Something that most of us need more of is sleep. In a world of artificial light, brain stimulation and working longer hours, sleep normally gets the short end of the stick. The truth is, the cornerstone of health is good sleep.
One of the most effective ways to improve your health is to get more sleep but more importantly improve the quality of sleep and increase REM sleep naturally.
By missing out on quality hours of sleep, we collect sleep debt which we need to pay back with more sleep or our health. The book Sleep Thieves by Stanley Coren discusses this in much detail on how we accumulate and may never pay off sleep debt.
When we finally get to sleep, we are in NREM (Non Rapid Eye Movement) sleep or REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Typically, you begin the sleep cycle with a period of NREM sleep followed by a very short period of REM sleep. This switches between long NREM and short REM cycles continues throughout your sleep. Each REM cycle becomes longer throughout the sleep period.
What’s the difference between REM and NREM Sleep?
In NREM Sleep, our body rests and repairs. It’s our physical repair system restoring muscles, bones and body tissues. Super important for our immune system.
In REM sleep your eyes move quickly in different directions. That doesn’t happen during non-REM sleep. It is also believed that REM is associated with your dreaming state.
REM stimulates the part of the brain that is used for learning and is important as it’s the restorative part of our sleep. Super important for infants who are in REM about 50% of sleep but just as important for adults who are in REM About 25% of sleep.
So what’s better? Longer sleep for fulling the recommended 8-9 hours or lesser but high quality of sleep (with good REM)?
The average adult gets 6.5 hours per night. Pretty bad when the recommend ideal is 8-9 hours. I seem to work happily on 7-7.5 hours per night but if my deep REM sleep has been interrupted regularly during the night (loud noises, children crying or waking me up), I could sleep 10 hours but still feel tired.
My wife and I noticed in the first years of bringing our twin babies home, we were not just getting less sleep, but loosing the depth of our sleep. This caused us to become anxious, constantly ill and feeling like our immune system was not working.
For months, we felt like we could not recover, even with super nutrition and working on other factors in our life. We started measuring our sleep disruptions with Fitbit devices and noticed how often we were not sleeping.
We realized at this stage it was impossible for us to both get an undisrupted sleep (with new borns), so we started taking shifts of either late night or early morning. What we found that although we were getting less sleep, our improved quality of sleep helped our bodies and minds repair efficiently. So, we were waking up less fatigued.
The end result is that getting higher quality sleep definitely wins over long low quality sleep.
But nothing beats a high quality sleep for over 7 hours if you want to feel like a million bucks when you awake.
How can you improve quality of sleep?
If you are a parent with sleepless kid/s, unfortunately you must ride it out or get a baby sleep professional to help. If you don’t have kids or your kids are in good sleep patterns and you’re still waking up tired, here are some tips to help get high quality sleep.
Morning Glory Sun
Getting good sleep starts in the morning. Get your circadian rhythm moving in in the right direction by starting with early morning with sun light exposure to your skin and your eyes.
A recent study that focused on sleep quality monitored peoples sun exposure and found that subjects that had little or no sun exposure on waking were more likely to be insomniacs. Furthermore, the subjects that had worked in a windowless workplace and didn’t get more than 45 minutes of natural light exposure had the lowest quality of sleep.
A good workout can equal great sleep. As little as 10 minutes of high intensity aerobics exercise will make a tremendous difference to sleep quality and how fast you fall asleep.
Exercise tires the body, raises body temperature and after exercise allows it to cool again. The contrast of temperature in the body trigger the chemicals in your body to need sleep.
There is much debate about exercising right before bed hindering sleep. This is really dependent on the individual, but I say allow an hour at least.
Reduce Anxiety and Stress with supplementation and meditation
Nobody can go to sleep stressed and thinking of the bad day they just had or what the world will throw at them tomorrow.
Try some of these stress reducing supplements to help reduce anxiety. Completely natural and will help bring calm to your body.
Meditation may be the best way to find long deep slumber. A regular meditation practice will help your mind assist with any internal dialogue that keeps you up by quieting the mind in general. Check out this free mediation guide for beginners.
Breath work in twine with meditation just before bed will bring the brain into alpha waves and reduce stress while increasing relaxation. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhan Pranayama) done slowing will give an immediate result put you in a clam state by harmonizing the left and right hemisphere of the brain.
Try some binaural beats in deep sleep mode the trick the brain to into relax mode. This scientific method that helps you go from alert to relaxed to asleep within minutes by using a process to alter your brain waves with entrainment entertainment.
Learn more about binaural beats here.
Sleep like a corpse – Cold and dark
Mild cold exposure can be the best sleep signaller for your body. Take a cold shower or contrast shower (hot and cold rotating but finishing on cold) to feel like you’ve taken a sleeping pill. It’s truly amazing.
Also the temperature of the room can affect our sleep with studies in Switzerland suggesting 67oF (19.5 oC) room temperature can provide us the best environment to snooze.
Some are so obsessed about being cool for better sleep they’ll sleep naked or without covers. A popular way to cool your bed is to use a Chilipad Cube Mattress cooling system.
Along with your cool room ensure there are no lights on at night from electronics, exterior lights seeping through windows and doors.
Remove Blue Spectrum Light
Artificial light is everywhere with LED monitors from computers, tablets and smart phones to fluorescent and LED lights replacing incandescent bulbs. The problem with this type of light sources is it signals daylight to the hypothalamus area of the brain screwing with our circadian rhythm. Our brain actually thinks we are seeing daylight which stuffs with our internal body clock. This will also stop the natural production of melatonin which is a hormone in the body to help us sleep.
Best practice to reduce screen time at least 2 hours before bed and use red light bulbs, incandescent or candles in these 2 hours.
If you’re like me and am busy working at the computer before bed (as per this post), use blue blocking glasses. These orange lens glasses will cut out blue spectrum light seeping into your eyes and ensuring that your brain is getting night time signals not sunlight! You also look like a cool fighter jet pilot.
Turn Off Electronics
Apart from the artificial light sources, technology is not giving our brain a rest. Stimulating our minds with TV, Video and other computer exertions, our brain does not get the break it deserves.
Also, the electromagnetic fields from cellular and Wi-fi can influence brain activity and will contribute to the development of insomnia. In 2007, a sleep study was done evaluating participants that were or were not exposed to electronic magnetic radiation like mobile phones. It was clear that the participants exposed to the electronic magnetic radiation had more difficulty falling asleep.
One of the things we sometimes can’t control is our external environments. Living on a busy road or train line, loud neighbors, young teens having midnight parties or any other audible pollution.
This is another tough gig to drown out or get used. I’ve lived (and living) with these same issues. I’ve found that you can get used to most of the sounds that aren’t too loud and once your brain becomes accustom to these external factors, the hardest thing is falling asleep.
Use white noise soundtrack to drown out external background noise or try high quality Binaural Beats.
Trying to keep a consistent sleep schedule signals to the body it’s time to sleep. This can be hard for some with varying conditions but will prove best.
Have a bed time routine set out and I’m sure you’ll be loving yourself that you’re well rested and improving your quality of life.
Do you have any bed time routines or tip? Please share and leave a comment below.