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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Importance of Sleep Cycles (and Tips to Improve Yours)

The Importance of Sleep Cycles (and Tips to Improve Yours)

Sleep is the best cure for most problems we encounter, and moving smoothly through our sleep cycles helps increase our ability to face challenges head on and be more productive every day. Unfortunately, we know surprisingly little about our own sleep cycles, the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep, or how we can hack and influence our sleep patterns to become more creative and productive.

In this article I’ll go deep on how sleep cycles work, how our sleep affects our productivity, and provide sleep hacks to help you increase your performance and productivity.

What Are Sleep Cycles?

When it comes to our sleep, we pass through five different stages[1]:

Sleep Trackers: Five Stages of Sleep – Adventures of Gemma

    Many people think that a typical sleep cycle consists of only one cycle through the stages. However, the stages of sleep that we enjoy actually cycle throughout the night depending on how long we’re asleep.

    Each stage is associated with different brain waves. When we successfully manage to pass through all the stages, we achieve a sleep cycle, which typically happens within 90 minutes.

    Stage One

    This is your light sleep phase when you often drift in and out of sleep easily. As you have probably experienced, you can be awoken easily during this phase.

    We go through alpha and beta brainwaves and have almost dreamlike periods before we begin to fall asleep.

    Stage Two

    This stage often lasts for about 20 minutes as our brain produces short periods of rapid, rhythmic brain waves. Our body temperature drops, and our heart rate begins to slow down.

    Stage Three

    This is the transitional phase between light and very deep sleep. Deep, slow brain waves known as Delta Waves emerge during this third stage.

    After three full sleep cycles, the body will cut out this stage.

    Stage Four

    Stage four is your deep sleep period that lasts for about 30 minutes. Your body will typically go into stage four two times during a full 8-hour sleep cycle.

    It is essential not to wake up during the deep sleep stage as this leads to disorientation and foggy mind, and it will ensure you have a very unproductive day.

    REM Sleep

    This is the stage where most dreams happen. You will experience rapid eye movement and increased brain activity. Beta waves are generated; these are produced when we are focused in a mental activity.

    It is important to note here that our sleep does not progress through all of the stages in sequence.

    Our sleep starts with stage one and then moves into stages two, three, and four. After stage four’s deep sleep, stages three and then two are repeated before going into REM Sleep.

    Once REM is complete, we usually return to stage two sleep.

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    For context, 4-5 sleep cycles are optimal to get a good night’s sleep, as each cycle takes around 90-120 minutes to complete. The optimal amount of sleep we should be getting is 8 hours a night, but if you can’t get that 8 hours in, the least optimal period of sleep to wake up during is stage four.

    Have you ever had your alarm go off or been woken up, and you get up with a headache and a feeling of grogginess? If you have, you would have been woken up from stage four of your sleep cycle.

    How Sleep Cycles Affect Productivity

    When we sleep, our brain goes through the different stages I’ve laid out above, with each full cycle (all four stages and REM) lasting 90 minutes. It makes sense then, that we will feel more refreshed ready for a productive day when we wake at the end of a full 90-minute sleep cycle.

    The next step is to decide when you want to wake up. If you want to wake at 6am, then you will want to get five 90-minute sleep cycles in, or seven and a half hours, which means you should go to sleep at 10:30pm.

    To monitor your own sleep cycle, there are a number of apps on the market that can help you analyze the quality of your sleep. Many of them monitor the movement of your body while you sleep and can estimate the different sleep stages you’re in. This helps you ensure you activate your alarm at the right time to complete a full sleep cycle.

    Once we fully understand how our sleep cycle works and how we actually sleep each night, there are many things we can do to ensure we get the best night’s sleep possible and avoid sleep deprivation to increase our creativity and productivity.

    Here’s some more information on how sleep is affected by what we do each day and vice versa:

    How to Hack Your Sleep Cycles for Better Rest

    Below are 18 sleep hacks you can start using right now to use your sleep cycles to your advantage:

    1. Remove Technology

    Many of us keep our phone on a bedside table, or at least in the bedroom. We check for notifications or respond to emails rather than just unplugging and winding down before sleep.

    If it’s not smartphones, many of us have a television in our room, and we are catching up on the latest Netflix series before we switch off the light and go to sleep.

    Wakefulness is often triggered by blue light that emanates from a computer or smartphone screen, which can affect the rhythm of your sleep.

    Avoid laptops, phones or tablets an hour before sleep, or at least put your phone on airplane mode. Leave your smartphone or tablet in another room when you go to sleep, and decide on a time to stop emailing and being on social media at least an hour before you go to bed.

    2. Use the 90-Minute Sleep Cycle Rule

    If you know you are going to sleep later than normal or wake up earlier, then use your knowledge of your 90-minute cycles to optimize your sleep.

    You will more refreshed and closest to your waking state at the end of a cycle. This knowledge will help you create more productive days.

    If you need to get up at 4am, work back in 90-minute increments to figure out when you should go to sleep.

    3. Use an App to Monitor Your Sleep Cycles

    By tracking your sleep patterns for at least a week, you’ll have more of a sense of your sleep quality.

    You want to wake at the top of a new sleep cycle to feel refreshed and ready for a productive day. Many of the apps can act as an alarm clock and wake you at the top of a sleep cycle rather than waking you up in the middle of deep sleep.

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    3. Don’t Exercise Two Hours Before Sleep

    Unless you’re doing yoga or something similar, you shouldn’t exercise for at least two hours before going to sleep.

    Exercise builds up energy, raises our cortisol levels, and makes it a much longer process to fall asleep.

    4. Take a Hot Bath

    A relaxing bath raises our body temperature slightly, but when we get out and towel ourselves dry, we cool down quickly and are in a much more relaxed state, ready for sleep, which means we often fall asleep quicker.

    5. Go to Sleep Before 11pm

    Sleep is an essential way of resting, recharging, and nourishing our body and mind.

    Although it differs from person to person and during different seasons, we tend to naturally get tired between 10:45pm and 11pm as our biological clock is based around the circadian rhythms.

    To avoid getting a second wind, we should fall asleep before 11pm, otherwise many people get an additional surge in energy that can keep them awake into the early hours.

    If you can stick close to the circadian cycle, you will wake up feeling rested and productive.

    6. Create Your Optimal Sleep Environment

    Make going to sleep an experience that you really look forward to, rather than something you have to do.

    Investing in a new mattress will help you sleep better than a 10-year old mattress, but there are some other simple, practical steps you can take.

    Have crisp, clean sheets on the bed. Burn some candles and dim the lights before going to sleep as you wind down.

    Many of us have a playlist for working out or running. Create a sleep playlist of relaxing, soothing music that will help calm the mind before sleep.

    7. Keep Your Room at the Right Temperature

    Adjust the temperature in your room or have lighter/heavier duvets so you’re not waking up in the night being too hot or cold. There’s a close relationship between body temperature and sleep cyles.

    Most people sleep best in a slightly cooler room around 65 degrees Fahrenheit or 18 degrees Celsius. Waking up from a deep sleep because you’re too hot or cold is going to make you very irritable.

    8. Use Guided Meditation

    Guided meditation can help you sleep quicker and with a calmer mind, helping you enjoy a deeper, more restorative sleep cycles.

    When you meditate, your muscles relax, your breathing becomes slower and deeper, and your daily thoughts can turn into rich, dreamlike imagery.

    Try this guide to get started: The 5-minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime 

    9. Sleep in Total Darkness

    Daylight is known to inhibit the release of melatonin in your brain. Melatonin is a natural hormone released in our blood during darkness and helps our bodies feel more relaxed and less alert.

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    If possible, use blackout curtains, eye masks, and other tools to create more darkness in your room to avoid disrupted sleep.

    10. Avoid Caffeine After 1pm

    The World Sleep Society suggests avoiding caffeine six hours or more before you go to sleep. Caffeine consumed 6 hours before bed can affect the amount of sleep you get by over an hour.

    So, enjoy your coffee, but be clear when you should have your last cup of the day.

    11. Create a Sleep Routine

    One of the simplest ways to ensure you get your 8 hours of sleep every night is to create a sleep routine.

    Ideally, this would be having a specific time to go to sleep, but that’s not always possible as we may have nights out planned or specific work or family commitments.

    Instead, commit to a time when you are going to rise in the morning and work back to get your 7 or 8 hours on occasion.

    If you follow a morning routine that has you rising at 5am, you know the ideal would be going to sleep at 9 or 10.

    Be consistent with having a specific wake up time for 14 days, and see the impact it creates in your life.

    12. Conduct a Sleep Audit

    Start analyzing your “sleep performance” to explore different hacks to ensure you wake up refreshed and productive. You can use a sleep journal or just enter the information into a spreadsheet to help you get an idea of how well your mind moves through the sleep cycles.

    You want to track:

    • When you went to sleep
    • What you did before you went to sleep
    • When you woke up
    • How you felt when you woke up
    • How many times you woke up during the night
    • What you ate before you slept
    • How comfortable you felt during the night
    • Any naps during the day

    Try tracking for 7 or 14 days. You will begin to notice patterns emerge that can help you cut things out or add things in to improve your sleep.

    13. Try Polyphasic Sleep

    You’ve probably heard of polyphasic sleep and how many people are using this technique to hack their sleep cycles so that they only need 2 to 4 hours of sleep a night.

    Essentially, you are breaking your sleep into two blocks of time rather than the traditional monophasic sleep, in which we sleep only once per day[2]. You are sleeping for shorter periods but more often.

    Many of us take naps during the day, which could be anything from a 15 minute power nap to a longer 90-minute nap and still have 5-8 hours of sleep a night.

    Polyphasic sleep is different. It’s about sleeping a lot less and is often structured in one of two ways:

    • Nap for 20 minutes every four hours, for a total of two hours of sleep a day
    • Have a “normal sleep” at night with three 20-minute naps during the day

    The aim is to get more time in your day and less sleep at night, but this method is not recommended for the long-term.

    14. Try Pillow Sprays or Aromatherapy

    There has been a rise of the number of pillow spray products on the market promising to help you fall asleep faster and wake up feeling more refreshed and energized. They aim to help reduce sleep anxiety and improve sleep quality by calming and soothing the mind and body.

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    You can also use aromatherapy oils such as lavender to help you fall asleep quicker. These oils calm the nervous system by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature.

    15. Wind Down Your Day Slowly

    When you have lots of things on your mind, or your energy levels are high after being out or watching a film, it can be difficult to naturally calm down before sleep and move calmly through the sleep cycles.

    As part of your sleep schedule, take 30-45 minutes to just calm the mind and body before getting into bed.

    To help you decompress, try drinking hot tea with honey, journaling, or meditating. Slow everything down to give yourself the best chance of a great night’s sleep.

    If that doesn’t work, pick up a book and read for 15 minutes before sleep.

    16. Declutter Your Mind

    To create the perfect harmony of mind and body before you go to sleep, try taking everything that’s running around your mind and get it down on paper by journaling.

    Try sitting for 15 minutes and write down your worries, goals, and random thoughts. Clear your internal inbox so to speak. Quiet down that internal chatter so you are in the right frame of mind to experience a deep sleep.

    For beginners, check out this guide on journaling.

    17. Express Gratitude Before Sleep

    Give yourself 5 minutes before you go to sleep to give thanks for the day. This relaxes the mind and body and leaves you feeling positive.

    Whatever has happened during the day, step back, reflect on it, and be grateful.

    Giving thanks will help ensure that you don’t fall asleep worrying. You will be positive, thankful, and tranquil rather than fighting with a negative, worried mind.

    To take this one step further, focus you mind on one thing you want to achieve and let your subconscious work on it while you sleep.

    Final Thoughts

    Making time for a full night of sleep and setting the stage for quality sleep cycles is the secret to accomplishing more and being productive during the day.

    If your aim is to wake up more energized and be more productive throughout the day, then give the techniques that feel right a go.

    With a few lifestyle and environmental adjustments, as well as more knowledge about how you sleep, you can vastly improve the quality of your sleep to ensure you get a great night’s sleep every night and maximize your performance every day.

    More Tips for Better Sleep

    Featured photo credit: Anthony Tran via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Mark Pettit

    Mark Pettit is a Business Coach for ambitious entrepreneurs and business owners who want to achieve more by working less.

    The Importance of Sleep Cycles (and Tips to Improve Yours) How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work How to Help Anxiety When Life Is Stressing You Out A Lack of Sleep May Slowly Kill You: Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

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    Last Updated on April 26, 2021

    6 Health Benefits Of Probiotics (Backed By Science)

    6 Health Benefits Of Probiotics (Backed By Science)

    Probiotics are often touted as an important component of our daily health regime—and for good reason. There are hundreds of probiotic brands on the market, and many more websites and blogs dedicated to the benefits of probiotics on the internet. But how much do you really know about probiotics and their benefits?

    Scientific studies have provided evidence for many of the benefits of probiotics that you have probably already read about. The important thing to know is which benefits are real and which are not! It’s also important to understand that there are many different strains of probiotics, and each strain performs different roles within the body.

    What Are Probiotics?

    Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live within your intestines. They play a huge variety of important roles in many bodily processes. They help with digesting food, absorbing nutrients, reducing inflammation, producing hormones, and much more.[1] They’re also important for energy production, immune function, healthy detoxification, and proper digestion.

    You can get your probiotic bacteria from supplements or food. Popular probiotic foods include sauerkraut, probiotic yogurt, and kefir, but there are many more.[2]

    Let’s look at the six most popular health benefits of probiotics and the evidence for each.

    1. Give You Energy

    Yes! The billions of microbes residing in your gut play a vital role in breaking down the food you eat and absorbing the nutrients within.

    Probiotics break down the food you eat into energy-boosting B vitamins. These B vitamins play important roles in releasing energy from carbohydrates and fat, as well as breaking down amino acids and transporting oxygen and energy-containing nutrients around the body.[3]

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    Each B vitamin plays an important role in producing energy.

    • Vitamin B1 is involved with the cellular production of energy as part of glucose metabolism. It also helps convert carbohydrates to fat, which can be stored until needed.
    • Vitamin B2 is a building block for two coenzymes that help carry hydrogen, which is used to create ATP when carbohydrates and fats are metabolized.
    • Vitamin B3 is involved with two coenzymes that play a key role in glycolysis in which energy is created from carbohydrates and sugar.
    • Vitamin B5 is also part of the cellular metabolism of carbohydrates and fats to create energy.
    • Vitamin B6 aids the release of glycogen from the liver and muscles so your body can use it for energy.

    The strains Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium assist with the absorption of minerals such as iron, copper, magnesium, and manganese, which are crucial for energy production.

    Research has also shown that some Lactobacillus strains help to produce vitamin K, which is important for producing prothrombin, a protein that plays a crucial role in blood clotting, bone metabolism, and heart health. Vitamin K also assists with energy production within the mitochondria.[4]

    2. Help With Constipation

    Yes! Although the exact mechanisms of probiotics are not fully understood, there are several ways in which probiotics are thought to help prevent and alleviate constipation.

    First of all, it’s important to know that intestinal bacteria not only affect the motility of the gut but are also involved in the function of the enteric nervous system (ENS). A slow bowel transit time often occurs due to poor gut motility, particularly in the large intestine, which is also linked to abnormalities of the enteric nerves.

    Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) can also help with constipation. Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli assist in the production of SCFAs by fermenting carbohydrates in the gut.[5] These SCFAs can improve the motility of the digestive tract by stimulating neural receptors in the gut wall smooth muscle, stimulating peristalsis. Probiotics have also been suggested to increase levels of serotonin, an excitatory neurotransmitter that also improves peristalsis.

    Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli also help to increase the breakdown of bile salts in the gut, which are important for fat digestion, peristalsis, and intestinal motility.

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    Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that Bifidobacteria were especially effective in increasing the number of weekly bowel movements and helping to soften stools, which makes them easier to pass.[6] Other research suggests that using a supplement containing multiple strains of probiotics is also effective in treating constipation.[7]

    3. Help You Lose Weight

    Although there is no such thing as a “magic pill” that makes you lose weight, it’s now well-established that gut health plays a major role in healthy weight management.

    Scientists now know that the composition of your gut microbiota can influence the way your body breaks down carbohydrates in your food, as well as how it uses and stores energy. Moreover, slim people tend to have different species of bacteria in their gut compared to people who are overweight or obese.

    Research has also shown that when obese people lose weight, the diversity of their gut microbiome changes and becomes more like that of slim people.[8] These findings have led scientists to believe that gut bacteria not only affect the way you store fat but also the balance of glucose in your blood and how you respond to hormones that make you feel hungry or satisfied. An imbalance of these microbes can help set the stage for obesity and diabetes throughout life.

    Two specific strains have been linked to lower body weight: Akkermansia muciniphila and Christensenella minuta. These strains are often present in slimmer people.

    It’s believed that these microbes also produce acetate, a short-chain fatty acid that helps regulate body fat stores and appetite. Studies in mice have shown that higher levels of the Akkermansia muciniphila species are associated with lower body weight and that it may also reverse fat mass gain, improve insulin resistance, and reduce adipose tissue inflammation.[9]

    4. Help With Gas

    Yes! In fact, the composition of your gut flora is crucial to the production of intestinal gas.

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    An imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut can lead to a range of unpleasant symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, gas, and bloating. That can seriously impact the way that you live your life.[10] Some beneficial bacterial strains such as Enterobacteriaceae and Clostridia are known for their gas-producing properties. Fortunately, probiotics can help.

    The microbiota in your colon is required to ferment food that you cannot fully digest and isn’t absorbed by the gut. This is why the amount of fiber you eat and the composition of your gut microbiota have a lot to do with how much gas you produce each day, as well as how often you go to the bathroom.

    Specific strains of probiotics such as Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus acidophilus have been shown to reduce the gas produced in the intestines.[11] It’s also been found that taking a multi-strain probiotic supplement can help to keep excessive gas at bay.

    5. Help With Bloating

    Yes! Bloating occurs when gas builds up in your gut, creating a feeling of fullness. This can be quite uncomfortable, painful, and also somewhat embarrassing.

    Often, bloating symptoms can be linked to a specific food you have eaten—particularly onions, dried fruit, or gluten. However, some people may find they bloat up after every meal, which suggests all is not well in their gut.[12]

    Probiotics can help to restore the balance of bacteria in the gut by supplying the “friendly” bacteria that counteract the bad. These bacteria modify the composition of gut flora, which may help to reduce the production of intestinal gas.

    One particular strain associated with reducing gas and bloating is LGG, which proved to be more effective than placebo in reducing the severity of IBS symptoms. Another study showed that patients treated with L. Plantarum experienced significant reductions in their flatulence compared with a placebo group.[13]

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    Remember that your diet is probably a cause of your bloating too. For example, it might be worth reducing the carbs in your diet in addition to taking probiotics.[14]

    6. Help With Yeast Infections

    Yes! Probiotics help to restore the balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut, which often leads to the development of a yeast infection. These infections occur when yeasts, such as Candida albicans, grow out of control and spread throughout the intestines. However, probiotics may help to “crowd out” these harmful strains and restore the natural balance of your gut flora.

    Saccharomyces boulardii is a yeast—but a beneficial one. In fact, it has the power to fight Candida by inhibiting its ability to establish itself in the gut. It’s also been shown that S. boulardii may help to reduce the likelihood of Candida yeasts ending up in the digestive tract. This may be because S. boulardii produces caprylic acid, an antifungal substance with powerful anti-Candida properties.[15]

    Don’t discount the possibility that your diet may be leading to those yeast infections. A low-sugar diet like the Candida diet can help to suppress intestinal yeast overgrowth and reduce the number of yeast infections that you experience.[16]

    Lactobacillus acidophilus is one of the most-researched strains and has also been shown to promote the production of antibodies that fight C. Albicans. Most importantly, L. acidophilus can inhibit Candida albicans from forming a biofilm, which is the protective sticky covering that protects the yeast from other treatments.

    Bottom Line

    The health benefits of probiotics are undeniable, and they can be found in many supplements and foods. Their significant health benefits and accessibility make them an ideal part of your regular diet.

    You should try out the best probiotic supplements in the market, and choose one that you think best suits you.

    More About Probiotics

    Featured photo credit: Daily Nouri via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] BalanceOne: 16 SCIENCE-BASED HEALTH BENEFITS OF PROBIOTICS
    [2] The Candida Diet: 12 Probiotic Foods For Improved Gut Health
    [3] Frontiers: Metabolism of Dietary and Microbial Vitamin B Family in the Regulation of Host Immunity
    [4] NCBI: Vitamin K: the effect on health beyond coagulation – an overview
    [5] NCBI: The Effect of Probiotics on the Production of Short-Chain Fatty Acids by Human Intestinal Microbiome
    [6] NCBI: Intestinal microbiota and chronic constipation
    [7] HealthLine: Should You Use Probiotics for Constipation?
    [8] NCBI: The Gut Microbiome and Its Role in Obesity
    [9] NCBI: Function of Akkermansia muciniphila in Obesity: Interactions With Lipid Metabolism, Immune Response and Gut Systems
    [10] Millenial Magazine: Is Poor Gut Health Ruining Your Social Life?
    [11] NCBI: Clinical trial: Probiotic Bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07 Versus Placebo for the Symptoms of Bloating in Patients with Functional Bowel Disorders – a Double-Blind Study
    [12] AskMen: How to Get Rid of Bloat in a Hurry, According to Experts
    [13] Wiley Online Library: Meta‐analysis: Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG for abdominal pain‐related functional gastrointestinal disorders in childhood
    [14] Eat This, Not That!: The Biggest Danger Sign You’re Eating Too Many Carbs, Say Dietitians
    [15] Oxford Academic: Saccharomyces boulardii and Candida albicans experimental colonization of the murine gut
    [16] US News: Does the Candida Diet Work – and Is It Safe?

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