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Your Sleep Cycle And How To Hack It For Better Sleep

Your Sleep Cycle And How To Hack It For Better Sleep

If your health and wellness are important to you it’s critical to be aware of your sleep cycle. Neglecting your sleep can have some pretty damaging spill over effect on your health. Sleep is when your brain and body spring into action. Understanding the importance of sleep and the sleep cycle can allow you to take control of the rejuvenating and healing power of sleep.

How Your Sleep Cycle Works

So you’ve nodded off while watching a House Hunters marathon and are slowly off to la la land. No, not the charming movie with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling but you’ve started a 4 stage process that happens to our bodies each night.

Stage 1: Within minutes your brain starts to produce alpha and theta waves which help to slow things down and your eye movements also slow down. This is a light stage of sleep that can last around 7 minutes and you can be easily woken up. This length is usually the best for a quick cat nap or if you’ve fallen asleep in the bathroom at work.

Stage 2: This is also a pretty light stage of sleep but your brain starts to spring into action creating sleep spindles which are burst of brain activity. Waking up at the end of this stage works for the classic power nap as it’s not too deep which can result in grogginess.

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Stage 3 & 4: Now you’re getting into deep sleep and the body starts to slow down and really relax with very little muscle activity or eye movement. You’re less likely to be woken during this stage. As you move into stage 4 you now begin to produce more brain waves and fall into real restorative sleep. When it comes to your health and wellness this stage is critical as it’s when you repair muscle and tissue, stimulate growth and development, boost immune function and set up your energy for the next day.

Eye movement determine when we will dream

I was never a big fan of the band REM but am a big fan of it’s function in the body! REM stands for rapid eye movement and you enter into it around 90 minutes into sleep. This is where your brain becomes super active and you start to dream. Along with dreaming your body also springs into action as your heart rate and blood pressure are increased and breathing becomes faster and shallow. Each REM phase can last around one hour and you can have 4-5 of these cycles each night.

The REM stage isn’t just about dreams of you showing up naked to school but serves an important role in memory and learning function. This is when your brain processes and consolidates information from the day before so it can be stored in your long term memory such as information that I’m very handsome…

Non-REM sleep on the other hand involves no eye movement and dreamless sleep. Breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure will become lower in non-REM sleep. Brain activity also becomes slower or as I like to call it, the ‘Kardashian phase’ of sleep…

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Mental Notes To Keep If You Want To Sleep Better

Getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night is still a good rule of thumb to get that true restorative sleep. It’s important to recognize that during times of sickness or stress that you allow yourself to get more sleep. This is the time where your body burns off those stress hormones and can fight illness so make sleep a priority. With that in mind how do you get the best quality sleep each night?

Sleep experts say that the most important thing in getting a good night sleep is to create a consistent wind down routine and stick with it starting at the same time each night. This may involve having a shower and then reading and listening to music but the main thing is that consistency as your body will recognize that sleep cycle is about to begin. This will help you fall asleep quicker and get deeper and more restorative sleep each night.

Here are 4 other tips to get better sleep:

1. Keep Your Room As Dark As Possible

Darkness helps to stimulate melatonin in your brain which helps to control you circadian rhythm and sleep cycle. It helps in you getting that deep sleep but it needs darkness to activate. A good tip is to buy black out curtains to keep your room as dark as possible.

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2. Your Sheet Should Feel Cool When You Touch

Your body goes through temperature fluctuations throughout the day and when you fall asleep your body naturally cools off. Helping your body get to that lower temperature quicker can encourage deeper sleep. There’s not a specific temperature but your sheets should feel cool to the touch when you lie down on them.

3. Cut Out Blue Light At Least 1-2 Hours Before Bed

In the same way darkness stimulates melatonin in the brain blue light disrupts it. Blue light is what comes from the screens of our electronics and can cause a real disruption in your sleep so try to avoid them the few hours before bed. If you have to be doing work on a lap top or scrolling Facebook to the wee hours there are at least some steps you can take. F.lux is a program that gives your laptop screen a warmer glow taking out the harsher blue light. If you use an iPhone you can activate the night shift mode which also has a similar effect.

4. Avoid Caffeine After 3-4 P.M 

This might seem obvious but you’d be surprised how long caffeine can last in your system. The noticeable effects of caffeine can ware off in a few hours but it has a half life which extends its effects in your blood stream. This half life can last anywhere from 5-6 hours and possibly even longer. So if you have a coffee at 5-pm and try to go to sleep at 11 and wonder why you’re not nodding off it may be due to the caffeine.

You’re going to have to experiment when the best cut off time for yourself is as people have different tolerances and sensitivities to it.

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Hopefully you can see how understanding your sleep cycle can have a massive benefit for your health and wellness. If you’re fit and active sleep is crucial for getting healthier and stronger. It’s when you recover and rejuvenate and with these sleep tips hopefully you can improve your sleep starting tonight.

And if you dream of Ryan Gosling, so much the better.

Featured photo credit: Seniju via flickr.com

More by this author

Jamie Logie

Jamie is a personal trainer and health coach with a degree in Kinesiology and Food and Nutrition.

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Last Updated on May 22, 2019

10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day

10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day

There are lots of studies that show if you do some exercise in the morning, you will be in a better mood all day long. You will have more energy and you will certainly be a better colleague, friend or partner.

One psychologist at Duke University has researched the effects of exercise on depressed patients and he has come to the conclusion that exercise has a definite role in treating this condition and has an important role in preventing people from relapsing.[1] According to the New York Times, scientists have now established that exercise also boosts your brain power.[2]

In addition, there are studies from the Appalachian State University which show that blood pressure can be reduced by doing regular morning exercise.[3]

Here are 10 simple morning exercises that will help you feel great the whole day long. You can include some of them in your morning exercise routine or do them all at home without having to enrol in a gym. Consult your doctor before starting any form of exercise routine if you are new to this.

1. Cat Camel Stretch

Stretching exercises are useful for muscle toning and also preventing arthritis. They can either be dynamic or static.

Dynamic ones such as the cat camel stretch, are particularly useful for doing other exercises in the morning. They are also beneficial at other times of the day, especially after long periods of sedentary work. This one is great for spinal flexibility and is a good warm up exercise.

Kneel down on all fours. Start by rounding your back just like a camel so that your head will try to meet your pelvis. This is the camel position. Then lower and lift your head so that your lower back is arched. This is the cat position. Do these movements slowly and smoothly. About 4 or 5 times.

Here’s a video to guide you through:

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2. Go for a Walk or a Run

This is better done outside so that you can connect with nature but running inside on a treadmill is almost as good. You can time yourself and increase length and time according to your fitness program.

Always have new goals to reach. Start with brisk walking and work up to running. At my age, I am still walking!

The health benefits are considerable. You can build stronger bones and you can help to maintain your weight.

Also, you are helping your heart to stay healthy and keeping your blood pressure low.

Learn more about the benefits of running here: 8 Benefits of Running 5 Minutes Every Day You Didn’t Know

3. Jumping Jacks

Michelle Obama is a great fan of this exercise and has become “Jumper in Chief.”[4] They are great for cardiovascular health and also for toning muscles especially the calves and the deltoids.

Stand with feet together. Jump while spreading your arms and legs. Return to first position and keep going! You can start with doing these for 1 minute and then gradually build up to the number you are comfortable with. Here’s how:

4. Abductor Side Lifts

Watch the video below to see how to do this exercise. These muscles are important because you use them everyday to run, get into the car or onto and off a bicycle. They are very important also for your core stability and prevent the pelvis from tilting.[5]

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Do about 10 to 15 raises for each side like this:

5. Balancing Table Pose

This is a classic yoga pose. It benefits the spine, balance, memory and concentration.

Start with the table pose (hands and knees). Breathe in before starting each movement. As you exhale, raise your left leg parallel to the floor as you raise the right arm, also parallel to the floor. Breathe in as you lower arm and leg. Repeat for the other side. 10 repetitions on each side is a good starting point.

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    6. Leg Squats

    Not just legs are involved but also hips and knees.

    Stand with your feet a bit further out from your hips. Arms are out in front of you. Then lower yourself as if you wanted to sit down until you reach a 90 degree angle. You can go down further if you want to. Then return to the starting position. Repeat 15 times for 2 sets for beginners.

    The benefits are that these exercises help with knee stability and can benefit the leg muscles such as quadriceps, hamstrings and calves.[6]

    7. Push Ups

    You start lying down (face down) but with your body held up at arm’s length. Your hands should be in line with your shoulders. Breathe in as you lower your body. That is fairly easy. Now, as you exhale, you have to get back up to the starting position.

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    An easier version to start with is to bend your legs at the knees so you do not have to lift your whole body.

    Beginners may take up to a month to be able to do 100 push ups so you will have to start with a very small number and gradually increase it.

    This exercise is great for strengthening the chest, shoulders and the triceps. It is a great strengthening exercise for many muscle groups. In fact, most muscles from the toes to the shoulders are being used.

    8. Bicycle Crunches

    There are numerous crunch exercises targeting the abs. The bicycle crunch is a variation where you work more muscle groups. Aim for 15 to 20 reps to start off with.

    Watch the video to see how this is done correctly:

    9. Lunges

    Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Place your hand on your hips. Take one giant step forward with the right leg. Make sure the knee does not go too far forward, that is, past your toes. The left knee will go down to almost floor level. Alternate the legs as you go on.

    Try to do a set of between 8 and 12 reps for each leg. It is important to allow for a day of rest, so this exercise should be done on alternate days, especially if you are using weights.

    This exercise is great for strengthening and toning the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings.

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    10. Bicep Curls

    You can do this sitting down so if you spend a lot of time on the phone, this is a great exercise to do.

    Choose suitable dumbbells or another household object that you can easily hold. Sit down with the dumbbell in your hand. You need to sit forward a bit so that your triceps can lean on your thigh to give you support.

    Then bring the weighted arm up to shoulder length and then down again. Exhale as you lift the weight and inhale as you lower it.

    Here’re some important notes before you start doing this exercise:

    Try to do one or two sets of about ten repetitions for each arm and then switch arms.

    These exercises are really useful for toning the arm muscles.[7] In addition, they can strengthen and tone the brachioradialis muscle located in the forearm. These are the muscles we use to pick up things when we flex the arm at the elbow so we use these muscles countless times a day.

    You may have to build in a rest day for the heavier exercises, numbers 6–10. On the rest days, you can do gentler stretching exercises and also some walking or running.

    Morning exercise is not only a great mood booster, but will help you keep your weight down and also sleep better![8] Start including one or some of these exercises in your morning routine!

    More Articles About Exercises for Beginners

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

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