Yesterday, we posted about the importance of getting enough sleep. Today, we’re focusing on the quality of that sleep.
It’s not only quantity but quality of sleep that matters – specifically, the amount of time spent in deep and REM sleep.
Sleep cycles last approximately ninety minutes, and the average adult has five or six of these a night. We phase in and out of light, deep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep during the night. In a restorative eight- hour sleep approximately 50 per cent (four hours) will be in light sleep, 25 per cent (two hours) will be in REM sleep, and 20 per cent (1.6 hours) will be deep sleep. The remaining 5 per cent will be getting to sleep and waking up. In light sleep we file memories, process emotions and our metabolism regulates. During REM sleep, the brain replenishes neurotransmitters that organise our neural networks, which are essential for remembering, learning, performance and problem- solving, and we synthesise new neurons, dream and detox the brain. In deep sleep the body builds and repairs itself, secreting maximum HGH (human growth hormone) in this phase. We come in and out of REM during our sleep cycles, and the amount of time spent in REM increases with each subsequent sleep cycle. If the final cycles of the night are cut short or missed altogether, you’ll be short on REM sleep, which may cause brain fog. Alcohol, sleep medication and antidepressants also interfere with REM sleep, so, where possible, naturally induced sleep is highly preferable.
Circadian rhythms, our internal 24-hour clock that wakes us up with the light and sends us to sleep with the dark, are driven by melatonin, the sister of serotonin. Melatonin levels rise when the light fades and cortisol drops, moving us towards sleep. In the morning, melatonin drops and cortisol rises, waking us up. If we are worried, anxious, unhappy or depressed, serotonin levels will be low and we won’t be able to synthesise enough melatonin, making our mental and emotional state a significant factor in sleep disruption.
Some people drop off to sleep easily, while others struggle to get into healthy sleep cycles. Any number of factors can affect sleep patterns: parenthood, lifestyle changes, moving home, physical ailments, hormones, creativity, worrying, heavy workload, snoring partners, shift work, travel, ageing, light evenings and mornings during the summer etc. After periods of sleep disruption, travel or heavy workload, it is normal to have a few longer, catch- up sleeps.
Tracking our sleep with wearable technology and apps gives us useful information about what is happening during our sleep cycle and how much deep and REM sleep we are getting. While we shouldn’t be overly concerned about natural fluctuations, we should take action to ensure that the quantity and quality of our sleep is as good as it can be.
Here are a few techniques that will enhance the quality of your sleep:
Exercise: Stretches before sleep
If you feel physically stiff when going to bed or your thoughts are lingering on certain issues, use the flexibility movements in Chapter 8 (pp. 155–61), or experiment with one or more of the following stretches to flush out your brain, slow down your breathing and stimulate the spinal fluid and nerves in the lower spine. Each of these movements helps to ground and detoxify our bodies and brains.
Forward Bend (flushes out the brain)
• Stand with feet hip- width apart, toes pointing forwards.
• Fold the arms over the head.
• Bend forwards from the waist.
• If this puts strain on your hamstrings, slightly bend the knees. (If you have high blood pressure, forward bends should only be held for five seconds before slowly coming up to standing position.)
Prayer Position (promotes slower, deeper breathing to imitate the sleeping breath)
• Kneel and place hands on the floor just in front of you.
• Walk the hands forwards slowly, folding the chest over the thighs.
• Widen the knees and enjoy the back stretch as you walk the arms forwards.
• If you are supple enough then the head may rest on the floor – if not, use a cushion.
• Let the neck relax and breathe.
Legs up the Wall (stimulates the spinal fluid and nerves in the lower spine)
• Find a bare wall, ideally in a room where there is carpet.
• Lie down on the floor, on your back with your body perpendicular to the wall.
• Raise your legs so that they are as flat against the wall as possible, with your bottom close to the wall. (You may need to manoeuvre into this position.)
• Enjoy the rest and breathe.
Exercise: ‘Wind- Down’ breathing
Winding ourselves down requires lowering adrenalin and cortisol and boosting acetylcholine and melatonin. This can be done while going through your wind-down routine or when you are already lying down. Many of our clients, friends and family members swear by this technique.
• Breathe in for one, breathe out for one, breathe in for two, breathe out for two . . . Keep increasing the length of the breath until you find a repetitive pattern that feels right for you.
• Keep breathing in this ratio.
• Can you feel yourself slowing down?
• On each out- breath, let yourself feel heavy, and sink into the comfort of the bed.
These techniques are also useful if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. By using these techniques, not only will you drift off easily, the quality of your sleep will be enhanced, encouraging theta, delta and gamma brain waves that bring clarity, calm and deep relaxation.
Come back tomorrow for tips on sleep ‘hygiene.’
About Companies in Motion
There are over 80 easy to use techniques and tips to build our Physical Intelligence. You can read about all of them in our new book, Physical Intelligence: Harness Your Body’s Untapped Intelligence to Achieve More, Stress Less and Live More Happily available from Simon and Schuster. (Order here.) (Multiple translations will be available later in 2019.)