Sleep. It seems so simple but it eludes so many of us. Google trends has shown significant spike in searches for sleep advice since 2019, showing that you aren’t alone in your wandering mind and feelings of fatigue related with lack of sleep. Insomnia, sleep apnoea, anxiety and restlessness are becoming all too common as the world struggles to close their eyes and get enough deep rest.
Why is sleep so important?
Sleep is an essential pillar of wellness – the quantity and quality of your sleep can have a significant effect on your emotional and physical wellbeing. Getting enough shut eye has an impact on almost every organ and system in our body including our metabolism, immune function, mood and the optimal functioning of the brain, heart, lungs and liver.
During sleep our body is maintaining and forming the pathways in the brain that help us to learn, create memories and improve cognitive function. While we sleep our body is working on important brain functions such as neural communication and removing toxins from brain and body tissues.
Research has shown that lack of sleep or poor quality sleep can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and obesity.
How does the body regulate sleep?
Your body is designed to know when to sleep and when to wake up, based on internal biological mechanisms that regulate sleep patterns. It is these biological mechanisms that can make sleeping difficult if you do shift work or if you’ve travelled and changed time zones, because our body is trying to make sure we get enough rest to replenish all of those important systems.
Your circadian rhythms are in charge of many fluctuating functions within your body including hormone release and regulation, sleeping and wakeful cycles, body temperature and metabolism. Your internal body clock controls most of your circadian rhythms and synchronise when you feel tired and when you start to wake up in the morning. Although they use environment cues such as natural light, these rhythms can continue without those cues, such as when you travel into another time zone and still feel sleepy at your usual time for a few days or if you work night shifts.
Your body’s homeostasis regulates your need for sleep, we have a sleep drive that will trigger sleepiness or fatigue when our energy stores are reducing, such as the end of the day or even after extensive physical exhaustion, such as a big workout. It’s kind of like your body’s battery life, as your energy diminishes, your need to sleep rises to remind you to rest and recharge.
Your homeostasis and circadian rhythms work together to ensure you are able to sleep when you need it and at the right time of day for optimal replenishment.
What are the stages of sleep?
You may have heard of REM and non-REM sleep, but what do they mean?
REM is the abbreviation for Rapid Eye Movement sleep which happens within the first hour or two of falling asleep. During this stage of sleep your eyes move rapidly from side to side behind your eyelids and your brain wave activity is mixed, similar to being awake. REM sleep is where you have the most dreams (your body also instinctively paralyses your arm and leg muscles so that you don’t act on your dreams and move around!) In REM sleep, breathing patterns are fast and irregular, with elevated blood pressure similar to waking levels. You’ll cycle through REM sleep several times during the night, with longer periods of REM the closer to your wake-up time.
There are 3 stages of non-REM sleep, the first stage is when we switch from wakefulness to sleep. Stage one lasts for several minutes, as the brainwaves slow down and your muscles begin to relax (although you might have a few twitches during this stage). Stage two non-REM is the light sleep where the heartbeat slows down, your body temperature lowers and your eye movement stops. Stage two is where you will cycle through the most throughout the night.
Stage three non-REM sleep is the deepest sleep that occurs (ideally) in long periods throughout the first half of your sleep cycle. This is the stage of sleep that you need to recharge and to feel completely rested when you wake up. Brain waves and heartbeat are very slow here and your entire body is relaxed.
How To Improve Your Sleep
Creating a regular bedtime routine can help you get the most out of your forty winks. The goal is to get as much stage three non-REM sleep so that you can feel refreshed, so it’s the quality as well as the number of hours that are important. For adults 7-9 hours is the recommended amount of sleep but recent statistics from the Australia Talks National Survey 2021 shows that about a third of Australians are getting less than seven hours of sleep a night and eighty-nine per cent of people believe that technology has a negative effect on their sleep.
Try incorporating some of these relaxing bedtime routines to help you sleep more deeply and wake up feeling refreshed!
- Reduce screen time before bed
- Don't go to bed on a full stomach - finish eating at least 2 hours before bed
- As much as you can, keep the same bedtime and wake up time each day
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evenings
- Use a journal to 'brain dump' any of your thoughts before bed, so you can help prevent your mind running over scenarios, stories and situations
- Have a clean and clutter free space to sleep
- Practice restorative yoga regularly
- Diffuse calming essential oils before bed
Sleep is so important for optimising health and for recovery, which is why our BodyICE Recovery Relax, Recharge & Refresh guided visualisation is designed to help you reduce stress and improve sleep.