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Published on December 18, 2017

Quality or Quantity? Why Don’t You Sleep On It

Quality or Quantity? Why Don’t You Sleep On It

Imagine you had a late night last night. You wake up feeling sleep-deprived, so you decide that you’ll go to bed early tonight to catch up on your rest. You think that by getting an extra few hours of sleep, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed the next morning.

Many of us have used this line of thinking, but how often does it work? You can probably recall times where you had perhaps 5 hours of sleep, but still felt energised and productive. There are likely other times when you’ve gone to bed early, but woke up feeling as though you barely slept.

Could it be that good sleep is more complicated than reaching a magic number of hours per night? Is it the quantity or quality of your sleep that affects how you feel?

    More is better

    Many of us grow up with our parents telling us that we should get more sleep. Babies sleep an astonishing 14-17 hours every day, while teens need 8-10 hours of rest. Adults can function well on 7-9 hours. From the parental perspective, more sleep is better for growing children.

    That’s where the “more is better” mentality begins, but we have supporting evidence from our experience. Science tells us that we need to sleep to survive, and when you rest, your body can heal and recharge. You’ll feel more energized when you wake up. This thinking makes sense, but it is overly simplistic.

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    Think of it this way–your phone has a battery. No matter how long you put the phone to charge, it can’t go more than 100% It doesn’t create new ways to store energy. It just maxes out. Your body works in the same way. You need rest, but more sleep doesn’t necessarily give you an extra supply of energy.

      Sleep studies from the past used to focus on the number of hours of sleep that people need. We’ve all heard of the need to get a certain number of hours per night to keep our bodies and minds in peak condition. Government health organisations further impress upon us the need to get a certain number of hours of rest.

      Finally, studies on people with sleep deficiencies show that they have a shorter and poorer quality of life than people with adequate sleep. A sleep-deprived brain can behave like an intoxicated brain, and long-term cognitive issues can arise with continuous substandard sleep. It’s no wonder we all have the mind set that it is important to sleep as much as we can!

      Is too much a good thing?

      So if we have been told that it is important to get more rest, then is it really a good thing to sleep a lot? We’ve all woken up from a nap and felt terrible afterward. Studies have shown that sleeping too much is in actual fact, not good for you. Sleepers tend to have more issues with depression, increased pain, a higher risk of heart attack and stroke, and impaired cognitive function.[1]

      Too much sleep can leave you feeling tired and sluggish. Having a day where you sleep too much throws off your sleep cycle, which eventually hurts the quality of sleep that you have. People who insist that they can make up for lost sleep on the weekends sabotage their chances of being well-rested ultimately.

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        How you sleep is more important than how much you’re sleeping

        Of course you need a reasonable number of hours of sleep to feel rested. Nobody would dispute that. Sleep quantity is just one part of the equation. How we sleep is more important than the number of hours we sleep.

        Feeling refreshed after sleep has a lot to do with your REM cycle. REM stands for “rapid eye movement,” and describes the dream phase of the sleep cycle. You generally reach the first 10-minute REM cycle about an hour and a half after you close your eyes.[2] You’ll continue to hit REM sleep every 90 to 120 minutes until it’s time to wake up.[3]

          Quality is key

          One of the ways to ensure that you’ll wake up feeling rested is to access as much REM sleep as possible. What we’re doing in the time leading up to sleep is also important. Activities that give your brain the chance to get into REM sleep as often as possible are best for you.

          New moms have a particularly tough time with this. In spite of the fact that they may be able to squeeze in about 7.2 hours of sleep over the course of the day, most new mothers have sleep patterns similar to people who suffer from sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.[4]

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          If they’re technically getting an appropriate amount of sleep for an adult, then why are they so sleepy? It’s quite simple: new  mothers don’t feel rested because they are awakened several times throughout the course of a night. This means that they don’t sleep long enough to enter REM sleep. Remember, it takes 1.5-2 hours to complete a sleep cycle, and REM comes at the end of the cycle.

          Without this chance for restorative sleep, new moms feel exhausted. Though they can try to catch up on rest, sleep patterns follow a cycle. A mom who is awakened every two hours may not get enough full cycles of sleep, if she gets any at all.

          Sleep and your health

          Two studies assessed how sleep quality and quantity affected college students’ health and well-being.[5] The studies concluded that sleep quality was a better predictor for a healthy and happy life and improved well-being than sleep quantity.[6]

          In the studies, subjects slept for an average of 7 hours per night. People who reported experiencing higher quality sleep were able to feel more satisfied with their lives, experienced less anxiety, and reduced feelings of depression, fatigue, confusion, and anger compared to people who reported high quantities of low-quality sleep.

          How sleepy you feel when you go to bed can also affect your sleep quality. The more tired you feel when it’s time for lights out, the more likely it is that you’ll have a restful night of sleep.

          Quality triumphs quantity

          The old adage is true: quality beats quantity. You’re better off with 6.5 hours of high-quality sleep than you are with 8 hours of mediocre rest.

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          This could explain why some people seem to do well on fewer hours of sleep. People who can access restorative sleep more often or can reach the REM phase more quickly will feel more rested. This isn’t something that everyone can do, though. Most of us need 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep to restore ourselves.

            You can improve your chances of having high-quality sleep

            You may not be able to will yourself into the REM phase, but you can set yourself up for sleep success. Here are a few ways to increase the quality of your sleep:

            • Take a hot bath before bed. The heat can soothe and relax sore muscles and prepare you for rest.
            • Turn of your electronic devices. Electronics emit blue light, which has been proven to disrupt sleep patterns.[7] Turn off your electronics, or at the very least, silence your notifications and turn on a blue shade to filter the blue light.
            • Drink chamomile tea to relax. Chamomile’s soothing properties make it a go-to remedy for nervousness and poor sleep.[8]
            • Snack on cheese and crackers. This is a perfect snack because it combines carbs with calcium or a protein that contains tryptophan. These combos boost levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that helps you feel happy and calm. Indulge about an hour before bed so that your brain has time to reap the benefit before lights out.
            • Drink warm milk. Skip the alcohol. Booze may make you drowsy, but it won’t help you reach the REM phase faster.[9]
            • Sleep in a cool room. If you get too warm, you’re likely to feel uncomfortable and wake up. A cool room sets the stage for a restful night.
            • Keep it quiet. Just because you can fall asleep while the TV is blaring doesn’t mean that you should. Ideally you’ll have little to no noise. If silence is unnerving, white noise is fine, but you avoid loud or disruptive environments if you can.[10]
            • The lights should be low. Our bodies are adapted to be awake when the sun is up and asleep when it’s dark. We sleep better in the dark. Partially close your curtains so that you can experience the benefits of being in a darkened room and wake up naturally with the sun.
            • Lay off the caffeine. A caffeine boost can feel great, but if you drink too much coffee or tea late in the day, you might have a tough time getting to sleep. Caffeine also affects the length of phases of your sleep cycle, which can prevent you from reaching or staying in the REM phase for long.[11]
            • Stick to the same sleep schedule every day. Making up for lost sleep or sleeping in on the weekends is going to make it harder to get into a good sleep rhythm.
            • Experiment with alternative sleep cycles. If the other tips on the list don’t seem to be working for you, or you have a job that prevents you from going to bed at the same time every night, you could try some different sleep cycles including:uberman, dymaxion, everyman, and biphasic. [12]

            If you try the uberman, you’ll only sleep about two hours per day. Sleep is spaced out over 6-8 naps lasting about 20 minutes each. Dymaxion isn’t for the faint of heart either. If you need to increase the amount of time that you’re awake, this cycle allows you to get by on as little as 2 hours of sleep per day. You get four 30-minute naps spaced throughout the day.

            The everyman sleep cycle is one 3.5-hour stint of sleep followed by three 20-minute naps over the course of your day. Biphasic, the least extreme of the alternative sleep cycles, involves sleeping in two segments. This pattern requires 5-6 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night and one nap in the middle of the day.

            Getting good sleep is about more than blocking off a few hours in your schedule

            Having enough sleep is important, but what is enough varies from person to person. Getting high-quality sleep is about more than setting aside 7-9 hours for rest. You can set up your environment and schedule to make the most of your sleeping hours.

            Featured photo credit: Viktor Hanacek/ Picjumbo via picjumbo.com

            Reference

            More by this author

            Angelina Phebus

            Writer, Yoga Instructor (RYT 200)

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            How to Control Your Thoughts and Become the Master of Your Mind

            How to Control Your Thoughts and Become the Master of Your Mind

            Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

            Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality.

            I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

            You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

            Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

            When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

            I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

            Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

            Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

            Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

            1. The Inner Critic

            This is your constant abuser. He is often a conglomeration of:

            • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
            • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
            • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
            • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

            He is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

            Why else would he abuse you? And since “he” is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

            2. The Worrier

            This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

            He is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it.

            Occasionally, he is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

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            3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

            He is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

            He can be set off by words or feelings. He can even be set off by sounds and smells.

            He has no real motivation; he has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

            4. The Sleep Depriver

            This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

            His motivation can be:

            • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
            • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
            • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
            • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

            How can you control these squatters?

            How to Master Your Mind

            You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

            Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

            There are two ways to control your thoughts:

            • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
            • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

            This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

            The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

            Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

            For the Inner Critic

            When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

            You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

            For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

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            You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

            “Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

            If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

            • He riles up the Worrier.
            • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
            • He is often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
            • He is a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
            • He is the destroyer of self-esteem. He convinces you that you’re not worthy. He’s a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get him out!

            Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

            Replace him with your new best friend who supports, encourages, and enhances your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

            For the Worrier

            Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

            Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

            You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

            • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
            • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
            • Muscles tense

            Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

            If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

            Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

            “Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

            Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

            If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

            Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

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            Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

            For example:

            If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

            “I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

            Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

            “Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

            Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

            For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

            Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

            The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

            • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
            • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
            • Muscles tension

            I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

            Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

            Breathe in through your nose:

            • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
            • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
            • Focus on your belly rising.

            Breathe out through your nose:

            • Feel your lungs emptying.
            • Focus on your belly falling.
            • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

            Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

            Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

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            One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

            Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

            For the Sleep Depriver

            (He’s made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

            I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

            Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

            1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
            2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

            When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

            From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

            For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

            If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

            You can also use this technique any time you want to:

            • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
            • Shut down your thinking.
            • Calm your feelings.
            • Simply focus on the present moment. 

            Becoming the Master of Your Mind

            Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

            You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

            Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

            Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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