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My Recipe for High-Quality Sleep
It is common knowledge that health is our most valuable asset. When it comes to “keeping healthy”, most of us envisage a handsome slender person, who, thanks to his/her lifestyle, has become an elusive target for diseases. This is a partly right definition, since the term “healthy” encapsulates more meanings. A sharp-minded man, with a trained memory and a rich imagination can also be considered healthy, from intellectual standpoint. Furthermore, a faithful individual, who has set clear-cut moral guidelines, which he/she is steered by, is healthy, too (in terms of spirituality). Therefore, health has three dimensions: physical, mental and spiritual.
In its turn, physical health consists of other three pieces: nutrition, sport and rest. In the following lines, I’ve set my mind to approach the problem of rest (sleep, to be more precisely), which, sadly, it’s being more and more neglected.
What is sleep?
It is widely believed that sleep is a squandered period, during which we are inactive. Conversely, while we rest, no end of processes take place, both in our body and in our brain.
There are 5 stages of sleep. Our sleep is not a linear experience, but a sum of variable operations. From the first phase up to the fourth, our bodies gradually numb, our muscles relax, we breathe deeper and more slowly. Stages 3 and 4 represent the deep sleep period, during which we most efficiently recover from the mental and physical exertion we have been subject to throughout the day. Last but not least, there is the REM stage (Rapid Eye Movement), the most fascinating one, since it still holds a lot of mysteries to scientists concerning its purpose and functionality. It is in this phase that we dream.
All these 5 sequences compound a sleep cycle, lasting around 90 minutes. A person who lies in bed 8 hours goes through 5 such cycles (supposing he/she sleeps uninterruptedly till morning). However, they are not alike, as both the REM and the deep sleep phase alter throughout the night. At first, the deep sleep period is larger than the REM span. This relation reverses as hours pass. Therefore, our rest is most enlivening during the first quarter of the night.
By the way, have you ever asked yourselves why humans sleep at night, not during daytime? Since primeval age, man has been a daylight creature, undertaking all his activities under sunlight. After sunset, he would shelter away from its night-vision predators, which he couldn’t get the better of. So it was for our safety that we’ve adjusted in this manner in the first place.
Now I surmise that the ensuing question is: what does actually make us feel drowsy as the dark sets in? The answer is simple: melatonin, also known as the sleep hormone. Our brain starts to give it off only in the absence of light, because the photons which pierce the retina impede the pineal gland from producing melatonin. So, to put it another way, melatonin is responsible for our mental soothing. But what about the physical one?
In order to unwind itself, our body needs to lower its temperature. I’m sure you’ve been taught in school that the human organism temperature measures 37°C. Partly right. The thermal values actually range throughout the day, from about 36 in the early morning up to almost 38 when approaching midnight. Heat facilitates intense cellular activity, hence the explanation why we have to “cool down” a bit to make room for a good night sleep. Moreover, the usual afternoon drowsiness is also ascribed to a slight decrease of this temperature. Conceivably, after a 6-hour working program (suppose we get up at 6 am and are on our toes till 12pm), we are tempted to switch off for a while, so as to recharge our batteries for the rest of the day.
How to ensure a high-quality sleep?
From the outset, I will bring in the limelight the two major factors that subliminally affect our body clock: LIGHT and EXERCISE. I can’t stress enough how crucial they are when it comes to sleeping through the night.
In our grandparents’ day, soaking up sunlight was no issue, since most of the activities used to be executed outdoors. Unfortunately, this is not the case anymore. Nowadays our daily routine is much too indoors-oriented, virtually cutting us off from the outside world. This kind of seclusion cannot fail but to leave its mark on us in the long run. Because the natural light is hindered from passing through the retina, our brain will thus be tricked into believing that it’s already time it went to sleep. Consequently, it will carry on producing melatonin, even if we have been up for some time now; hence our tiredness. Therefore, it is highly recommended that we expose ourselves as much as possible to sunlight! Make a simple count to find out how much time you usually stay outdoors. It ought to be around 2 hours. The more, the better. You should capitalize on this resplendent windfall that is LIGHT!
The second valuable advice I give you is: MOVE YOUR BUTT! Sedentariness is an endemic “disease” among us nowadays. But being a couch potato doesn’t only alter your waist; it also influences your bodyclock. During physical activity, we heat up. The opposite happens when we turn inactive again: our body temperature gradually drops within a few hours, until it stabilizes . If we made more exercise on a daily basis, we would sharply increase our energy level and, alongside, win some extra time of activity. Because of the effort, our bodies will take longer to get rid of all the heat and come down to the proper sleep thermal value. This leads to us falling asleep later, resting more deeply and gaining even a few hours of alertness (which I guess would turn out of great use to anyone). So revise your every day routine and make sure it meets your needs for sport.
Tip: If you exercise in plain air, you thereby fulfill the both foregoing conditions for a high-quality sleep.
Apart from light and exercise, there are still some other aspects which should be taken into consideration. Let me talk you through them.
Setting fixed hours for going to bed and then slipping out of it is imperative. Our organism loves regularity, so it’s wise to observe these hours, EVEN AT WEEKENDS! You’re sure to have said to yourself at least a few times things like:
“At last! Weekend! It’s my chance to catch up on some sleep…”
“What hour is it? 9? Oh, but it’s Saturday…I think I’ll go back to sleep…”
“What plans do you have for this weekend?” – “Sleep.”
If so, you’re on the wrong track. Lying longer cuddled up in your blanket won’t do you any better. On the contrary, it will doubtlessly make you feel listless for the rest of the day and prompt you to say on your wake-up: “Give me a cup of coffee or else I’ll die!” More doesn’t mean better in this case. We have to stick to our strict sleep needs. Sleeping less results in an uncompleted cycle, whereas sleeping longer leads to some superfluous adjoined hours struggling to rest further, when you’d better welcome the newly set-in day.
In case your schedule implies getting up at a fixed hour, you’d better embark upon a trial-fail strategy. Normally, after you’ve applied the “tricks” with light and exercise, you should notice how much sleep you really need. Use this information to spot the perfect go-to-bed hour. For instance, if you usually set your alarm for 6a.m. (in order to arrive on time at work) and you know you require 7 hours of sleep, a simple calculation tells you that you ought to stop any kind of activity at 11p.m. This way, you will get round to waking up naturally, just before the alarm goes off and you’ll forget of that horrible stress of being violently seized out of the dream land.
No, it’s not a fad, but a necessity. Since ages, after having lunch, people would retire to nod off for a while. Our body calls for this break, because, as previously outlined, its temperature slightly falls off at noon. If we pay attention to this natural token and switch off for about half an hour, we’ll get a valuable energy boost afterwards. However, there is another side to the coin: you should take care not to oversleep, as our body enters the night sleep mode, if we pass the 30-minute limit. Thus, you’ll wake up even more tired than before.
I know what you’re thinking of: “Great…Another guy urging us to drink 2 liters of water a day…” Yup! Indeed, that’s exactly what I intend to do. Putting apart all that theory with our bodies being made 75% out of water and so on, drinking the right amount of liquids (alcohol not included) does ensure a restful sleep. All our organs need water (delivered via blood channels) to function properly, whether it is day or night. Just think about it: 8 hours (or more) during which we don’t even dampen our throats. If we haven’t stocked enough water before going to sleep, we can’t fail but to come by an undesired dehydration that can easily disturb our tranquility.
I’m sure you’ve already heard the classical stories about addictions: “Don’t drink! It will destroy your liver!”, “Don’t smoke! Your lungs will decay!”, “Avoid drugs! They’re mind-blowing!” (the term drug encompasses both medication and hallucinating substances) and so forth. They are all true, but I prefer keeping to my subject. The fact is that every time you get addicted to vices, our sleep is at the receiving end. Insomnia is most often a preliminary sign that we are harming somehow ourselves. So refrain from them!
In a nutshell (this is not an article about nutrition), our food has a direct impact on our overall wellbeing. Here are some points to consider:
make sure that home-cooked meals prepared out of natural ingredients heavily outweigh junk food (if possible, give up completely eating fast food)
set yourself a meal timetable (try not serving dinner too late; 3-4 hours before sleep would be advisable)
avoid heavy dinners (we don’t get the chance of burning all those calories anymore)
don’t drink coffee or other energizers in the last quarter of the day (they might keep awake for longer than you wish)
We sleep a third of our lives. This means that a 60-year-old has slept about 20 years! Then I hope you are in tune with me, that it’s of paramount importance to go to great lengths to win a high-quality sleep. Otherwise, we may reach a point where we don’t enjoy life anymore and nothing can whet back our appetite for living.
I wholeheartedly hope that my article will turn out of some help for those of you who suffer from sleep disorders. I know how exonerating it is not being able to get some rest. I’ve gone through this myself, but I eventually managed to overcome that roadblock, by taking all the above mentioned advice. If I did, then you can do it, too! Your choices define who you really are. You’re the only one in charge of your destiny. Make a resolution to lead your life by choice, not by chance!
I wish you good luck and sweet dreams tonight!