Even though we all sleep every day (well, hopefully) it remains a rather mysterious thing, scientifically. Although we’ve learned a lot about sleep, its function, its purpose, and its disorders… there are still many things that elude us.
As far as we can tell, sleep is a restorative time for the body and mind (not that we had to tell you that.) Sleep is an important time for the mind to store memories away and process information. It’s a time when the body repairs itself as well. Without sleep, we become easily fatigued, forgetful, and if we go long enough without, we can even become mentally unstable.
The amount of sleep needed each night varies from person to person, but studies show that most people get less sleep than they need. Here are some facts about sleep, and some tips for getting more effective, restful sleep in your life.
The Brain Is Just as Active During Sleep
Although it might feel like your brain just switches off when you fall asleep, the truth is that your brain is almost as active during sleep as it is while you’re awake (and in some stages, it’s as active or even more so.) While you sleep, your brain is doing a lot to process information that you obtained while awake (and even new information that you’re receiving as you sleep!) If you’re able to get enough sleep, you’re more likely to make good decisions during the day, and even resist harmful habits. Additionally, while your brain is processing this information, it’s much better-able to form connections between disparate things, which is an essential contributor to creativity and recall ability.
Everyone Needs Different Amounts of Sleep
Although we tend to stick obsessively to the “you need 8 hours a night” model of sleep, the truth is that the amount of sleep needed per night is highly subjective. It differs from one person to another; and it’s mostly based on your age and your genetics. Some people function just fine on 6 hours. Others actually need 9 hours of sleep in order to be in peak condition. In order to determine how much sleep you actually need, ask yourself these questions:
Do you feel drowsy in the middle of the day?
Do you wake up feeling refreshed?
Are you able to fall asleep quickly, or do you lie awake for a while?
Do you have a hard time remembering things throughout the day?
Your answers to those questions could determine whether you’re getting the right amount of sleep. Remember that although you wake up feeling groggy, it might be that you’re getting too much sleep, rather than not enough. Typically, we also need more sleep when we’re young, and when we’re recovering from sickness.
Lack of Sleep Leads to Major Health Problems
There are many ways that your body acts out if it’s not getting the right amount of sleep. Lack of sleep has been linked to high blood pressure, depression, and obesity. So even if you think that you’re getting by just fine cheating your body out of the sleep it needs, you’re probably paying a price that you don’t even realize.
It’s also important to note that while medication can help regulate sleep, most sleep aids also come with complicated side effects, especially if you become dependent on a substance in order to fall asleep. It’s always best to first try behavioral cues to improve sleep (some of which I’ve included below.)
Timing Makes a Difference in Quality
Although it might seem like sleep is sleep, no matter what time you get it, there’s actually a difference in the quality and type of sleep that we get depending on what time of day it is. This is actually pretty heavily influenced by the sun, even more so than our own personal clocks. For example, the sleep that you get before 2 a.m. is usually very valuable deep sleep that works to restore the body and mind, and so if you’re someone who tends to stay up late and sleep late, you might be missing out. Additionally, the light that you’re exposed to while you’re awake can have a major effect on your circadian rhythms. Getting 30 minutes or more of early-morning sunlight can help you sleep better at night than 2 hours of direct sun in the afternoon.
In order to sleep better, here are 5 natural tips that have been proven to assist in sleep quality and regulation:
Exercise regularly (5 days a week or more.) In many studies, this is shown to have just as strong of an effect as medication. However, it takes 2 weeks or more of a routine for it to have optimal effects, so it’s important that you are regular about it.
Have a sleep routine. Speaking of being regular, you can train your body into sleep with the power of routine. Utilize specific sensory experiences, like lighting, sound, and even smell in order to tell your body it’s bedtime.
Make a sleep-conducive atmosphere in your room by keeping the temperature a little cooler than you like it during the day (usually, in the 60’s) and getting complete darkness on your side with some blackout curtains.
As mentioned above, getting sunlight early in the day regulates your circadian rhythms. Take a walk in the morning before 10:00 am.