Responsible physical and cognitive recovery, growth and consolidation, sleep -combined with nutrition and exercise- is one of the pillars of good physical and mental health. The healthiest of diets and the best of workout regimes can not outweigh poor rest and recovery.
How much sleep should we get?
A constant topic for debate. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and reflecting the findings of a recent study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine group, the optimal sleep for those aged 13-18 ranges between 8-10 hours per day whilst in Adults this shortens to 7-8 hours per day.
Counting hours of sleep per day is perhaps the simplest of methods, some studies have shown that sleep debt and surplus can accumulate, meaning 7-8 hours per day averaged out over a few days will be just as optimal.
What controls our sleep?
Quite simply, our Circadian rhythm. A Circadian Rhythm is a cycle in which all physiological processes of living beings follow. Established by Millenia of evolution and controlled by exogenous circumstances including sunlight and temperature, the main roles of Humans Circadian Rhythm include sleeping and feeding patterns. These patterns are dictated through brain wave activity, cell generation and particularly relevant to sleep, Serotonin and Melatonin hormone production.
The 5 Tricks
Wake up at the right time.
Our sleep consists of 4 distinct phases per cycle;
Stage one - The lightest phase of sleep, likened mostly to drowsiness. Lasting 5 to 10 minutes as you drift of into sleep. We may see moving shapes and our body may twitch or jerk.
Stage two - This is light sleep, our brain activity and heart rate slow and our body temperature falls. This phase lasts 10—25 minutes and is also the phase in which you spend most of your night in.
Stage 3 - Deep sleep. The deepest part of sleep, our heart rate and brain activity are at their lowest whilst your body repairs and regenerates. This is often the stage in which sleep walking and talking occur. Waking up during this stage of sleep will most likely lead to a groggy tough morning. This phase lasts 20-40 minutes.
Stage 4 - REM Sleep, Lasting an average of 10 minutes, REM stands for Rapid Eye Movements and is most commonly your dreaming phase. As the night progresses your REM phase lengthens. Heart rate and brain activity spike during this stage although our physical movement ceases.
Following stage 4 we will enter back into either stage one or two and the cycle starts over again.
The time spent in each phase changes throughout the night, for example the later cycles of our sleep we spend more time in REM sleep. However, as a whole, each cycle remains around 90 minutes in length.
So how can you use this to your advantage? With each sleep cycle lasting roughly 90 minutes, you should aim to wake at the end of a cycle, meaning shoot for 6 hours, 7.5 hours or 9 hours. If this is proving too difficult for you, tools exist which track the phase of sleep you are in and wake you within 20-30 minutes of your alarm when you are in a light stage of sleep. Such as the Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock on the apple App Store
Tried and tested supplements for triggering the onset of sleep typical revolve around the regulation of Melatonin and Serotonin, whilst in The United States synthetic forms of these chemicals can be purchased, they are not available over the counter in Europe thus precursor supplements are popular. Tryptophan is the most commonly used and its most common source is 5HTP.
For deepening sleep the most commonly used supplement tends to be a combination of Zinc, Magnesium and Vitamin B6. Named ZMA.
Create the right environment.
Our environment has a huge impact in both how easily we can fall asleep and the quality of that sleep. The lowest hanging fruit’s here are light, noise, temperature and comfort.
- Light - Utilise blackout blinds or an eye mask.
- Noise - A simple set of ear buds.
- Temperature - Optimal sleeping temperature is said to be 19 degrees Celsius (66 Fahrenheit). If you have difficulty controlling this via bedroom windows or heaters, special temperature control pads exist such as the ChilliPad. - Although come at a significant cost.
- Comfort - Largely up to personal taste, an appropriate mattress.
Block the Blue Rays.
Exposure to artificial light is one of the most over-looked health risks to our generation. For millennia our circadian rhythms have aligned with light, the rise and fall of the sun. Now, however, with the development of the lightbulb and more importantly the adoption of blue light ray rich LED lights, computer screens, tablets and smartphones, the bodies rhythm has been knocked way out of whack.
In present day, encountering blue light rays only during natural times of sunlight will be nigh on impossible, enter blue blocker glasses. Glasses that one can wear to filter out blue light rays. Blue blocker glasses, although simple and very cost efficient, boast real world measurable results with studies showing improvements in sleep quality and mood following their use. - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20030543
Blue Blocker glasses are readily available on amazon.
With training we an induce sleep through concentration, Greater control over the mind can be established through even a few sessions of meditation. Meditation can be daunting but apps like headspace demystify the whole process and make it possible for anyone from just 3 minutes per day.
Regular exercise, not within 4 hours of bed.
Establish a bedtime and wakeup routine.
Avoid Alcohol, Cigarettes and Stimulants.