The question then is what is healthy sleep?
- Your brain requires a certain amount of time in each stage of sleep. In the first half of the night you go into slow wave sleep which is the deep restful sleep your body needs to health and rejuvenate itself. If you go to bed too late you miss that important part of sleep.
- Every hour and half to two hours you go into REM sleep or rapid eye movements sleep. This is also known as active sleep and is a very light layer of sleep. It is where your brain processes your experiences and emotions and stores them. It is also the part of sleep where you release certain hormones that help you to sleep. One of the issues with REM sleep is that you release a hormone that relaxes your muscles and keeps you from acting out your dreams. If you have a sleep disorder such as snoring or sleep apneas this stage of sleep can become interrupted.
- As the night goes on your REM sleep sessions last longer so if you wake to an alarm and you find that you are having difficulty waking it may be that you are waking during a REM session and you might benefit by changing your alarm by 15 minutes in order to miss this problem.
- When you are not in slow wave sleep or REM sleep you are in non REM sleep. If you have pain issues this can be very disrupted and may cause your brain waves not to slow down properly. Proper pain management is important so you can go into all stages of sleep.
- Medications will affect your sleep significantly. It is not just sleep medications that will disrupt your sleep. Heart medication, blood pressure medications, antidepressants, pain medication and respiratory medications can all affect your sleep staging and your ability to go into slow wave sleep and REM sleep. If you are finding your sleep is disrupted talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the effects of your current medication on your sleep.
- Alcohol may help you fall asleep faster but as it leaves your system it will disrupt your sleep significantly during the important long REM cycles causing your sleep to not be as restorative as it can be. Alcohol is not the friend of sleep.
Which brings us back to the fact that sleep is important for your brain to function optimally. When you are sleep deprived because of short sleep times or disrupted sleep times your frontal lobe does not function optimally. This is the part of the brain where you make judgement decisions. Think of your brain without proper sleep as the brain of a 16 year old who has to make some important life decisions. Because the brain is not fully engaged in these decisions you tend to be more impulsive and head for the decision that may not be in your best interest. Instead you want to be fully engaged alert and be able to take both long and short term goals into the consideration. A well-rested brain will let your do that. In the end it will help you to be the well balanced and successful person you choose to be.