How to Sleep More Effectively, Starting Tonight
“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.”
Tired after getting a full nine hours and still feeling exhausted? You sleep the sleep of the innocent – you nod off quickly, don’t have nightmares and have no trouble breathing – and still you can hardly get up in the morning and seldom feel totally awake, no matter how long you slept the previous night. You are suffering from a clear-cut case of ineffective sleep.
The good news is that, starting tonight, you can improve the quality of your sleep. So pull up a pillow and learn how to get more rest while spending less time on your back.
1. Go deep.
It is possible to sleep too long or at the wrong time. In both cases you may be getting enough rest, but you still feel weary. That’s because the amount of time you spend in bed is not as important as maximizing sleeping patterns.
Your sleep consists of five stages, distinguished by different brain activities. Just shortly after falling asleep, you start sinking gradually into a deep sleep. You soon surface from this and enter a dreaming period commonly known as REM sleep. After that, it’s back to several deep-sleep phases, which grow shorter as the night progresses.
To wake up easily, set your alarm to wake you up at the end of a cycle rather than in the middle of deep sleep. A cycle normally lasts at least 90 min., bearing in mind that the first one is somewhat shorter, so you will probably be in light sleep after five-and-a-half, seven, and eight-and-a-half hours in bed (that includes the time it takes for you to fall asleep). If you’re still deep in dreamland when the alarm goes off, add a few minutes to your sleeping time the next day.
2. Surrender to your genes.
As I mentioned, there are three optimal lengths of sleep - but that doesn’t mean you can just choose one. A study completed this spring by Washington State University Spokane suggests that our sleep patterns are embedded in our bodies – perhaps in our very genes. Some of us will need five-and-a-half hours of sleep, while others will need at least eight-and-a-half. Most people will manage comfortably on seven hours. Your genes decide for you and you can’t just alter it without paying the price.
There is hardly anybody out there who knows what it means to be fully awake. Studies have found that proper sleeping patterns emerge only after you have caught up with up to 25 hours of missing sleep. To optimize your sleep, crawl into bed half an hour earlier each evening for a few nights. As long as you have a sleep deficit to catch up on, you should have no problem falling asleep. After that, allow yourself as much sleep as you need. If you persistently sleep too little, you run the risk of becoming overweight, absent-minded and ill; a daily sleep deficit of two hours over a period of 14 days is as damaging as a night with no sleep.
Sleeping too much is also a rest buster. If you sleep for longer than your personal optimal period, your sleep will be empty and restless. If you oversleep for many hours, you will fall into another deep sleep in the morning. This will upset your circadian clock and you will wake up feeling absolutely whacked. If this is your problem, you can reverse the situation by keeping your time in bed to the absolute minimum and staying up a bit later at night to prolong the restful deep sleep at the beginning of the night.
3. Worship the sun.
Most people can get away with some wildness in their routines as long as they soak up some bright light at the right time. Normal indoor lighting provides 400 lux of illumination, which doesn’t help much; the sun, however, provides 1 500 to 100 000 lux. So if you spend one hour outdoors before starting work you will be more alert and cheerful during the day.
It’s easier to do in summer than winter but if you can’t manage it at all, you could follow the European trend of substituting your light quota with some artificial sunlight. For a positive effect, you need at least half an hour at 10 000 lux or two hours at 2 500 lux. You can also gradually adjust your preferred sleeping times using artificial sunlight – to party longer into the night, you will have to soak up some light in the evening – artificial light will bring some relief but your sleep and wellbeing will still suffer.
4. Keep the rhythm.
Your body was designed to sync with the cycles of nature – including daylight and darkness. Your circadian, or biological clock, regulates aspects of your metabolism, physiology and behavior. At night, it triggers the supply of the sleep hormone melatolin, and in the morning the wake-up substance cortisol. It also regulates body temperature so that lowest point is reached at about 3 a.m.
Biologically speaking, this is the witching hour and the most inappropriate time to be awake. The prime time for deep sleep occurs in the first five hours of sleep and before 3 a.m. If you’re in the habit of staying up way past midnight, you can forget about quality sleep, even if you’ll sleep till noon.
And don’t even think about going to bed too early because you have to get up early or want to squeeze in an extra workout. This only works if you’re already exhausted and fall asleep instantly; what’s more likely is that you will lie half-awake, start to brood and finally get to sleep tense and restless.
It’s hardly possible to stock up on sleep, so you should rather go to bed at the usual time (observe the cycle) and make up for lost sleep by tucking in a bit earlier the following night. Alternatively, catch a siesta during the day.
5. Watch the time.
To get the most out of your shutdown time, keep regular hours. Go to bed at about the same time every night and - even more importantly - get up the same time each morning.
Don’t oversleep to make up for a poor night’s sleep. This may sound regimental but the circadian clock is highly sensitive to unstable life patterns. The inner day for most people would be 25 hours long if it weren’t for external time indicators such as sunshine, which keeps the clock ticking over properly. (Depending whether you are a night owl or morning lark, your sleep-wake rhythm may be up to 27 hours, for owls, or shorter than 25 hours, for larks.) If you live an erratic life, your internal clock will be thrown off kilter.
The result: you may want to be functioning when your body temperature is at the witching hour, making you feel cold, sapped of energy and irritable, and trying to rest when your temperature is geared for action. Routine is a simple solution.
Forget about sleeping late at the weekend. The circadian clock reacts immediately to delays in getting up – doing that for even a couple of days can reset your body clock and make it hard for you to get to sleep at night. Rather wake up at about the same time and allow yourself the luxury of a short snooze during the day - or go to bed earlier if you are really short on sleep.
Overlooking the single most important thing you can do for your health is easy with all the clamor surrounding various health products in the marketplace. But good-quality sleep goes far and beyond those products when it comes to restoring your health. And best of all, sleep is free. So try these proven techniques and get the rest you need.
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