Most people who are sleep deprived rely on the snooze button. They must have an alarm to wake up each day. They have a hard time getting out of bed each day. They think they need a nap every afternoon. They fall asleep watching television. They have a hard time paying attention in meetings. They generally fall asleep rapidly after going to bed.
Sleep-deprived people are generally moody and irritable. They have difficulty coping with stress. They feel unmotivated. Their memory skills are challenged. They gain weight. They may have difficulty making decisions.
Your sleep should be quality sleep. Your body shuts down, but your brain, specifically your subconscious mind, stays busy all night (actually 24/7 for your entire life). While your conscious mind is asleep, your subconscious mind controls your breathing, digestion and a myriad of other required body functions. Shortening your sleep cycle, or interrupting it through the night, disrupts the normal daily tuning of your body.
Everyone has an internal 24-hour cycle known as your biological clock or your circadian rhythm. This cycle is controlled by biochemical processes in your brain. When sunlight is present, your melatonin levels are diminished. At night, your melatonin levels increase to make you sleepy. Rotating shift work, time zone changes, low exposure to sunlight, smoking, drinking, brightly lit sleeping areas, etc have an effect on your sleep cycle.
Your sleep cycle is actually composed of a series of distinct stages. Each stage is critical to restore and refresh your body and mind. The types of sleep are divided into two categories – non-REM and REM sleep. Non-REM sleep has three stages – N1, N2, and N3. N1 is your transition to sleep – usually around five minutes. Your eyes move under your eyelids and your muscles begin to fully relax. It is easy to be awakened from N1 sleep.
N2 is the first stage of real sleep. This lasts typically between 10 to 25 minutes. Your eye motion stops, your heart rate slows down and your body temperature decreases. N3 sleep is your true deep sleep. It is difficult to wake up.
If you are awakened, you do not adjust easily. You feel groggy and disoriented for a minute or longer. You need N3 sleep for your muscles to be restored properly. Blood flow is directed away from your brain and to your muscles to make this happen. You do not dream in N3 sleep.
REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep occurs an hour to an hour and a half after your reached N1 sleep. REM sleep is when you dream. Your eyes actually move rapidly back and forth under your eyelids. Your breathing is very shallow and your heart rate and blood pressure increase.
You do not stay in REM sleep all night long. You actually transition between N1, N2, N3, and REM sleep throughout the night. The series of N1, N2, N3, and REM accounts for one complete sleep cycle. A total sleep cycle lasts approximately 90 minutes. During the course of your sleep, you may experience four to six complete sleep cycles.
Sleep affects your ability to lose weight by affecting two primary sleep-related hormones – ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is the hormone that tells you to eat – it is that hunger pain you occasionally feel. When you are sleep deprived, your body produces more ghrelin.
Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating. When you are sleep deprived, your body produces less leptin. Additionally, when you are sleep deprived, your metabolism is slower. Chronic loss of sleep makes you eat more and not stop eating.
The best combination for optimal health is less ghrelin and more leptin – a condition that occurs when you have consistent quality sleep. It is not a simple matter of getting eight hours of sleep a night. You must have the right kind of sleep to make the repairs your body needs to have you at peak performance the next day. Hormonal imbalances of ghrelin and leptin can cause you to gain weight.
How can you improve the quality of your sleep? The easiest way to start is to avoid caffeine, especially in the early afternoon. Stop drinking anything with caffeine after 2:00 p.m. Alcohol impairs the quality of your sleep. Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink. Stop drinking five hours before bedtime.
Reduce the amount of light in the room you sleep. Even small amounts of light interfere with the quality of your sleep. Reduce the level of noise. Never go to sleep with the television or radio left on. Your subconscious mind is awake all night when you are asleep and the ‘noise’ interferes with the quality of your sleep. If you must take a nap during the day, do it at least seven hours before your normal bedtime. Do not nap longer than 30 minutes.
Exercise is great sleep enhancer. Stop exercising at least four hours before bedtime. It is better to exercise than to not exercise – just plan your time effectively. Don’t eat a big meal just prior to going to sleep. A light meal fours hours before bedtime is recommended. Consider a stress relief program a few minutes before going to sleep to help you relax.