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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 July 8, 2020

18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

The act of writing in a journal often seems daunting or unnecessary to many people. Even authors who work on novels might shun the idea of daily diaries. What purpose does jotting down words on a regular basis do if not contributing to the next novel, play or song? I know from experience many benefits of journaling that I wish to share.

1. Understand Yourself Better

Though many people and even writers avoid keeping journals, I vow to do it more often. Not only do I desire to take up daily journaling but also I plan to do it with pen to paper.

Some of the benefits I’ve found from my more active days include finding myself in the sense of understanding what matters to me and what I want out of life. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to find a spouse who is my best friend and advocate in raising children. I attribute this and much more to what I learned about myself in keeping journals for years.

2. Keep Track of Small Changes

I’ll admit that I never got very far with my guitar lessons, but in writing in a journal, I have seen the ability to track small changes like those that come when you practice anything.

Those learning a musical instrument often fail to see the small improvements that come with regular practice. Writing won’t help you switch chords any faster, but it will help you to develop a better sense for language and grammar just by doing it.

3. Become Aware of What Matters

As you continue to write in a journal, following a stream-of-consciousness feel, you can look back on the topics that you chose to write about. Those issues and emotions that poured out of you will provide insight on to what matters most to you.

You may not even realize that you’re job is depressing you or that you want to spend more time with your kids until you look over your thoughts that you weren’t really thinking about.

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4. Boost Creativity

The idea that the brain and its neural activity across hemispheres encourages learning also shows up in increased creativity. Just like with learning an instrument, your increased activity will inspire your thoughts to connect and reconnect in different ways.

When I wrote in a journal, I often wrote poetry as well as just my thoughts as they came out. I started to hear poems more in my mind; so much so that I took to scrawling lines on napkins and finding metaphors in mundane activities.

You really are what you do, so writing helps grow more than being a writer. Writing boosts the way you communicate and structure language, which really is a creative process.

5. Represents Your Emotions in a Safe Environment

A journal is as private as it gets. You can lock it in a safe or tuck it under a pillow and no one will accidentally share it on social media or have an opportunity to “leave a comment.”

Write about your sorrow as much as your happiness and frustration and know that you don’t have to keep your emotions inside your body. You can put them on paper.

6. Process Life Experiences

When you take the time to look back over what you’ve written, be it a week or a year later, you will have the distance you need to more objectively interpret your raw feelings.

Everything from losing a job to losing a loved one can emerge in a new light for a fresh perspective. Figuring out how the benefits of journaling affect your perspective on life will create connection and increase creativity.

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7. Stress Relief

In combining the exercise inherent in fine motor coordination that comes from the act of writing with the emotional release of self expression, those who maintain a journal relieve stress.

Try it out. Go home and write about your day. Write about the traffic. Write about the coffee order the barista got wrong but you didn’t have time to change. See how you can physically purge some of that pent-up stress by putting it on paper.

8. Provide Direction

Though journaling is often conducted as an activity without much direction, it often provides direction.

One of the biggest benefits of journaling is that your chaotic thoughts merge to show a direction in which to head. Asking the right questions is the only way to achieve the best solutions, so look to your journal to find your way toward your next goal.

9. Solve Problems

Just as in practicing math problems, we all get better at finding hidden solutions through the act of processing.

Think of your next goal as X and solve your life problems by reading your journals as word problems. The benefit of journaling here is that you write, explore and process to recognize and then solve problems.

When life is too in-your-face, you have to step back to see reality. Living in the moment allows us to write in the moment and use that expression to solve problems.

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10. Find Relief From Fighting

Solving your problems only comes after time to process, recognize and strategize. Just as in the benefit of journaling where relief comes from the act of writing, relief from fighting comes when you decide to “sit this one out” and communicate one-way.

Fighting is only productive when the fighters care to communicate and find common ground. When the emotions are as high as the stress levels, writing will function as the best time out.

11. Find Meaning in Life

Journaling will show you why you are living, whether you are wallowing in things you wish to change or striving to make the changes. Your life will begin to take on new meaning and your own words will reveal the actions that got you where you are so that you can assess and pave a new path for your future.

12. Allow Yourself to Focus

Taking even a small amount of time out of every day will provide you with not only peace of mind but also increased focus. Taking a break to meditate in writing and journaling will sharpen your mental faculties.

13. Sharpen Your Spirituality

When we write, we allow all the energy and experiences to flow through us, which often provides further insight into our own spirituality. Even if your parents didn’t raise you to follow a specific religion, your thoughts will start to show you what you believe about the universe and your place in it.

14. Let the Past Go

I’ve mentioned a few examples where going back over your writing offers advice and direction, but the simply truth is that writing down our feelings can be the best way to let them go. We can choose to literally throw these pages away when they’re filled with negativity and hate.

15. Allow Freedom

Journaling is the perfect way to not only express yourself but to also experience the freedom of being who you are. Your books can stay private or you can publish them. Your freedom stems from your sense of self and your perception of your thoughts.

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16. Enhance Your Career

Again, the private act of pen-to-paper processing provides the benefits of journaling mentioned above, but you can also enhance your career when you take similar ideas and categorize, edit and publish them in an online blog.

Your thoughts will often be personal and express emotions, but another benefit of journaling is uncovering fresh ideas about your work.

17. Literally Explore Your Dreams

All the benefits I’ve mentioned explore ideas, thoughts and emotions, which is also what our dreams and nightmares do. Through writing down your dreams from the previous night, you can enhance your creativity as well as connect some of the metaphorical dots from the rest of your journal.

18. Catalog Your Life for Others

No one wants to think about dying, but we all die. Leaving a journal will act as a way to reconnect with family and friends left behind. The ideas you wish to keep personal while you process the life you’re living will serve to rekindle and inspire those who loved you through the process.

We consider our partners our life witnesses, but writing provides a tangible mark on the world.

Now that you’ve learned all the benefits of journaling, it’s time to start writing a journal:

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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