I woke up this morning at 6am after having gone to bed at 2am, and felt terrible. I thought I should analyze some of my patterns to understand more about sleep.
After some self-analysis and an enlightening discussion with a friend of mine, here are my thoughts:
1. Understanding Sleep
We take sleep for granted but pause and think about it for a minute. It is not obvious at times but your functioning during daytime and things like alertness, memory and even co-ordination are affected by your night’s sleep.
Knowing about your own sleep requirements is an experimental science and there is no formula or specification for it. We all are different and need different amounts of sleep. Sleep time declines with age – I think 7-8 hours of total sleep-time at night is a decent average for 40 somethings and could be 6-7 hours in your late 50s.
Your sleep is broken up into phases and expect (at 40+) to get 45mins to 1 hour of deep sleep and 1 – 1.5 hours of REM sleep with a mix of light and woken sleep as a filler. Deep sleep is critical for physical rejuvenation and re-building and REM sleep is critical for the brain. There are devices for tracking all this on the market.
2. Monitoring your sleep
This is an important step in improving sleep because you need to know if and what is broken before you fix it. Since you have no consciousness when you sleep, you need help in figuring out the pattern of you sleep.
I have started using a device called Zeo (link and image below) to monitor my sleep, and it uses a headband and a small device with a transmitter to monitor your sleep phases based on brain signals. Not that I had a problem with sleep but I am curious if I can improve it because it will help when I’m awake.
Recently, I have also read about Sonorus which is a shirt with sensors that measure breathing to monitor sleep cycles.
3. Factors affecting sleep
I realized that my interruption of last night’s sleep was caused by caffeine. How caffeine works to disrupt sleep is quite different from what I used to think. It disrupts the latter part of your sleep, and not falling to sleep. So, when the body is tired it overcomes caffeine and you go to bed normally but somewhere around 4,5,6am caffeine overtakes fatigue and kills your sleep. Trying to sleep is a waste of time because you won’t and you can just lie down to relax or wake up and do some activity. I found that for me eating something and trying to sleep a little later around 8am is possible.
I have not personaaly seen the effects lately but obviously alcohol consumption has a bad effect on your sleep. Alcohol is a toxin and dehydrates you and makes you want to pee more, so your sleep will get disrupted by it. It might make you drowsy and go to sleep but the quality of your sleep will be poor, and that is what matters.
Darkness/Light in your room:
The body sub-consciously wakes up when light falls on our eyes. Ensuring you have a dark room especially in the wee morning hours is important for quality sleep. If your room cannot be made dark, you can calculate backwards from assuming that you will wake up whenever there is some morning light lighting up your room. e.g. if daylight kicks in at 5pm, you will have to sleep at 9 or so to get 8 hours of sleep.
This is obvious but I have seen that intermittent noise or sounds are more disruptive than even loud, regular sounds. So, if noise is an issue for you, wear ear-plugs or get a white-noise machine (it magically drowns out small external sounds).
I have noticed that I tend to wake up earlier when I have a light dinner and get a bit hungry early morning. On the flip-side eating a heavy meal also negatively affects my sleep because I get uneasy so it is advised to let the food digest for some time before hitting the sack.
Try to find the balance of a decently full stomach while going to bed.
4. Help for falling asleep
There are a few drugs to help you fall asleep, over the counter ones like Melatonin, etc. and prescibed ones like Zoloft, Ambien, etc. with a lot of side-effects. I have no real experience with these and will write more about them later.
Winding down by turning down the lights and not staring into bright screens helps.
Good exercise before dinner helps me get better sleep because of fatigue I guess.
Remember, emotions also play a role here so try to neutralize thoughts by relaxing or meditating.
I have not tried it myself but taking a nap to cover some lack of sleep seems logical if you can reach deep or REM sleep.
Please share your thoughts on this…