hours sleep comprising of 6 full 90 minute sleep cycles).
By working backwards you looking to eliminate that feeling of waking up tired (or in the deep sleep portion of a sleep cycle). If you want to determine your sleep cycle length you can track this using an app (we recommend Sleep Cycle) to determine your average cycle length. A good sleep app can also track the quality of your sleep, how long it takes you to get to sleep, whether you snore or cough during your sleep coughed or snored during your sleep, etc.
2. Try and stick to a nightly routine and a similar time where you go to bed
Now that you’ve found your ideal wake up time (or at least ideal in regards to getting to work, getting to the gym or exercising, getting the kids up and off to school) try and stick to a regular time you go to bed. Not only will it help you work out when you need to wake up but your body gets used to this time and starts to wind down in preparation of this sleep time.
This ties into the same nightly bed time. Getting into a regular routine such as showering, shutting down tech, having your nightly beverage, sorting out the children, finishing off any work assignments, any romantic activities, etc. The quicker you get into this routine, the quicker your body will adapt and the better your chances of getting quality sleep regularly.
Stick to a sleep routine across the whole week and avoid sleep debts where possible.
3. Employ good sleep habits (sleep hygiene) and set up a good sleep environment
The above sleep routine point is part of this, employing good sleep habits/sleep hygiene is crucial to quality sleep (particularly as you get older). Set up your bedroom to make it conducive to sleep. Your bedroom should be cool, dark and comfortable and ideally your bed should only be used for a couple of things, sleep being one of them. Make sure you are sleeping on a quality mattress with a quality pillow (or pillows), quality bed linen, basically everything that will allow you a good nights sleep.
What is the air like in your bedroom? It might pay to use a quality air filter or humidifier to create an ideal sleep environment. Try to avoid eating close to your bed time and avoid coffee and alcohol close to your bed time where possible.
Try to stay away from using your computer phone or other tech at least an hour before bed. Better yet when using your tech at night wear a pair of specialised glasses that filter the blue light from these tech screens.
Exercise during the day will also help you sleep though watch your sleep if you are exercising close to your bed time.
4. Track your sleep
Improvements in modern technology have given us access to technology that only a few years ago was accessible to only those with a lot of money or by visiting a hospital or research facility. Apps such as Sleep Cycle, Sleep Score, Sleep Time and Pillow can produce an amazing amount of information regarding the tracking of your sleep.
When selecting your sleep app you want one that can monitor your sleep patterns (ideally using your phone’s microphone to record your sleep sounds), allow you to set an alarm based on where you are in your sleep cycle (ideally being woken in the light sleep stage) and provide detailed data on your nightly sleep habits.
Analysing the data from your sleep app can help you analyse and rectify any potential sleep issues. For example you may be unaware that you snore and this is causing sleep issues for you. Using the sleep app data (and in conjunction with your GP) you can look at some solutions to fix this and get back to better sleep.
As mentioned above we recommend the sleep app Sleep Cycle to track your sleep. It has a large array of charts of your sleep, uses your phone’s microphone to record your sleep and it has the option to set a window to be woken up in (to wake you in a light sleep stage). Best of all it’s free to download and use!
5. Additional tech help to get better sleep
We talked about the Sleep Cycle app above, however another app that we use to help with our sleep with Brain.fm. As we discussed previously here, Brain.fm is a audio neurotech app that uses non-invasive music to get you into a desired brain wave state.
Looking at an example to help with your sleep, if you’re looking to wind down after a long and tense day at work Brain.fm has a relaxation option to gets your brain into Theta relaxation state which can help you relax and help with your sleep.
Brain.fm also has a guided and unguided sleep option if you are having sleep issues, provided patented audio for your whole sleep cycle.
Some of you might live in an noisy area or would like some sounds to help with your sleep and apps such as Noisli, Sleep Sounds (by Sleep Pillow) and White Noise Deep Sounds can help you with this.
Sleep is such an important part of our lives that it makes sense you would want to have high quality sleep. Prioritising your sleep and following some of the tips above will allow you to become more happier, healthier and efficient, achieving things you didn’t think were possible.
Better health, better performance and better moods await you once you embark on your better sleep journey. Making some small lifestyle changes and setting up your bedroom to enable great sleep will have you waking up like a new person, ready to take on all challenges for your day!