Sleep Fundamentals

For the past year, WF has become obsessed with sleep. We’ve read endlessly on the ways to get more sleep, the routines to ensure better sleep, the foods to eat, when to exercise as well how to create the best sleep environment. Our bodies and our brains need 7-8 hrs of sleep per day. With Daylight Savings quickly approaching (MARCH 13 TH ), we decided to look at all the fundamentals to get a great sleep and how we can make this transition as smoothly as possible.

So – why do we need to sleep?

The traditional thinking about sleep would have you treat it as an indulgence versus a necessary part of life for building and nourishing your body mentally, emotionally and physically. Starting at the top – our brains need sleep! Sleep increases our brain’s plasticity and helps remove the ‘waste products’ that harm our brain’s functioning.

Lack of sleep negatively impacts our emotional and physical health also. With too little sleep we have a reduced ability to manage emotional challenges and it can contribute to a lack of empathy and depression. In fact, studies have shown that when you have insomnia, you’re five times more likely to develop depression, and your odds of anxiety or panic disorders are even greater.

The negative impacts on our physical body are immeasurable – from reduced ability to fight illness to high blood pressure.

Sleep also plays a role in metabolism: Even one night of missed sleep can create a prediabetic state in an otherwise healthy person to say nothing of the fact that our tendency to eat more – less healthy foods increases dramatically.

The Science and Stages of Sleep

Our sleep cycle is regulated by our internal body clock and operates according to the circadian rhythm. As we move through our day, we become increasingly tired – this sleep drive is called sleep homeostasis. The brain produces an organic compound called ‘adenosine.’ As our adensosine levels increase we become increasingly tired. This cycle works in cooperation with the light cycles. As the light decreases – our body releases melatonin – which increases drowsiness.

Our bodies experience 4 main stages during our sleep cycle. The first three stages are known as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, and the final stage is known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. These four stages will repeat cyclically throughout the night until you wake up. For most people, the duration of each cycle will last between 90-120 minutes. NREM sleep constitutes about 75% to 80% of each cycle.

Our current lifestyles have short circuited this process. Sometimes, it is due to the nature of work (shift work in the case of doctors/nurses), the connected nature of our e-lifestyle, or simply celebrating a night out with friends.

Next week we will explore what happens when we don’t sleep and our top tips for how to get the sleep you need!