I’ve come to a few sad realizations lately, one of which is that school actually starts on Monday and not Tuesday as I had thought this whole break. Sad sad sad.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve no doubt screwed up your sleeping cycle because the Internet has this “no teenager or young adult shall sleep before 4am because of me” rule. Additionally, you’ve chosen early classes because you like to get those things out of the way, right away. I’m two for two on this one. Waking up on Monday morning will be an ordeal to say the least.
But what happens when we sleep and is it really that important? Here are a few points to answer these questions (as well as a few other questions).
What happens when we sleep?
- The amount of sleep a person needs is personal and ranges between 4 to 12 hours, with 8 hours being the average.
- Most people fall asleep within 20 minutes of lying down.
- There are two main phases we go through while sleeping: Slow Wave Sleep (SWS)/Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep.
- SWS/NREM Sleep is a physically rejuvenating set of stages: the body disengages from its surroundings, blood pressure decreases, muscles relax, and tissue growth and repair occur.
- During REM Sleep, parts of the brain associated with creativity, planning, problem solving, and innovation are most active. Moreover, REM Sleep restores energy to the body and brain, supporting daytime performance.
- Mental connections are created and emotions are processed and regulated during REM sleep. In fact, reading your study notes before bed has shown to aid in retaining up to 40% more information.
How do we know when to sleep?
- Sleep is regulated by sleep/wake homeostasis, and our internal circadian biological clock.
- Sleep/wake homeostasis makes us aware that the need for sleep is accumulating.
- Our internal circadian biological clock regulates periods of sleepiness/wakefulness throughout the day. Adults experience the strongest circadian “dip” (periods of sleepiness) between 2-4 am and 1-3 pm. These dips will be more or less intense depending on how much/little sleep you’ve had.
- Adolescents experience a shift in their circadian rhythm, resulting in a sleep phase delay. They are alert later at night, making it hard to sleep at an early hour (i.e. before 11 pm), which then makes it difficult to get the full 8 1/2 hour sleep needed. Furthermore, adolescents experience their circadian dips between 3-7 am and 2-5 pm (and with less sleep than required, the morning dips can last up to 9-10 am making class ridiculously grueling to get through. Tumblr, you life ruiner).
Why can’t I sleep?
- One reason may be shift work sleep disorder (SWSD). It is when you experience sleepiness during work and insomnia during off hours. This disorder may also lead to headaches, weight gain, and other emotional issues.
- Sleep apnea (difficulty sleeping), like SWSD, can lead to physical consequences such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, and accidents.
- Another reason could be that you are surrounded by too much electrical light. Our eyes are not only responsible for vision, they also influence our circadian rhythms. Exposure to artificial light before bed stops the production of sleep promoting neurons, and instead produces arousing neurons.
- Also, oddly, research from Switzerland has proven that the lunar cycle (specifically full moons) affect the quality of our sleep. During full moons, participants in a study were reported to take 5 minutes longer to fall asleep, slept an average of 20 minutes less, and woke up in a bad mood.
What if we don’t get enough sleep?
- Waking up early can cause your REM sleep time to be cut off, leading to irritability and inability to see positives. Additionally, your creativity, productivity, and decision making skills are compromised.
- Your body cannot fully heal sicknesses or muscle related injuries.
- Being awake for 17 hours is the equivalent to having a 0.05% blood alcohol level (legal limit is 0.08%). Being awake for 24 hours is equivalent to 0.10% alcohol level. You’re potential to be involved in, or cause an accident increases heavily.
- In adolescents, sleep depravation decreases their ability to learn new information, and can lead to the development of aggression and depression. A study conducted by Columbia University indicated that adolescents who slept before 10 pm are less likely to experience depressed or suicidal thoughts.
How can I have a better night’s sleep?
- Limit coffee intake after your morning jolt if you are sensitive to caffeine.
- Declutter your bedroom. In other words, keep your bedroom a bedroom (i.e. don’t fill it with work, or other non-sleeping related things).
- Keep pre-bedtime activities to a minimum.
This last point is especially true in my case. I like to read before bed, thinking that it’ll make me sleepy but it only really works 30% of the time as I end up being awake for more than an hour after I’d planned to sleep.
Phew, that was way longer than I expected it to be. I hope you enjoyed reading about sleep (at the very least, I hope there was enough content here that if you did indeed read this before bed, you are sufficiently tired enough to pass out…….now).
Bye everyone! Good luck to everyone waking up early this coming Monday. The end of Christmas break is imminent.