Getting Some Sleep? Part 4

Last week, we looked at the processes that regulate sleep cycles. There are factors that can prevent this that we can easily modify in our lives.

Suggestions for modifying the amounts and timing of using these substances are part of “sleep hygiene” which we will explore in more depth next week when we take a closer look at some sleep solutions!

For many, alcoholic beverages tend to be relaxing and induce drowsiness. However, later in the night, as alcohol is metabolized, it leads to restless and disturbed sleep. The result is a far less refreshing sleep. Therefore drinking alcohol close to bedtime is generally discouraged.

Caffeine is a relatively long-acting stimulant whose effects may last for several hours after it is consumed. People differ greatly in the rate at which caffeine affects them and as a result, in the length of time during which it might impact their sleep. On average, 4–5 hours after a modest amount of caffeine has been consumed, about half the amount of caffeine continues to act as a stimulant in our brains. This activity may last even longer after higher levels of intake and in individuals who are particularly sensitive to its effects, including older adults. We therefore recommend limiting consumption of caffeinated beverages to the equivalent of no more than three, eight- ounce cups daily and avoiding consumption after lunch.

Cravings for nicotine can occur during the middle of night because nicotine has a short half- life of approximately 2 hours and therefore leaves the body fairly quickly. As the body breaks down nicotine, a person experiences withdrawal symptoms, such as agitation and tension. This leads to the consumption of more nicotine in order to reduce these symptoms. In other words, each dose of nicotine relaxes the tension and agitation that were produced by withdrawal from the previous nicotine consumption. This means that rather than relaxing tension from everyday stresses, nicotine only treats the tension and agitation that resulted from withdrawal from the previous intake. Because of this, if you smoke, it is best to avoid smoking at least two hours before bedtime.

Exercise too close to bedtime may have a negative impact on sleep. This is associated with the fact that exercise is activating. Exercise raises an our core body temperature and therefore may interfere with the daily drop in temperature before bedtime that supports sleep. For these reasons exercise should be avoided about four hours before bedtime. Gentle stretching exercises before bedtime are OK and may, in fact, be relaxing and, possibly even, supportive of sleep.

A heavy meal close to bedtime may lead to indigestion and sometimes reflux during the night, both of which may cause arousal in our physiology. The process of falling asleep slows down the digestive system. Because of this, going to bed before food is fully digested is a poor sleep practice and eating a heavy meal should be avoided about four hours before bedtime. Because feeling hungry may also interfere with sleep, a light snack can be OK. Eating in the middle of the night is also not a good idea because it sends alerting signals to our brain and can prolong the time you are awake.

Now, we’ve spent some time looking at how sleep works for us and why it’s important to support our best sleep on a regular basis. We’ve also started taking a look at how some things in our day to day lives can get in the way of us getting some good, quality, restful sleep. Next time, we will go through some best practices for promoting our best sleep so that we can wake up feeling refreshed, energized, calm, and ready to celebrate our life everyday!

If you’re looking for some tips on getting better sleep in the meantime, I shared some tips with Reader’s Digest recently that you can get started with.

Curious what I can offer you to help build the life you love? Get in touch!

Get access to more valuable content weekly here!

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Getting Some Sleep? Part 2

Last week, we looked at some general information about how challenging it can be to ensure we are sleeping soundly and adequately. Still, a question remains as to why we do sleep. While some disparity amongst sleep experts persists, there are some fundamental reasons for our restful sleep to enhance our lives.

Many people exacerbate their sleep problems because they do not have a good understanding of the sleep process. Sleep, like oxygen, food, and water, is one of our basic daily needs. Like hunger and thirst, it is a drive… our body will eventually, when faced with no other options, force us to sleep. Sleep loss increases the sleep drive and promotes good sleep – much like when we are very hungry, we find ourselves more likely to eat or even eating more voraciously.

You might have noticed that you occasionally had a relatively good night’s sleep after one or several nights of poor sleep. Such a pattern demonstrates the sleep drive in action. A natural accumulation of sleep need that occurs as we go through the day plays a part in the regulation of normal sleep.

In other words, under normal conditions, sleep debt (sleep loss) “fuels” (drives) good sleep at night. Indeed, the drive to sleep gets stronger the longer one is awake before attempting to sleep. For example, a person is much more likely to sleep for a long time after being awake for 16 hours in a row then after being awake for only 2 hours. Most persons who have sleep problems are focused on the negative consequences of insufficient sleep and forget that some sleep debt promotes a “healthy appetite” for sleep. Our attempts to recover lost sleep by trying to sleep more the next night or taking long naps during the day weaken the sleep drive and prolong our sleep difficulties. We’ll elaborate on this in just a few minutes.

Although science still has much to learn about the biological purpose of sleep, we already know a great deal about the human sleep process. Many research studies have shown that sleep is an active process made up two distinct states (Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep and non-REM sleep). Non-Rapid Eye Movement or Non-REM sleep occupies about 75 to 80% of the night’s sleep of a “typical” young, healthy adult. The rest of the night’s sleep is REM sleep. Non-REM sleep consists of several stages, marked by their special brain-body activity patterns. Non-REM sleep is divided into three stages going from lightest (Stage N1) to deepest stages (Stage N3).

During a typical night of sleep, the Non-REM and REM stages of sleep occur in consistent and predictable cycles. When good sleepers go to sleep at night they usually experience a period of relaxed wakefulness. The length of this period of relaxed wakefulness varies from one person to the next but it is typically less than 30 minutes.

About 70 to 90 minutes into the night the first REM sleep occurs. Usually, this first REM period is relatively short and is followed by a return to a lighter stage of sleep. The time from sleep onset to the end of the first REM period constitutes the first sleep cycle. For the rest of the night, REM sleep alternates with Non-REM sleep (primarily stage N2) in roughly 90-minute cycles.

Most deep sleep occurs early in the sleep period. Because most people sleep at least 3 hours, they are rarely deprived of this deep sleep stage. Some wakefulness is a normal part of the night’s sleep even in good sleepers and A few brief awakenings do not need to be a cause for concern. These awakenings become more frequent closer to an individual’s morning waketime. This explains why most people are more easily awakened in the later part of the nocturnal sleep period. This also means that even when you sleep poorly, you are unlikely to be totally deprived of the deepest, most restorative stage of sleep.

REM (dreaming) periods become longer toward the morning rising time. This is why we are more likely to awake from a dream during the second half of the night. As the night progresses our dreams may become more complex and/or vivid, explaining why nightmares are more common during the last third of the sleep period.

There are two basic processes that regulate sleep and wakefulness. One is the normal accumulation of sleep debt as the day goes on, which we mentioned a few minutes ago (in other words, the more time that passes after we wake up for the day the greater the sleep debt). This is what we refer to as the “sleep drive”. The other process is determined by our biological clock. It is called the “circadian process.”

Next week, I will delve a bit deeper into these two processes that regulate our sleep so that we can be sure we are getting the type of restorative and enervating sleep that we need! If you’re looking for some tips on getting better sleep in the meantime, I shared some tips with Reader’s Digest recently that you can get started with.

Curious what I can offer you to help build the life you love? Get in touch!

Get access to more valuable content weekly here!