One turn in bed, one turn the other way, you give up and look at your cell phone: it’s 4 a.m.
You mentally calculate how many hours of sleep you have left and curse yourself that it’s less than you would like. Anxiety begins to grow as you think about how tired you are going to be tomorrow at work and how much it will cost you to get that project that takes you head over heels.
In the end you think more and more than necessary, as if at 5 in the morning you could change the world, and it’s 6 o’clock by the time you finally get to sleep.
Maybe you have an important project due the next day, it’s 5 o’clock in the morning and here you are still in front of the computer: with coffees and energy drinks that taste like children’s medicine. In 4 hours you have to be presentable and awake for what’s coming your way.
Or maybe you just have a toddler who is hungry, has to pee, or whose leg suddenly hurts a lot because of a bruise who knows where he got it. You sigh. Another “Toledo night”.
It’s funny how lack of sleep has become part of our nights, almost as much as the stress we suffer day after day. It has become so normalized to deprive ourselves of rest that it is becoming a lesser evil to which we have become dangerously accustomed, with serious consequences for our health, our mood and our social relationships.
On average, we spend about 25 years of our time on earth sleeping, as if it was nothing! How could we not be interested in knowing how something that takes somuch time of our life works?
Let’s take it step by step to discover the secrets of sleep:
How does sleep work?
Sleep is divided into a series of stages that are repeated during the average 8 hours of sleep recommended for adults, approximately 10 hours for adolescents, 11 hours for children and 16 hours for infants.
In total there are 5 phases: the first 4 are NREM (Non Rapid Eye Movement) plus a last phase, the 5th, REM (Rapid Eye Movement). These phases are repeated in cycles throughout the night.
- Phase 1 NREM: In this stage we begin to fall asleep, like when you are watching a movie on the couch and your eyes begin to close involuntarily. Here it is easy to come out of sleep and stay awake, as it is a very short stage, lasting only about 5 minutes, in which our brain begins to slow down.
- Phase 2 NREM: We begin to enter a deeper sleep, our body temperature drops, our body muscles relax and our heart rate and breathing slows down. This stage lasts about 10-25 minutes.
- Phases 3 y 4 NREM: Phase 3 would be a transitional phase to phase 4 that lasts only a few minutes. Phase 4 is also known as the deep sleep phase and, as the name suggests, it is much more difficult to wake someone up during this phase. The body relaxes completely and even the muscle tone, breathing and pulse rate decrease much more, reaching 30% lower than when awake. Experts believe that this stage is essential to have a restful sleep and would be indicative of the quality of our sleep. This stage is where the biochemical processes necessary for cellular repair and growth occur, in addition to strengthening our immune system. In the first sleep cycles, this stage is usually longer, between 20-40 minutes, but as the cycles pass throughout the night, it is shortened and gives way to longer REM phases.
- Phase 5 o REM Phase: In this period of time is where dreams occur and is very different from the rest of the stages, in all aspects. It is also the phase that most resembles being awake on a cerebral level. The body is more rigid and without movement (it is speculated that to protect us from sudden movements that could provoke the dreams), the breathing becomes erratic and irregular and the pulsations increase. Under normal conditions, REM sleep is not entered for the first time until about 90 minutes after falling asleep. At the beginning of the night, the REM stage may last a few minutes and near the end it could last up to 1 hour. This last stage is essential for memory, cognitive functions, learning and creativity.
What are the main benefits of getting a good night’s sleep? What health problems are caused by poor sleep?
As we have seen, it is no mystery that a good night’s sleep is essential for our body to function optimally. It helps us think more clearly, concentrate better and have better reflexes. Conversely, lack of sleep worsens our reasoning, mood, problem solving and attention to detail.
Restorative sleep affects our body at all levels: in the synthesis of growth and stress hormones, our immune system, breathing, appetite, our circulatory system and cellular repair and growth….
All these factors mean that, if we do not get enough sleep, we are more exposed to diseases such as obesity, cancer, depression, coronary heart disease and infections, among others.
How can we get to sleep better?
- Establish a sleep routine. If we manage to go to sleep and get up at more or less the same time, our body will get used to it and it will be less difficult for us to fall asleep in the medium-long term.
- Acclimatize the room. We should avoid having the room (where we sleep) near sources of intense noise. Controlling the temperature, light, order and cleanliness of our environment will help us to be calmer and more relaxed when we go to bed.
- Avoid overeating. And not only that, avoid heavy meals and, if possible, have dinner at least 3 hours before going to bed, in this way we ensure that we are facilitating digestion. Evitar cenar en exceso. Y no solo eso, evitar comidas pesadas y, a poder ser, cenar al menos 3 horas antes de acostarse, de esta forma nos aseguramos que estamos facilitando la digestión.
- Do not drink caffeinated or energizing beverages.
- Excersice, but do not do it just before going to bed. Exercise is beneficial for your body in many aspects and also in the case of sleep, as when we get tired we will get a deeper sleep, in addition to the fact that exercise releases a series of hormones that make us happier and more relaxed.
- Forget your phone; and the tablet, computer or any electronic device: These could be altering the secretion of melatonin (a hormone essential in the regulation of sleep cycles) through the light they emit.
- Yes to naps, but be careful with the time you sleep. A nap of between 20 and 40 minutes can be restorative, but if they are longer we can unbalance our natural sleep cycle. Be careful!
Is it better to sleep at night or during the day? Does it make a difference?
To talk about this we must first introduce the term “circadian cycle”. The word “circadian” comes from Latin and means “around the day”, and it makes perfect sense, as it refers to all the changes our body undergoes throughout the 24 hours of the day.
This cycle governs sleep, eating and cellular regeneration patterns. It also anticipates daily events and allows the coordination of metabolic, physiological and behavioral activities, so it is of utmost importance to keep it stable for good health.
This circadian cycle is generally regulated by external light in conjunction with our internal processes in which the so-called “clock genes” and various hormones such as melatonin, mentioned above, are involved.
Our organism is prepared to sleep at night and perform our activities during the day, so it is always recommended to follow this natural cycle to avoid imbalances that can lead to various pathologies and diseases.
It is for this reason that night shift jobs are better paid than daytime jobs, since they not only entail a social imbalance, but also greater physical and psychological weariness. That said, and although it is healthier to sleep at night and work and stay active during the day, the most important thing is to sleep the hours necessary for each person and not deprive ourselves of hours of sleep.
After reading us: are you going to continue to take your well-deserved rest lightly?