Sleep is as essential for your body as is a good diet and exercise. If you are getting poor sleep, it will have an adverse impact on hormones and brain performance. Decoding the science of sleep is the primary aim of this detailed guide. Right from the purpose of good sleep to how you can get good sleep, we have covered it all in this detailed sleep guide.
The Science of Sleep
According to science, sleep impacts every system of our body. Our brain has multiple parts engaged in the pursuit of releasing hormones and chemicals that regulate sleep and wakefulness. Scientific research can shed light on the mechanics of the brain and body when asleep. With this knowledge, the connection between sleep and other elements such as emotions, mental health, and body is clarified and offers insights for people to get better sleep.
The average adult spends at least 36% of the entire lifespan sleeping. From being thoughtful, vibrant, and active, we transition to a period of hibernation every night that makes one-third of our time on the earth.
Why is sleep so important? Why is it so restorative for our body and mind that lack of it affects us when we are awake?
The purpose of good sleep
A good night's sleep serves numerous purposes for our mind and body. Let's discuss some of the most crucial ones here:
It helps in the restoration of the body and mind
In its course of daily neural activity, our brain keeps on accumulating metabolic waste. It is a normal phenomenon, but too much metabolic waste leads to neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's.
The National Institutes of Health states that sleep help remove metabolic waste, sleep plays an essential role. The toxins can be washed out from the brain throughout the day, but it is far more effective and faster while sleeping.
Wondering how does this happen? Keep reading...
Our brain cells shrink while we sleep, allowing the “glymphatic system” to take the waste out more effectively and efficiently. Cells in the brain called glial cells manage this system. The glymphatic system is the waste removal process of our brain, and this is exactly why you wake up refreshed and energized after a good night's sleep.
Boosts metabolic health
When you get half-sleep at night instead of the entire 8 hours, your body burns energy from carbohydrates and protein instead of fat. Such anomaly leads to fat gain and muscle loss. Insulin insensitivity and metabolic syndrome can also kick in with lack of proper sleep, leading to diabetes and heart diseases.
Helps in memory consolidation
Memory consolidation is the process of maintaining and strengthening your long-term memory. Scientific studies suggest that with good sleep, proper memory consolidation takes place. With incomplete or fragmented sleep, you will find it difficult to form emotional and concrete memories.
What happens when you fall asleep?
As soon as you start sleeping, there are noticeable changes in your body and brain. The body temperature slowly starts coming down, brain activity decreases, and the respiration system also slows down. This ensures that the body's energy expenditure while sleeping is at its lowest!
However, how your body and brain remain during sleep is very dynamic. In a night of good sleep, you will be progressing through multiple sleep cycles, each lasting from 70 minutes to 120 minutes. Each sleep cycle is composed of a separate sleep stage, and understanding these sleep stages is extremely important!
What are the sleep stages?
There are four stages of sleep divided into two different categories. Non-REM (Rapid eye movement) category has three stages, while the fourth stage falls in REM sleep.
When you just fall asleep, you are at stage 1 and slowly progressing towards stage 2. During this phase, the brain and body activity starts slowing down. It is in these initial stages that you can be easily woken up.
Stage 3 is the deep sleep stage in the NREM sleep category. When in this stage, your body and muscles are totally relaxed, and the brain waves clearly reflect deep sleep rather than being active. It is this stage that helps in memory consolidation as well as healing of the body.
Stage 4 is the one stage of REM sleep. In this stage, the brain activity increases visibly while the entire body (other than the eyes and breathing muscles) is in a state of temporary paralysis. The most intense and realistic dreams take place during the REM sleep stage.
The REM sleep stage enables essential functions like learning and memory, and hence it is essential for our brain. As you sleep at night, most of your sleep duration stays in the REM sleep. The second half of the night is when the REM sleep stage mainly occurs. The different sleep stages and cycles of a person are referred to as the individual's sleep architecture. Every stage plays a role in healthy sleep architecture and helps generate an overall sleep quality.
How much sleep does your body need?
Getting an entire night of sleep is essential, but how do we know the duration that'll help us complete our sleep? Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Washington State University suggest that when you get 6 hours of sleep for 2 weeks back-to-back, you start performing like you have been sleepless for straight 48 hours. Also, if you are sleeping only 4 hours every day, you will realize that your cognitive abilities are reduced.
They came up with these findings after conducting research where they made four different groups with different sleep schedules.
1st group was asked to stay up for 3 nights straight,
2nd group was asked to sleep for 8 hours,
3rd group was suggested to sleep 6 hours,
while the last group was asked to sleep for 4 hours only.
Needless to say, the group that slept for a complete 8 hours were the ones who showed no attention lapses or cognitive diseases.
What is Sleep Debt?
Sleep debt is also regarded as a sleep deficit. It is the difference between the sleep that someone needs and the sleep that they achieve in reality. Suppose you are getting 4 hours of sleep every day instead of 8 hours, then you have 4 hours of sleep debt daily.
The idea of sleep debt is cumulative. If you are going to bed an hour or two late at times, it also adds up as sleep debt. Browsing through the phone, reading, or overthinking can often lead to such sleep debt, which can affect your overall performance later.
At times it might get tricky to avoid sleep debt. You cannot avoid sleep debt, be it an outing with your friends or family, a late-night binge-watching session, or just more work on your plate. In such instances, make sure that you recover all the lost sleep in a day or two so that it doesn't impact your sleep health.
The actual cost of Sleep debt and deprivation
While people might feel that working late hours is making them more productive and hence, can cut down on their sleep, it is wrong. Such sleep deprivation can often lead to reduced productivity, and therefore, your total effort rounds up to zero.
In the United States, sleep deprivation costs businesses more than $100 billion every year due to a lack of efficient performance.
The question that comes now is what should be considered high sleep debt?
As per various studies and research, the high point is generally 7-8 hours. After 7-8 hours of sleep debt, you will start feeling tired, and your performance will begin declining. It is suggested by experts that adults get at least 8 hours of sleep daily and when it comes to teenagers, children, or older people, they need even more sleep!
Can you catch up on the lost sleep?
If you go sleepless for the entire week, getting some extra sleep on the weekend might help you get rid of some tiredness. However, it is seen that catching up on sleep during the weekend reduces sleepiness and inflammation, but cognitive performance level doesn't bounce back.
This means that you cannot really catch up on the lost sleep during the weekends, and even if you do, it won't help your focus. Getting sleep equally every night and following a proper sleep routine is extremely important. Remember, good sleep should be your priority always and not only on the weekends!
With all these said, the main question remains how you can actually fall asleep!
How to sleep better and faster?
Follow total power down before going to bed
The light from the computer screen or your mobile phone hinders the production of the Melatonin hormone and hence makes it difficult to fall asleep. This is why following a total power-down routine where you switch off all the devices that radiate blue light is recommended for getting good sleep. If you are working late, your brain remains in an active state, making it difficult to get better sleep. We suggest that rather than scrolling through your phone, read a book for 30 minutes before bed. Reading enhances the chances of you sleeping better and faster.
We all go through various stress throughout the day, which leaves us sleepless at night. According to statistics, more than 50% of Americans have insomnia because of stress. This is why performing a few methods to outlet the stress within you is the best solution.
You can practice daily journaling, deep breathing, and some light exercises to beat the stress and feel relaxed before going to bed.
Best sleeping positions
You performed all the stress-relieving practices, cut down blue light, read books, slept for 8 hours on the perfect mattress, and still woke up with aches and pain? Well, something you missed out on is the sleeping position!
The feeling of satisfaction you get when you snuggle into your bed and get into some bizarre position to sleep comfortably is understood. But if it leaves you with aches and pain, it isn't probably amongst the best sleeping positions.
Other than aches and pain, you may face many issues when you sleep in the wrong posture. They are-
- Sleep apnea
- Muscle cramping
- Impaired circulation, and more!
As per the science of sleep, sleeping on your back is probably amongst the best sleeping positions you can try. When you sleep on your back, the chances of aches and pain are reduced drastically. As your head is at an elevated level than your chest, the chances of heartburn also get reduced substantially.
However, it is seen that naturally, only 8 percent of people sleep in this position. On the other hand, the most popular sleeping position - "sleeping on your side." This can lead to hip and neck pain. Specifically, sleeping on your right might trigger acidic heartburn as the muscles of the esophagus loosen up in this position, and it allows the acid of the stomach to crawl back up.
So, if you are sleeping on your side, choose a perfect pillow that gives ample support to your neck and shoulder. It will avoid acid reflux and neck pain.
The worst of all sleeping positions is sleeping on your stomach. It is estimated that around 7 percent of people sleep in this position. When you sleep on your stomach, it puts pressure on your entire body, and you may wake up with numbness and aches. If you still wish to sleep in this posture, use a flatter pillow to put less pressure on your neck.
Here's how to welcome better sleep every night!
Simple, easy, and daily habits have the power to harness great sleep for you every night. Here are a few of them-
Say no to smoking or late-night alcohol
When you smoke or enjoy late-night booze, the nicotine or the alcohol hinders your sleep. Nicotine is known to prevent the production of melatonin hormone. With late-night alcohol intake, you may find difficulty getting quality sleep, and the following day will surely leave you dizzy.
No coffee after lunch.
If you are a person who cannot wake up fully without a morning coffee, that's okay! You need to chuck off any caffeine intake after your lunch from your diet. When there's caffeine in your body, it easily prevents you from falling asleep.
Exercising is a habit that needs to be part of your routine regardless of age. Being overweight or unfit can cause disturbance in your sleep, so choosing exercise is the need of the hour. However, keep in mind that you do not exercise 2-3 hours before bedtime. The mental and physical stimulation makes your nervous system feel wired and tougher to calm down for sleep.
Too much noise around you never helps you get the perfect Zzz. You need to control the noise level in your bedroom to get good sleep. Use "white noise" as it helps you sleep, or you can also try putting in earplugs so that you can cut off from the disturbing noise around.
Good sleep is irreplaceable as far as the science of sleep is concerned. The sleep you lose out on cannot be earned back, so stop obsessing and work to get those much-needed Zzz. In this productivity-obsessed generation, try and focus on the importance of getting good sleep. To sum it up, if you sleep well, everything else falls right into place!
How can we help?
Mancini's Sleepworld hosts the best mattresses and sleep accessories from a wide variety of brands. Step in at any of our stores near you and speak to a mattress specialist!