Sleep is a very important part of our lives. We need adequate sleep to function properly.
During sleep, our bodies try to get their all-important rest, providing a much needed ‘restart’ for us to carry out our next conscious tasks and activities.
This is less sleep than in 1942 when the average person slept for about 8 hours every day.
The truth is that a lot of people don’t even know how many hours they should be sleeping every day. Some think that 8 hours of sleep a night is reserved for older people.
Also, due to the nature of modern jobs, the advent of social media and smartphones, many people today will admit that their sleeping schedules are very irregular and disorganized. They wake up cranky, unrefreshed, tired and struggle to get out of bed.
In this article, we would be discussing sleep schedules and how to get rid of insomnia. We would be going through what sleep actually is, why we need to sleep better, sleep cycles and important tips to fix your sleep schedule. We would also answer the all-important question of how many hours we ought to sleep.
What Is Sleep?
Sleep is a state of suspended consciousness, where our eyes are closed and our body, mind, muscles and nervous system become inactive. It typically occurs at night and is a normal physiological process that keeps us healthy and refreshed.
Now, this doesn’t mean that there is no brain activity at all. As we will see later, the brain is actually very active during sleep. Its restorative activity is one major reason why we really need to get enough sleep.
Why Do We Sleep?
Different theories have been suggested by scientists to answer this critical question about why we sleep. They suggest that sleep is a protective mechanism that tells you it’s time to rest when your body is tired, just the same way you feel hungry and become aware that you need to eat.
Although the body is mostly inactive while sleeping, it is a time when some reparative, rejuvenative, restorative processes take place. In addition, your brain works on clips of the events of your day and converts them to long-term memory. Insomnia has been shown to increase deposits of a protein called beta-amyloid in the brain which has been associated with poor memory and an increased risk of developing dementia later in life.
In fact, it has been discovered that your ability to remember things is better after a good sleep which is why a good night's sleep is recommended before an exam!
Also, sleep is so important that we actually need it to survive.
A person can survive for weeks without food, but just 11 days without sleep!
Understanding The Sleep Cycle?
Now that we know why we need adequate and refreshing sleep, it’s time for us to look at the sleep cycle. From the moment you close your eyes to sleep until the moment you wake, a lot of things happen.
A normal sleep episode has five cycles, each cycle lasts about 90 minutes. The sleep cycles derive their name from the brain and eye activities.
The first four stages are called the 'Quiet Phase' or Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM), while the fifth stage is called the Rapid Eye Movement stage.
Here’s a summary of the different stages:
Stage 1: Transition between sleepiness and wakefulness, drifting into a light sleep.
Stage 2: Sleep begins, with reduced awareness of surrounding and regular breathing.
Stages 3 and 4: Sleep becomes deeper, breathing becomes slower, blood pressure drops and muscles relax. In this stage, the blood flow to muscles increases and tissue regeneration and repair occur. Hormones are also secreted and energy is replenished.
Stage 5: The final stage is the 'Rapid Eye Movement' (REM) stage. This is the stage where memory is consolidated and dreaming occurs. In this stage, the brain sends out signals to turn off motor neurons in the spinal cord. Muscles are completely immobilized. This is very important as it prevents one from acting out their dreams. Also in this stage, the eyes roll back and forth, and energy is restored both to the brain and the body.
Now that we understand the different sleep stages and what exactly happens during sleep, let’s move on to the body’s ‘internal clock’.
What Is The 'Internal Clock'?
The internal clock, also known as the Circadian Rhythm, regulates the timing of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day. It simply tells your body when it is time to sleep or wake.
Let’s get practical. Do you notice that there are some periods you wake up around the same time every day, even without an alarm clock? Well, that is your internal clock at work.
The internal clock is controlled by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, and it is greatly influenced by daylight and dark night.
Also, a hormone called melatonin is secreted in your brain when it is dark at night, telling your brain to shut off consciousness, making you fall asleep. Disrupting this process by using bright lights or looking at smartphone screens at bedtime can make you have difficulty falling asleep, leaving you groggy, dull and less attentive in the morning.
Now let’s go on to important tips to help you correct and maintain a healthy sleep schedule and put away insomnia. Following these steps will make you get more sleep and put you in a good pattern. You will wake up refreshed, stronger, enthusiastic and sharp-minded.
How to Fix Your Sleep Schedule in 3 Easy Steps
So the good news is this – a messed up sleep schedule can be corrected with a bit of good planning and adjusting some daily activities. Below are three simple steps and sleep hygiene tips to help you get back your sleep schedule and fight off insomnia.
1. Find out how much sleep your body needs
Discover what your body needs. You need to know how many hours of sleep your body requires every day. Also, you need to set a fixed bedtime that fits your schedule. Remember your internal clock and put that into consideration. The goal here is to eventually get into a routine that doesn’t leave you feeling sleep deprived.
Here’s a little guide on how many hours we need to sleep for every day based on our different age ranges:
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours
- School-age children (6-13 years): 9-11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17 years): 8-10 hours
- Younger adults (18-25 years): 7-9 hours
- Adults (26-64 years): 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65 years+): 7-8 hours
2. Set a fixed bedtime
Setting a fixed bedtime is one way to ensure compliance with the number of hours you want to sleep for. For example, a young adult requires 7-9 hours of sleep. If you are like me that tries to get 8 hours of sleep each night, you can decide to fix 10 pm as your bedtime. 8 hours of sleep would mean waking up at 6 am every day. You can achieve this wake time by using an alarm clock, with time, your body will adjust and you may not even need an alarm clock anymore to wake up by 6 am.
3: Adjust and fine tune your activities
Adjust your activities in a way that they don’t interfere with your sleep time. It is understandable that sometimes, some uncontrollable situations arise, you should still try as much as possible to stick with the routine most of the time. Doing this would be very beneficial to your body, mind and general health in the long run. For example, it is advisable that you avoid using your smartphone 30 minutes before you plan to sleep. The reason is that the bright screen can cause insomnia by affecting your body’s ability to induce sleep.
Also, as you learn and get into your routine, try to fine tune it as much as you need to until you achieve your desired bedtime and waking time. Sticking to this routine as much as possible will eventually program your body to these times.
One final thing we need to look at is important tips for maintaining your new sleep schedule. Practicing these sleep hygiene tips will help to improve the overall quality of sleep you get at night.
Sleep Hygiene Tips For Maintaining A Healthy Sleep Schedule
1. Prepare yourself for bed by either taking a warm bath or listening to some soft music. It would also be nice to have the lights dimmed or turned off.
2. Avoid using gadgets like laptops, smartphones and tablets (for at least 30 minutes before sleeping) which emit blue light that interrupt sleep. It has been shown that they “tell your brain to still be alert”.
3. Make your mornings as bright as possible, meaning, have some bright light when you wake up followed by a healthy breakfast.
4. Include exercise in daily activities when possible, and avoid overly strenuous exercise just before bedtime. Yoga is a good alternative in the early evenings.
5. If you wish to nap during the day, keep it short, not more than 20-30 minutes. You don’t want it being too long and disrupting your night sleep, but also enough to refresh you for the remainder of the day.
6. Don’t go to bed on a full stomach with food, caffeine or alcohol.
7. Use a good mattress. Sleeping on a good mattress makes you more comfortable, hence, making you fall asleep easier.
7. It might be difficult to choose your shifts at work and maintain one shift. However, if you work the night shift, wearing sunglasses on your way home would help to minimize light getting into the eyes, so you can still get as much sleep as possible on getting home.
8. Spend the recommended number of hours for sleeping. Sleeping in excess or in deficit have no benefits.
Over to you
An inconsistent sleep schedule does more harm than good to your mental state, mood and overall health. It has been discovered that sleep deprivation and insomnia easily affect attention and memory. Having a regular sleep schedule and good sleep hygiene practices not only improves productivity, physical and mental health but also the quality of life overall.
So, what is your current sleep schedule? And what tips do you hope to practice to create or maintain a good sleep schedule? Let us know in the comments, we would be looking out for your responses.