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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

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

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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.

    How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work 11 Tactics on Increasing Brain Power, Memory, and Motivation Why Successful People Take Notes And How to Make It Your Habit 8 Time Management Strategies for Busy People The Importance of Sleep Cycles (and Tips to Improve Yours)

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    Last Updated on October 7, 2021

    Under the Weather? 13 Immune Boosting Foods for a Quick Recovery

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    Under the Weather? 13 Immune Boosting Foods for a Quick Recovery

    Immunity truly does encapsulate the entire physiology of a person.

    When you target your immunity by eating a variety of immune boosting foods, then you really can improve your entire body, both physically and mentally.

    The immune system of a human being involves all aspects of one’s physiology and one’s daily experience. Eating certain foods can boost your health in a variety of ways. Below I outline several foods that will get you back on track if you’re feeling under the weather.

    In order to even broach the topic of foods good for one’s immune system, it’s important to consider all aspects of the human body and experience.

    What I mean by the human experience is one’s day to day mood, energy levels, and many other factors that signify how one engages with themselves and the world around them.

    Before indulging in these foods below, I suggest striving for consistency with diet, activity levels, rest, and incorporating the practice of meditation or spending time in nature as part of your daily routine as well.

    If you’re ready to feel better, not just when you’re under the weather but all the time incorporate these foods in your diet regularly.

    Be sure to stock up on these foods if you’re in need of a boost.

    1. Water is a Wise Choice

    Yes I know I’m starting things seemingly simple, but one of my most popular YouTube videos discusses the importance of water!

    When I ask people how much water they drink a day, the majority of time the answer begins with ‘not enough’.

    So if you know you don’t drink enough water, why continue this pattern of behavior?

    Now if you’re one that does hit that 5+ and more (pending activity levels) 8oz glasses a day – good for you! Water is life, and that’s where I’ll leave it.

    2. Eggs — The Most Complete Protein

    Widely regarded as the universally most complete nutritional protein source, eggs are packed with Omega-3 Fatty Acids and 9 essential amino acids.

    Egg whites are rich in Vitamins D/E/K, B2, B5, B6, B12, and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper.

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    Meanwhile, egg yolks pack the calories and fats along with cholesterol, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and lecithin.

    It’s important to note that the average medium egg contains 76 calories, 7.5g protein, 5.1g fat, 1.4g sat fat – so consider this while integrating this near perfect super food in your next dish!

    3. Raw Spinach Supports Immunity

    This leafy green is a personal favorite of mine due to its versatility and great taste!

    Spinach is loaded with vitamin C which helps fight cold, flu, and reinforce the immune system.

    It’s also quite high in antioxidants and beta-carotene, which supports our immune system in fighting infection and viruses.

    When enjoying this plentiful plant, do so raw. Its nutrients are best absorbed when the vegetable is raw; consider adding spinach as a fresh salad, rather than to a cooked dish, to reap the most immune system rewards.

    4. Turmerics Benefit on T-Cells

    Gaining popularity for its delicious taste, this powerful spice is also gaining notoriety for its anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin (which also creates the vibrant orange-yellow color).

    A study published in the Journal of Clinical Immunology notes that curcumin activates the production of T-cells, which are of the primary cells fighting on behalf of your systems immunity. [1]

    5. Garlic is Really Good for You

    This popular food not only tastes great but packs quite a punch.

    Garlic contains a compound called allicin, which boasts a variety of medicinal properties. Garlic is also not very calorie dense; 1 ounce yields about 42 calories with 1.8g protein and 9g carbs.

    Garlic also boasts Vitamin C, B6, Fiber, and Manganese.

    The properties mentioned above helps maintain healthy bones, prevent diabetes and epileptic seizures, regulate thyroid, combat osteoporosis, reduce inflammation, boost metabolism, improve cognitive function, and regulate glucose metabolism!

    So, forget about garlic breath–eat this food in abundance!

    6. Wild Salmon is Wonderful

    A personal favorite of mine, wild Alaskan salmon is one of those super foods that covers all your nutrient bases!

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    Salmon can be cooked a variety of delicious ways, and yields some of the highest immune system boosting benefits.

    Salmon contains fish oil Omega-3’s, which protect against developing heart disease and heart attack. Oils contained within such fish are quite unique in that they have Omega-3 fatty acids that are not present in any other food.

    Also consider that wild salmon contains (per 4oz) 128% Vitamin D, 95% Vitamin B12, 94% tryptophan, 62% selenium, 53% protein, 53% omega 3’s, 45% Vitamin B3, 37% phosphorus, 32% Vitamin B6, 19% choline, 14% potassium, and 8%(157) calories.

    This is one of those super foods that you could stand to have in your diet several times per week. Beyond the incredible taste, its nutritional benefits make it well worth seeking out.

    7. Essential Extra Virgin Olive Oil

    Many home cooks consider this an essential ingredient in preparing dinner. But it’s also quite good for you!

    Extra virgin olive oil is widely regarded as being a healthy addition to any kitchen, with modest amounts of Vitamins E and K and plenty of beneficial fatty acids.

    Per 100g of olive oil you can expect 14% saturated fat, 73% Monounsaturated fat, 10% Omega-6, 1% Omega-3, 72%, and 75% Vitamin K.

    It also boasts an impressive antioxidant profile. This includes the anti-inflammatory oleocanthal, as well as oleuropein, a substance that protects LDL cholesterol from oxidation.

    8. Natural Greek Yogurt Has Many Benefits

    When I talk about natural Greek yogurt, I mean the type that is not flavored in any way. Those added sugars won’t help boost immunity.

    Many people have convoluted the immunity and health benefits of natural yogurt with the all too popular sugary treats that flood grocery stores. But it’s the plain stuff that’s the best to include in your diet.

    Natural Greek yogurt not only goes great with many dishes, but it contains vast amounts of protein which will leave you feeling satisfied.

    The reason why I’ve specified ‘Greek yogurt’ is because one cup of plain, low-fat conventional yogurt typically has 5 to 10 grams of protein, where Greek yogurt averages about 13 to 20 grams of protein.

    Greek yogurt also contains essential probiotics (live microorganisms). These are bacteria microbes that help improve digestive function, the immune system, and overall gut health.

    Add natural Greek yogurt to your diet, whether as a breakfast food, a substitute for sour cream, or as an addition to a healthy smoothie.

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    9. Ginseng Tea — Chock Full of Ginsenosides

    Ginseng tea’s primary health benefits are due to the naturally occurring chemicals called ginsenosides present in the root.

    One of ginseng’s most widely understood benefits include it’s rich anti-cancer properties. [2]

    Studies also indicate that people who drink ginseng tea have a lower risk of developing cancer.

    Ginseng tea can also help relieve menstrual cramps, lower blood pressure, and improve brain function; and it has also been shown to help with sexual (erectile) dysfunction in men.

    10. Green Tea Fights Aging

    Just as powerful as ginseng tea, this extremely popular tea is rich in polyphenols that have effects like reducing inflammation and aiding in the fight against cancer.

    Green tea is in fact 30% polyphenols, including large amounts of a catechin called EGCG. Catechins are natural antioxidants that aid in the prevention of cell damage and provide several other benefits.

    EGCG, and substances like it can reduce the formation of free radicals in the body, helping protect cells and molecules from damage.

    Free radicals such as these are commonly known to play a role in aging and all sorts of other diseases.

    This wonderful also tea contains small quantities of minerals that are important for overall health, so it may be worth picking up some green tea when visiting your next local tea shop.

    11. Dark Chocolate — The Delicious Superfood

    Don’t get too excited with this one – everything in moderation, of course!

    And I’m not just referring to any chocolate — I’m talking specifically about dark chocolate and cacoa nibs, which are both immune system boosting super foods.

    We’ve already covered free radicals in this article, and dark chocolate is one of those wonderful super foods that helps fight against such free radicals.

    It does this with its high antioxidant profile which is believed to neutralize free radicals and protect the body from their damage.

    Dark chocolate’s antioxidants include vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals – helpful plant compounds. Much like other immune boosting foods on this list dark chocolate will also help balance cholesterol, blood pressure, and improve heart health, and cognitive function.

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    You now have a healthy excuse to eat some dark chocolate; but, go for the lowest sugar and highest cocoa content varieties you can find to reap the most rewards.

    12. Frozen Blueberries for All!

    Personally I love adding frozen blueberries to smoothies; however, sometimes I’ll pop over to the freezer just to grab a small handful as a treat!

    Frozen blueberries are loaded with antioxidants, which come from compounds called anthocyanins; these give blueberries their purple hue.

    One really neat fact about the ice crystals that form when the berries are frozen is that they disrupt the structure of the plant tissue and make anthocyanins even more available – how cool is that? Talk about hacking blueberries!

    Even if not frozen, blueberries have one of the highest antioxidant capacities among all fruits. They have been known to boost memory, cardiovascular system, and eyesight. The fruit also encourages a process called authophagy, or ‘cell clean-up’.

    Berries in general (raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries) are extremely high on the ORAC scale. This means they contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants, which help to fight free radicals.

    Frozen blueberries in particular may aid in defending colds and flu, as they are high in pterostilbene.

    Next time you visit your local grocery store, consider how ideal blueberries are for your immune system and general health.

    13. Raw Honey — A Natural Antioxidant

    Saving the sweetest for last!

    Pure natural raw honey follows the rest of this super food list with its antioxidant profile, however it also contains antibacterial and anti fungal properties.

    Raw honey contains antioxidants called phenolic compounds, and certain types contain just as many antioxidants as fruits and vegetables.

    Raw honey can help the body kill-off unwanted bacteria and fungus as it naturally contains hydrogen peroxide, which is a strong antiseptic. Raw honey also contains phytonutrients, commonly found in plants, which provides both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

    Aside from these wonderful benefits, raw honey can also aid with digestive issues, however this typically varies person to person.

    Indulge in Better Health

    But also, don’t forget to rest! When considering one’s overall health, it’s important to not only incorporate these immune boosting foods, but also to ensure adequate sleep, and take efforts to reduce stress.

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    Eating these immunity boosting foods will enable you to take back control of your health and prevent illness… all while satisfying your cravings!

    Featured photo credit: Joanna Kosinska via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Journal of Immunology: Curcumin
    [2] NCBI: Ginseng for Fatigue

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