If you haven’t slept well for a few nights then you probably realise that sleep is important. If you don’t get enough sleep your body and your brain soon let you know about it.
The first signs of not getting enough sleep are usually the angry bear syndrome. Grumpiness sets in and you just feel rubbish. But if you don’t get enough sleep over a longer period of time then you might also start to get mouth ulcers and aches and pains and other physical stuff.
Tiredness can be even more dangerous than that. If you are having insomnia or something is keeping you awake every night for any length of time then your reactions and concentration levels will be the same as if you had been drinking. (Any new parent will vouch for this!)
Some people say they are absolutely exhausted but still can’t get to sleep. Well lets see why, but first.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
There is no precise answer to this but experts say between 7 and 9 hours sleep is essential for an adult but if you are younger than 18 then you should be aiming for between 10 and 11 hours sleep every night.
The point to understand is that sleep isn’t just there to make us feel better, It is essential to your survival. Your body takes this time to carry out essential maintenance, just like Disneyworld at night!
How Can you tell how much sleep you had?
The short answer is, you can’t really, unless someone watches you.
Some people say they never sleep but that simply isn’t true. EVERYBODY SLEEPS AT SOME POINT. Its all about the quality.
The difference is the quality of the sleep you get and how long you sleep for. All sleep is not equal.
Good quality sleep is uninterrupted and you manage to fall asleep in 20 minutes or so. Bad quality sleep is when it seems to take you forever to drift off, or if you frequently wake up throughout the night.
You need good quality sleep.
Why can’t I Fall Asleep?
There’s lots of reasons why you might not be able to get to sleep….
- Your bed isn’t comfy
- Your bedding isn’t clean
- You have aches or pains
- Your bedroom isn’t dark enough
- There are noises in your bedroom
- Your bladder is full
- Medication could be effecting you
- Arthritis pain
- Breathing problems
By far the most common reason people can’t get to sleep are mental issues. Stress at work or excitement about something are common reasons.
- You are anxious
- You are worrying about something
- You are too excited or stimulated
- You are stressed
Over excitement or stimulation is an extremely common cause of sleeplessness and with everybody being addicted to their smart phones, its more common than ever. A simple solution to this is to avoid smart phone use before bed, and cut down use during the day.
Stages Of Sleep
Sleep happens in stages. You never shut your eyes and bang, you’re fast asleep. There are actually 4 stages of sleep.
- The first stage of sleep is when you are drifting off. Its actually called NREM and is when you start to feel drowsy and your body relaxes. Your brain is slowing down and you are relaxing. In this stage you can easily be woken up, you are almost still aware of your surroundings. This is where sometimes you get that funny jerk that wakes you up, almost as if you have fallen over.
- By stage 2 you are actually classed as being asleep. Your heart rate slows down and its a lot more difficult to wake you up. Your body temperature drops a little in this stage of sleep.
- Now we’re talking! This is deep sleep. The kind of sleep you want really as this is when the body does all its repair work and makes you feel the most rested. Your brain is resting now.
- The final stage is the fun part where you can dream and literally anything could happen in your mind! Rapid eye movements occur in this last stage.
Not a lot of people realise it but the actual dreaming part is more like an add on to stage 3 and might only last 10 minutes.
The whole sequence of stages might last 2 hours and repeats itself throughout the night. Sleep cycles are a complex study in themselves.
And sleep must be done in that order of stages. This is where the sleep problems begin for most people. They cannot achieve Stage 1 so they can’t move onto stage 2 and so on…
As we stated above, stage 3 is the essential stage of sleep you need to try and achieve. It is in stage 3 where your body does all its essential maintenance.
How to Get To Sleep
When someone is having trouble sleeping its often drifting off to sleep that is the issue. They can’t achieve stage 1!
Luckily there are some quick fixes to flipping your body into the state it needs to be to drift off. Heres a few quick tips to help you get in the right sleep zone:
- Avoid alcohol
- Avoid caffeine, and not just throughout the day
- Be more active
- Lower the room temperature
- Follow the same schedule or routine every day
- Avoid mobile phone use before bed
- Make sure the room is dark
- Avoid day sleeping
- Avoid exciting plans before bed
- Try to think of something boring or non-exciting
Every human on the planet used circadian rhythms. Its thought that these rhythms are left over from our caveman days and usually revolve around what the sun is doing. Circadian rhythms control loads of different things in our body. One example is, when its light we wake up and when its dark we go to sleep. This is a circadian rhythm but it also controls our body temperature, hunger and other functions.
Its all controlled sub-consciously so you don’t know its happening….But trust me, it is!
It is because of these Rhythms why it is important to get into a routine when it comes to sleeping, because whether you like it or not, you are a creature of habit and a routine will help you sleep better.
When you are trying to sleep better, the main thing to understand is to try and do the same thing every day. If 23:30 is your bed time, make this your bed time every day. But also try to do the same thing building up to that time.
Your routine could be :
- Last cup of tea at 20:30
- Read book for half hour before bed
- Go to bed
Notice that there isn’t a time to check your phone or emails. Do this before 20:30 as smart phones will definitely effect your ability to get to sleep.
That’s it for now, in the next article we’l explore some techniques to help you drift off.