Understanding The Dynamics of Sleep
When we discuss sleep, the term circadian rhythm might come into context. Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that are part of our body’s internal clock which helps carry out essential functions. One of the most common circadian rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle.Our internal circadian rhythms align our sleep cycles by producing a hormone (melatonin) that initiates sleep at night and sending out signals that generate alertness in the morning.In turn, when our circadian rhythms are thrown off, it can create sleeping problems and difficulties. Visa versa, when it’s properly aligned, it can promote consistent and restorative sleep, which can in turn empower our health and wellness.
The Tight-Knit Relationship Between Sleep and Health
Sleep is essential for maintaining good mental and physical health. It is just as important to our bodies as eating, drinking, and breathing. Sleep and health are strongly related. Unhealthy sleep can increase the risk of having poor health and poor health can make it harder to sleep.For example, most people who experience symptoms of anxiety or depression are more prone to report difficulty in their sleeping patterns or habits. Same is true for people who experience symptoms of insomnia; there is a chance that they develop signs of disrupted mental health.Below are some examples of the effects dysfunctional sleep can have on our memory, attention, mood, immunity, and overall health.
1. Experience trouble with recalling facts or events
Did you know that during our sleep process, our brains form connections that help is process and remember information?That is why it’s often said that if you have an exam, it is better to get a good night sleep than to study all night, as sleep allows our brain to help us indulge and recall all the information for the next day! Whereas a lack of sleep can have effects over our short-term and long-term memory recollection.
2. Struggle with focus and staying present
When we don’t get enough sleep, it can affect our thinking and concentration processes. Lack of sleep has our brains running off of fumes, and we may find ourselves struggling to maintain presence and focus. Often, when this lack of focus takes place, we won’t be able to recall where we have gone mentally.The fact remains that our thinking and concentration are hindered and aren’t up to par when we don’t get the amount of sleep our body needs. Sometimes even answering a simple question may be challenging, and it can feel like we can’t comprehend or gather our thoughts together.
3. Experience a roller-coaster of emotions
When we’re deprived of good quality sleep, we can commonly experience mood changes that we wouldn’t experience otherwise. We experience moodiness, irritability, frustration, sadness, fragility, or quick-temperedness. Although this roller-coaster of emotions can be attributed to many other scenarios, lack of needed sleep is a huge factor. In some instances, when sleep deprivation or poor sleep hygiene is consistent over a longer period of time, it can escalate to experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression.
4. Weaken your immunity, and abillity to fight illness
Did you know that if you don’t get enough sleep, it can weaken your immunity? Your immune system helps fight against any viruses (common cold, flu, etc.). Hence, the possibility of getting sick increases when you’re exposed to these germs without an immune system strong enough to defend it. General physical exhaustion can in general make us more susceptible to illness, experiences of being weak, and dizziness.
Experience Deeper, Healthier Sleep.
For the reader: Before we get into some habits we should avoid and others we should start using instead to get a good night’s sleep, let’s talk.We know how hard it is to build healthier sleeping habits (like trying to limit the hours of phone usage before going to bed, for example), it can seem impossible. We’ve all been accustomed to plenty of habits that might seem sustainable for now, but have proven, long-term negative effects. The concept of sleep seems to be one of the most natural and human things we experience. But it can either be a source of tremendous pain for some or deep comfort for others. Below are a few sleep-hygiene tips with applications that can help form better, healthier sleeping habits:
1. Maintain a consistent sleeping schedule
Go to bed at the same time, up at the same time - everyday. Ideally, our sleep schedules will adjust and remain around the same every night of the week. This helps our bodies understand that we have a fixed routine for functioning and subsequently have positive effects on our health.
Application: Start off by giving yourself a 2-hour range of going to sleep and the same for waking up. For example, deciding to try to go to bed at night between 10-12PM and waking up around 8-10AM. Adjust the range however you want, but remember to be consistent with it. Eventually our circadian rhythms will adjust to this new habit and you’ll be experiencing fewer negative effects on your health (mood, attentiveness, etc.).
2. Avoid daytime naps
Think about this. If the average human needs around 7-9 hours of sleep a day, wouldn’t it be difficult if some of those hours were used during the day? Taking naps decreases the amount of sleep we need at night which in turn causes sleep fragmentation and difficulty even falling asleep. We may feel deprived and experience insomnia features.
Application: Whenever you feel tired during the day and feel that you need to take a nap, try doing something else. This does not mean that you need to go for a long run or start jumping around, it’s still important to listen to your body. Maybe you are tired and need to rest for a bit. Yet, instead of taking a nap, try doing something else that relaxes your state of mind and body like taking a long bath, meditating, watching your favorite show, etc.
3. Only use your bed for sleeping and intimacy
Think of the oh-so-famous concept of classical conditioning. It’s very easy to associate our beds with wakefulness if we decide to use it for watching TV, reading, or even working on your laptop. When this association is made, it’s hard to link beds with falling asleep or a time of rest, since so many other activities are taking place. So, let’s try to reserve our beds for their purpose: sleeping and intimacy.
Application: You can try setting a space in your house just for you. Make it comfortable and to your liking by filling it with all the things you enjoy having around. Use this space for anything you’ve been used to doing on your bed (eating, watching a series, etc.)
4. Avoid using your phone or looking at a screen right before sleep
This might be the hardest of them all. We’ve made it a habit to use our phones all the day, particularly at night when we’ve finally got cozy in our beds and are ready to surf every app there is! It’s hard to change a habit, we understand, but the effect of those yellow, white, and blue lights are detrimental (not to mention the way content can stimulate different feelings). Consuming these lights can actually have an adverse effect on our circadian rhythms and make it difficult for us to fall asleep.
Application: As a first step, let’s try to reduce the hours spent on our phones right before sleeping by trying to set a certain number of hours each week for example. Surf your phone before going to your bed, and then place your phone across the room when going to sleep. It’ll be difficult at first, but you’ll find you fall asleep much quicker.
5. Pay attention to what you eat or drink before bed
Let’s talk about caffeine. The effects it has can last for hours after ingestion, it fragments sleep and causes difficulty initiating it.And if you ever heard your mom, tell you it’s better to “sleep light” tonight, maybe she had a point. Eating heavy meals right before going to sleep can also make it difficult to fall asleep, you might feel nauseous, drowsy, and in pain.
Application: Try as much as you can to give space between your last meal/drink of the day and the range you decided for your sleep period. Drink water if you’re feeling thirsty or snacky before sleep, and try to leave a cup of water next to your bed. These are just a few suggestions that can help with improving your sleep hygiene, and your overall health.
If your struggles with sleep persist, keep in mind that it is critical to address. See your doctor, and a mental health professional, who are both equipped to support you in this challenge.