Get Some ZZZZZZZ’s

3 May

I’m sure you’ve heard it all before.  You need sleep, whether your a growing kid or just a kid at heart, sleep is vital to your health.  It does your body a lot of good, but more importantly it’s what lack of sleep can affect because you just had to stay up for those late night shows (sorry Jay!).  It can be difficult to prioritize sleep when your boss is breathing down your neck or you’re out having a good time with your pals at the latest night club, but in this crazy 24/7 lifestyle, a sleep when your dead mentality could truly put you in the grave sooner than you’d like.

Sleep Cycles

In order to understand how sleep helps you, it’s important to first understand the sleep/wake cycle and the stages of sleep.  You have an internal 24-hour sleep vs wake cycle which is referred to as your biological clock or circadian rhythm.  Whatever you want to call it, it is regulated by processes in your brain that respond to how long you’ve been awake or asleep and the changes in light.  When it gets dark out your body produces melatonin, which is a hormone that makes you sleepy.  When it’s light out the “sunlight’ triggers the brain to inhibit the production of melatonin and you feel alert and awake.

This sleep-wake cycle can be disrupted by factors such as traveling, irregular sleeping patterns, or night-shift work, leaving you feeling groggy, disoriented, and sleepy when you should be awake. On the flip side, sleep-cycle interruptions can cause you to be wide awake when you should be fast asleep.

There are two main pieces of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which consists of Stages 1 through 4.  During sleep, the body cycles between NREM and REM sleep. Typically, people begin the sleep cycle with a period of non-REM sleep followed by a very short period of REM sleep (we are talking 10 minutes here people). REM is where your dreams occur.  We are not going to focus on the 4 stages of NREM, just think of it as a progression of light sleep to deep sleep followed by the REM cycle then back to stage 2 (stage 1 only occurs during the first cycle after falling asleep)

Benefits of Sleep

During the deep stages of NREM is when the body repairs tissue damage, builds bone and muscle.  It is also shown to improve the immune system.  There are equally important benefits of REM sleep, this is the time that your brain processes emotions and issues from the day. It prepares your mind to handle the emotions, stresses and issues that are bound to arise the next day.  So when you’re cranky and snappy the next day, it’s probably from lack of good REM sleep.  There are also some studies that show that REM sleep helps our minds learn new skills.

Consequences of Not Enough Sleep

Beyond the obvious, like being cranky and kind of an A$$ the next day, lack of sleep does have some bad health consequences, worse than previously imagined.  On the surface, lack of sleep causes you to perform worse on the job, lose focus easily, and get fatigued and lethargic. You can difficulty making decisions and have a hard time remember things. On a more serious level, you could harm yourself or others!  You will have an increased risk of accidents and impaired motor skills.  One study showed that sleep deprived drivers are just as bad of drivers as their drunk counterparts.  You’re much more prone to weight gain and a suppressed immune system.  Nobody’s going to want to be around you when you’re moody and irritable.  The most recent discovery and possibly the most frightening, is that sleep deprived people have an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems than their well-rested counter-parts.

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

An infant will sleep about 16 hours a day, a teenager really does need 10 hours a day, but an adult?  Adults pretty much need 7.5-9 hours of sleep a day.  So the best bet is to start experimenting within that span, find out which amount leaves you feeling refreshed and well-rested.

How to get on a Regular Schedule

This part is really simple.  After figuring out the magic number that works for you start backwards from when you need to get up for work (or to work out!).  Once you’ve figured that out then subtract that magic number, then voila you have the time you need to go to bed!  Let me give you an example. I need to be up by 6am to get to the gym for my workout before getting ready for work.  I find that 8 hours of rest gives me the energy I need for a good day, so I need to be lights out and head of the pillow by or before 10pm.  It takes me about an hour to get ready to bed and unwind, I like to read before going to sleep, so I need to turn off the TV by 9pm.  Why you ask?  Because TV acts like light and inhibits your body’s ability to produce melatonin.

Now do I follow this routine religiously? No, I haven’t met anyone who could follow such a strict regimen (unless you’re in the military maybe).  But this gives me a game plan to strive towards.  Sometimes I do watch TV until I fall asleep and sometimes I don’t fall into bed until after midnight, but they key here is to try to stick to a routine as much as possible.

So my advice is to work yourself onto some semblance of a routine is to start going to bed every night a half hour earlier than you did the night before.  Continue this until you reach you ideal bedtime.  I can’t stress this enough: USE AN ALARM every day of the week. This will keep you on track, if I don’t use some form of an alarm and it’s dark in my room I think I could sleep right through the day sometimes.

And for those inevitable nights where you stay out with friends till 3 am? Well I’m not suggesting you only get 3 hours of sleep, because the deprivation is not a good idea, but try to get up somewhere along normal lines.  Try 8am instead of 6am.  Push through the day and go to sleep at your normal time. This will help keep you on a normal schedule. Yes that day will suck, but at least it means you’ll have no trouble going to bed.  But try, try, try to get to bed before the wee hours of the morning here people. Whatever your reason, stress or alcohol, neither are good for you!!!!!

What about Weekends?

Some people think “oh I’ll just make up for it this weekend” (GUILTY!) That doesn’t really help all that much. it helps some, but you’re better off not sleeping in all weekend. Just extend your sleep an extra hour tops. This allows you to stay on a more regular schedule.

How to Sleep Better Tonight!

Start unwinding about 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime. This means dimming the lights, turning off all electronics, and keep your seat belt fastened low and tight across your lap…oh wait this isn’t United! HA  But seriously, start destressing from your day and relax.  I drink a calming cup of tea, take a hot shower/bath and curl up in bed with a good book.  Stop drinking caffeine after 2pm and limit your alcohol intake to one glass.  Both of these substances inhibit your ability to get quality, deep sleep.

Enjoy your zzzzz‘s!

What helps you fall asleep fast? Post them below!


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