Sleep Your Way to Good Health
Have you ever had a day, where no matter what you do, you feel clumsy, tired, and can’t seem to get anything right? Chances are you have. It happens so often, the phrase, “Just one of those days,” requires no further explanation. The good news is that we can avoid these feelings of tiredness, clumsiness, and lack of concentration with a simple remedy: a good night’s sleep.
The Science of Sleep
Although we typically only hear about two stages of sleep, rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep, sleep researchers have identified five stages of sleep.
The first stage lasts for a few minutes and occurs when first falling asleep. The second and third stages are progressively deeper stages of sleep during which the heart rate, body temperature and breathing rate drop. The fourth stage of sleep is the deepest sleep of all. In this stage, scientists liken the state of our bodies and minds to a coma, only one from which we can awaken. The fifth and final stage is REM sleep. This is similar to the fourth stage in terms of the body, but during this stage the mind is highly active and produces the hallucinations we know as dreams.
According to sleep researchers, we spend most of the time during a full night of restful sleep in the fourth and fifth stages. The fourth stage, the non-dreaming, most restful state, is the most important. This is when the body and mind restore and repair themselves. If these stages are disrupted, for example by sleeping disorders, most of the night is spent in the three non-restorative stages of sleep.
When the body does not spend enough time in restorative sleep, it affects everything from your motor control to decision-making abilities. Researchers have shown that sleep-deprived subjects perform worse on tests measuring hand-eye coordination than intoxicated subjects. A lack of sleep affects memory, productivity, and critical thinking skills in a similar way. Now that we know a bit more about why we should get a good night’s sleep, let us move on to how we can make a good night’s sleep easier to achieve.
Eat Right for a Good Night
What you eat can have a meaningful impact on how well rested you will feel in the morning. Some obvious tips are to avoid caffeine and other stimulants before bed. Caffeine can stay in your system for well over eight hours and some advise not to consume caffeinated products after noon. However, the precise timing can vary from person to person and it is best to experiment to find your own tolerance level.
Alcohol is another no-no. Although it does have sedative properties, alcohol is actually a central nervous system depressant. Not only will alcohol increase your chance of waking up throughout the night, but it can inhibit your body from entering restorative sleep in the first place. This doesn’t mean you have to give up drinking alcohol, but if you are having difficulty sleeping cutting down your intake could help.
You can improve your quality of sleep by eating the proper snacks before bedtime. Avoid any large meals containing over a few hundred calories. Keep it small but packed with protein, a source of carbohydrates and some high quality fats. For example, any low-fat dairy product such as cheese, milk or yogurt and a handful of unsalted almonds would be a great choice.
A few last tips to get a good night’s sleep are to follow a nightly bedtime routine, make sure your bedroom is cool, and get some sun during the day.
The next time you are having one of those days, remember it is most likely because you aren’t getting the good night’s sleep that you deserve. More importantly, this means that you can make some easy adjustments to your diet and overall sleeping patterns to increase your hand-eye coordination, productivity and overall general health.