Sleep is crucial for us as a time when our bodies and minds take stock of the day before and re-energise and make repairs for the day ahead. It’s the time when our bodies are at their most anabolic, using the amino acids from our diet to make repairs around our bodies.
Stages of Sleep
When we sleep we go through five stages of sleep which cycle throughout the night. These are stage 1, 2, 3, 4 and REM sleep. REM sleep (AKA ‘Rapid Eye Movement’, the others are known as NREM stages) is when we dream, and while no-one quite knows the exact purpose of dreaming, many studies have demonstrated that it is vital to healthy human functioning. Stage 3 and 4, or SWS (‘Slow Wave Sleep’) on the other hand are when we are sleeping most heavily and when our bodies produce growth hormone – vital for repairing wounds, cutting fat and building muscle (and in children, for growing). This means that it’s not only vital that we get quantity of sleep, but also quality.
To ensure your sleep is of high quality you should make sure you prepare the environment you’re sleeping in correctly. Sleeping in the same room that you work and play in can be tricky psychologically so it’s advised that you keep your bedroom solely for sleep where possible. If you don’t have enough rooms however, a similar effect can be achieved by getting curtains around your bed. Then, once you are in your bedroom, or curtained off in bed, your body will know that it’s ‘bed time’.
Another way to get your body to recognise when it’s time for bed is to try and make sure you get to sleep at a similar time each night. This will cement your body clock and once this has been achieved you should begin to notice that you body begins to ‘wind down’ as this time approaches each night.
There are also several steps you can take to improve the quality of your sleep simply by changing your environment and routine. One way to do this is to ensure that no there is literally as little light in the room as possible. Even a fraction of light can slightly disturb your sleep without you being aware of it, so make sure you turn phones upside down and place books in front of LEDs on CD players etc. This is another good reason to get curtains on your bed. The same goes for noise and if you can invest in earplugs these might be a good idea.
Another way to improve the quality of your sleep is to have a hot shower just before bed. This not only relaxes your muscles making it easier to sleep, but also stimulates the release of growth hormone making your sleep even more anabolic and active in repairing wounds and building muscle.
For those who really struggle to fall asleep however, I have a little trick that I’ve used for some time now which is to forget about trying to sleep and simply focus on enjoying the peace and quiet. Those with insomnia know that it can be highly frustrating trying to force yourself to fall asleep when you have a big meeting early in the morning for example. This extra worry and pressure however simply adds to your trouble in relaxing, so rather than fret just try and relax. Think about your day and things that make you happy and enjoy being comfortable. Realise that you’re still benefiting from resting even if you aren’t actually sleeping and pretty soon you’ll find it’s the next day. Thanks for reading my article "Stages of Sleep – The Five Stages of Sleep".