Why sleep is key to good health
Nick gave me a Fitbit for Christmas (yes, it was on my list!). One of the things it measures is your sleep pattern and looking at mine each morning has been interesting.
I generally have good sleep "hygiene” (quiet, dark, cool, no distractions, early to bed) yet I sometimes feel far from refreshed when I wake ... and not only when the cat decides to sit on my chest purring loudly at 3am about 2cm from my nose.
The Fitbit breaks down the time between going to bed and getting up into four areas: being awake, being in REM (rapid eye movement/dreaming) sleep, light sleep and deep sleep.
So last night, for example, I was in bed for nine hours yet according to the app I only got around 7.5hrs sleep because 15 per cent of that time I was awake, 13 per cent in REM, 63 per cent in light sleep and 9 per cent in deep sleep.
It has been identified that sleep cycles last around ninety minutes during which we move into, through and out of various stages of sleep. When we wake up after a full cycle we will feel refreshed but if we get woken up in certain parts of that cycle we will feel disoriented and out of sync.
Research in relation to activity in the brain when we sleep has detailed what happens during REM and non-REM sleep. Volunteers have been observed dreaming through brain scanning and results indicate physiological changes happen in and to our body and brain as we slip into the various stages of sleep.
Sleep is vital to our overall wellbeing. It allows the sift, sort and store of data and experiences, which can only be achieved when the external stimulus of our environment is tuned out. Some suggest that, through dreaming, the brain is applying what it's learned to predict how we might react in future by attempting to fit aspects of our experience into scenarios (wild, wacky or wonderful) that help us to map out future possibilities based on our emotions, desires and motivation.
Certainly, research indicates that dreams are necessary for our mental, emotional and physical health and that not being allowed to dream causes increased tension and overall stress. Although they can feel troubling at times, dreams are symbolic - their meaning is for us to contemplate and interpret, and uncover the patterns presented and the messages they offer.
Although we often focus on exercise, what we are eating and drinking and overall lifestyle as part of a healthier approach, if we're not getting a good night's sleep at the end of each day a lot of the other good work is minimised.
So, it's time to check /improve your sleep "hygiene” to improve your quality of sleep and help your brain and body get the well-deserved and restorative rest it needs to do its work effectively.