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Understanding The Basics Of Sleep

Why we need sleep and how sleep works

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Napping with baby

Understanding the basics of sleep

So what will you learn in this article and why does it matter?

  • A lack of sleep damages health, impacts on the people around you and can even kill you! – It is essential that you get enough quality sleep in order to live a healthy life!

  • Your sleep follows a cycle that lasts around 90 minutes for the AVERAGE person! – Understand your cycle to encourage the benefits of each stage and wake up feeling fresh!

  • The AVERAGE person needs between 7 and 9 hours sleep! – Find your “sweet spot,” or in this case: “sleep spot.”

  • Sleep is a mechanical process that depends on many parts of the body working in alignment! – Understanding the science will help you improve the quality of your sleep and appreciate tips given in my other articles: How To Get A Good Night’s Sleep How To Nap.

Why do we sleep?

As usual, scientists are not exactly agreed on why we sleep and it’s fair to say that there probably isn’t one defining reason; however, if we don’t, we die!

That’s right… I said it… Die!

Our bodies stop working!

The earliest evidence of this was recorded in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s, Venice, where a man named Giacomo fell mysteriously ill, developed symptoms of dementia and eventually died after being tormented by sleepless nights.

Now this may seem a little dramatic, and it is extremely rare, but the point I’m trying to make is that going without sleep hurts!

You only need to think back to the last time you went without sleep for a prolonged period. The chances are you were an adult-sized diaper away from being a big baby!

A few common symptoms include…

  • Mood swings
  • Aggression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack or energy
  • Indecisiveness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Clumsiness
  • Misunderstanding
  • Oversight

Now I know these symptoms sound like a line up of Mr Men and Little Miss characters but they’re a lot more serious than that!

The seriousness is described abundantly on the very first page of Matthew Walker’s book: Why We Sleep.

Walker is a real sleep scientist, who reports on real empirical studies. He concludes that routinely getting less than six or seven hours per night:

  • Demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer.

  • Is a key factor in determining whether you will develop Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Increases that likelihood of your arteries becoming blocked and brittle, increasing the chances of cardiovascular disease, stroke and heart failure.

  • Contributes to all major psychiatric conditions including depression, anxiety and suicidality.

  • Disrupts blood sugar levels and hunger-intensifying hormones, leading to weight gain.

I cannot put the importance any clearer than Walker did in his book, so I’m not going to try…

Add the above health consequences up, and a proven link becomes easier to accept: the shorter you sleep, the shorter your life span. The old maxim “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is therefore unfortunate. Adopt this mind-set, and you will be dead sooner and the quality of that (shorter) life will be worse.

Matthew Walker in Why We Sleep

So now you understand that a lack of sleep is harmful, but what are the benefits of sleep?

As mentioned above, there is no clear singular reason for why we sleep but there are several schools of thought.

In my article: ‘Why Is Sleep Important?,’ I look at the advantages of a good snooze but to understand these properly, let’s appreciate the basics…

Understanding the basics of sleep

Sleep cycles

Much like the seasons, sleep occurs in cycles.

According to scientific estimates, it takes the average person around 90 minutes to complete a cycle which can be broken down into five simple stages.

It is important to appreciate that averages do not apply specifically to you!

If the world worked on averages, rainbows would be white and land would be perfectly flat!

So before you race into my other article: ‘How To Get A Good Night’s Sleep,’ please understand that you need to find what works for you, not what works for the average person!

Why are sleep cycles so important

Understanding YOUR sleep cycle is important because you want to wake up when your body is ready.

Wake up too early and your body hasn’t had enough deep sleep to recover; wake up too late and you drift around like the dormouse in Alice in Wonderland (The classic Disney version).

As our understanding of sleep is advancing, sleep tracking devices are becoming more popular.

It may be worth checking out some of these products to see if they will help you to track your sleep cycle:

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The general consensus is that you should get around 5 full sleep cycles per night for optimal health.

So how much sleep does this amount to?…

How much sleep do you need?

If you do the math, 5 full sleep cycles, at an average of 90 minutes per cycle, equates to 7.5 hours sleep per night.

However, this is just an average!

It doesn’t accurately pinpoint how much sleep YOU need (remember – averages mean nothing – they’re white rainbows!).

Sleep expert, Matthew Walker, recommends at least 8 hours for an optimal night’s sleep.

To find out how much sleep you need to function properly, you need to test a routine for at least several weeks or even months.

Keep track of your sleeping activity and log how you feel each day after.

A well filled day brings blessed sleep!

I tracked my sleep routines for several weeks, noting down all variables and found some very interesting results.

To this day, I still persist with the techniques I found!

If you want to know what I do to get a good night sleep, drop me a message and I’ll let you know.

Generally, I operate best after around 8.5 hours sleep per day; however, after a day that includes strenuous exercise and hard work, I feel more refreshed after 9 hours. Obviously, this depends on other factors such as interruptions and sleep quality.

To find out how to improve the quality of your sleep and how to benefit from a cheeky siesta, take a look my other related articles: How To Get A Good Night’s Sleep and How To Nap.

The mechanics of sleep

Although scientists are not exactly sure why we sleep, we know it’s a mechanical process, driven by our reaction to the external environment and internal bodily processes.

Light exposure, stress, caffeine, brain functionality, circadian rhythms and other internal factors can all impact upon our sleep.

To get the low-down on these topics I have written an article called The Science Of Sleep – I wouldn’t want you missing out now would I!

Sleep well my dears!

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