Is there ever a time when you feel like you are missing out on something? Do you feel like there isn’t enough time in the day?
Being able to and actually getting a full nights sleep is very critical to our health and growth as we age. Our bodies are built just like the Sun and Moon, alternating from being awake and active, to resting and reflecting. The average night of sleep is eight hours, so that adds up to roughly a third of our lives being asleep. Let’s discuss the correlation between our sleep/wake cycle and our environment, why it is so crucial to get good rest, and how to do so.
Our sleep/wake cycle
The circadian rhythm, otherwise known as our biological clock, is responsible for keeping our time being awake and sleeping in equilibrium. Without it, or without it functioning properly, life can be very imbalanced and become stressful. If the imbalance lasts for long periods of time, mood, attitude, and psychological well-being will be negative and draining. Eventually, the body is forced to go to sleep in order to rest and rejuvenate. There are many bodily processes that at the deepest level, only fully function while in the different stages of sleep. Muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, growth hormone production, and storing, organizing memories for the long term.
The 5 stages of sleeping are usually listed simply as 1,2,3,4 and REM, or rapid eye movement. Stages 1-4 are categorized as NREM (non rapid eye movement). Everyone normally goes through these five stages in cycles, meaning you will be in each stage several times throughout the night. For some, getting to REM sleep never happens, as they do not sleep long enough, are not relaxed enough before they go to sleep, or have spent the few hours before bed “hyping up” their bodies.
What does this mean?
As we function throughout each day and night, our brain functions on different frequencies of waves, each one correlating to a different time during the day and routine pattern. Those waves are listed as Gamma, Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta. In another article I will go more in depth with each of the waves. For now, just keep note that each wave serves shows how fast our brain is working based on what we are doing. Gamma being the fastest, (learning) and Delta being the slowest (sleeping).
If Delta waves are not reached due to inability to relax, short sleep time, or or the body not fully in sleep mode, (kind of like our computers) Then REM sleep will never happen, and the body will never fully restore. This will result in feeling groggy or sluggish the next day, having less energy, or irritability is more likely to happen.
Getting good rest is vital
Not only is rest vital, but the quality of rest that you get is just as important. We need sleep to recharge, to balance our bodies. Without it, we will cease to function. If anyone has seen a Nightmare on Elm Street, then you know that forcing yourself awake for more than 72 hours (for most people) will result in hallucinations, loss of coordination and balance, and eventually the body will shut down and go to sleep.
Eating a lot before bed time, having a lot of lights on, or engaging in high attention activities, can impair our ability to sleep in the following hours. As with everything, there is a certain balance we must find during the hours winding down before bed. Too much, and our body hears our actions as “I still need to produce or be awake for quite a while”. Not enough of the right activity before bed, and the last reserves of the days energy are turned into wandering thoughts.
In this day and age, we seem to be fine with charging our phones and other electronic devices more than we do ourselves. And for what purpose? So you can scroll through Facebook more? We all need sleep, whether we like it or not. Might as well work with our bodies, instead of against it.
Here are some things that may help you fall asleep faster, and wind down your mind:
-reading a novel (specifically fiction!)
-writing down thoughts/feelings/ideas
-meditation ( I lay on my back completely still for at least 10-15 minutes every night, calms the mind)
There are a million ways to approach meditation-my friend Giovanni at liveanddare.com has a wonderful 5 week “Master Your Mind Meditation Course. It walks you through yourself essentially, showing you how to cultivate peace, clarity, find your center, sharpen your mind and expand your awareness. He also interacts with his community on his website and has thousands of hours of practicing meditation. Be sure to check him out!
-listening to calming music/tones found here at mp3-meditation-club
Unlike most isochronic or binaural tones found on Youtube, these at mp3-meditation-club.com are geared specifically for certain activities, whereas on Youtube you are pretty much on your own as far as finding what you need. Youtube is a perfect place to get free tones to aid in sleep though, and I highly recommend using calming music to help sleep!
-light walk/exercise to spend existing energy ( I personally do a set of push ups and sit ups normally before bed)
-harmonizing the endocannabinoid system (biggest change for me personally, helps balance serotonin and melatonin production)
-drinking calming teas that contain ingredients such as chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, kava kava, and many more.
-visualizing peaceful scenery
-cuddling with a partner or pet
Activities to avoid:
-heavy reading (nonfiction, studying textbooks, etc)
-most substances that “aid in sleep” (depressants, sleeping pills, benzodiazepines, alcohol, syrups)
-the obvious (stimulants like caffeine, chocolate, sugar, caines and amphetamines)
-loud noises or bright screens (even small lights from our phones can inhibit our body from getting to sleep.
Fighting, emotional trauma, stress, anxiety, worry and depression can all be factors that prolong sleep or lower the quality of the sleep that is completed. Another thing that can impair your ability to sleep is worrying about not being able to sleep. If you are focused on not being able to sleep, you will never sleep. Likewise, if you are focused on sleeping, eventually you will fall asleep.
Most sleep medications such as NyQuil and Melatonin, promise a good, full nights rest and no groggy feeling in the morning. In my personal experience, I have tried just about everything there is, both man made and natural, for sleep help. I have found that using man made synthetic remedies actually make sleep worse, it decreased my dreams, I felt groggy the next day until around noon, I had a hard time trying to stay awake the next morning, and I became dependent on these medications to sleep. Although the first few nights seemed wonderful, the sleepy shut off of the mind feeling soon faded, and all I was left with was the grogginess the next morning. Ambien, Vicodin, Dramamine, Diphenhydramine, Melatonin, (probably more, but this is what I can recall at the moment) all failed me.
But, to each his own, and if any of these things work for you, keep doing what your doing. as always, practice mindfulness, and let your body tell you what you need and when enough is enough.
The tones at mp3-meditation-club.com are very useful for studying, relaxing, getting to sleep faster, getting a deeper sleep, and a deeper transition into meditation. Although very helpful, headphones during sleep may not be the best idea for your eardrums in the long-run.
This topic of sleep will be further broken down in future articles. As always, any feedback or different perspectives/ideas are welcome, I would love to hear about your relationship with sleeping!
Mind over matter is key.
Chronos, the god of time, sleeping on a grave.