So often we hear about the importance of getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night. But, I’m sure you can remember feeling energized when you had less – and feeling wasted when you got more. The hours of sleep really only matter if you are getting the right type of sleep!
We sleep in chunks of time of approximately 90 minutes. During each block of time our body slowly descends into a deep state of sleep (where our body does its job of repairing and rebuilding/healing the body) and then back up to an almost awake state where we dream (important for thinking, memory consolidation and more).
When you disrupt these sleep patterns, you lose out on valuable recovery which can really affect your next day’s energy level. Think back to a time when you were awoken in a deep sleep – such that you didn’t remember what day it was, where you were, etc. I’m guessing you had a tough time shaking off this groggy mood for the rest of the day!
What can disrupt the cycle? Noise. Kids. Spouses that snore. Pets on the bed or in the bedroom (I’ve heard of cats that walk on their owner’s face). Certain medications. Caffeine can keep you up longer. And, while alcohol makes you feel sleepy, it also prevents you from sleeping deeply.
To get the best night’s sleep you can, avoid or control as many of the disruptions as you can. Obviously, it’s difficult to control if our kids wake us up early in their life…but could you limit the nighttime alcohol or use a sound soother to block out irregular noise?
Since, ideally, you want to wake during the dream stage (which is a light state of sleep), plan on finishing 90 minute sleep cycles. In other words, if you’re pressed for time, it may be better to sleep 6 hours, rather than 6.5 hours. Why? Isn’t more better? Since we sleep in 90 minute chunks of time, it’s best to finish a full cycle. If you allow your body to go into the next sleep cycle, at 6.5 hours of sleep, you could find yourself in that deep stage of sleep – and feeling groggy all day!
How can you find out more about your particular sleep cycle outside of getting a professional sleep study in a lab? As an iphone user, I’ve used the Sleep Cycle app. You set it on your bed and it monitors your movement. (Your body is in a sort-of paralyzed state during deep sleep with more movement as you get into light sleep). Using an alarm range, it wakes you when you’re in a lighter stage of sleep so you feel more refreshed. I’ve heard quite a lot of good things from users of the Fit Bit which costs about a hundred bucks. I’m planning to try it out myself.