Most people believe that all sleep is the same, as long as you sleep. This is not true. There are, in fact, two types of sleep: high quality and poor quality. And some people enjoy high quality sleep night after night, while others rarely encounter it. Poor quality sleep can easily be seen by looking at the brain waves of people while they are sleeping. These waves are fragmented in places and are generally quite different from the waves around them.
Poor quality sleep leaves you feeling sluggish, drained, out-of-texts and sleepy during the day. Indeed, if you feel this way it's a good indication your sleep is of poor quality. High quality sleep, on the other hand:
- Restores and revitalizes your body and mind.
- Helps you avoid depression and anxiety.
- Decreases your risk of heart and cardiovascular disease.
- Revitalizes your immune system.
- Improves your concentration and memory during the day.
Indeed, you should be able to feel many of these things during the following day, and if you do not, it may mean that you are experiencing poor quality sleep.
Although it may seem that your body is inactive while you are sleeping, this is not true. Important changes are going on. They include:
- Your heart rate and blood pressure decreases.
- Your breathing rate decreases.
- Your body temperature drops slightly.
- Growth hormones are released.
- Cortisol is released (some is also released during the day).
These things are all critical for regenerating your body and getting it ready for the next day. They do not take place as efficiently and smoothly as they should during poor quality sleep. And this is one of the reasons you do not feel fully recharged and ready for the day.
You can see the problem more closely if you look in detail at how sleep occurs. It's not as simple as going to sleep, then waking 8 hours later. Your body actually undergoes 4 or 5 cycles of about 90 minutes each night. Each of these cycles consists of two stages of light sleep, two stages of deep sleep, and a stage of REM, or dream, sleep. Each of these stages can easily be seen in the waves that your brain gives off during the night. Both the frequency (speed) and amplitude (height) of these waves changes as you sleep. The major change is that they slow down, and their amplitude increases.
The first stages of sleep, referred to as one and two, are light sleep, and they occur soon after you fall sleep. Your brain waves are still reliably rapid, but as you continue sleeping they slow down and you enter stage 3, then stage 4 of what is referred to as deep sleep. It is very difficult to rouse you from deep sleep. You can spend up to 45 minutes in deep sleep (young people spend the most time here), but once you re-enter light sleep. And finally you pass into REM, or dream sleep. This is the point where you are closest to being awake, and your brain waves have speeded up considerably. You can dream anywhere from a few minutes to twenty minutes or more, then you go back to stage 2 light sleep, then deep sleep. You go through this cycle 4 or 5 times during the night.
If you are a good sleeper, everything goes smoothly and you do not wake up. (Actually, almost everyone wakes up for very short periods of time during the night, but they go back to sleep quickly and do not remember waking.)
The brain waves associated with high quality sleep are generally uniform within each stage, and the transition from stage to stage is smooth. The brain waves of poor sleepers, on the other hand, have irregular section in them referred to as fragments that are broken-up and irregular. They are, basically, a sudden change from slow regular waves to fast waves that resemblance wakefulness. Large numbers of these fragments occur over the night. Not all of them wake the person up, so someone with poor quality sleep frequently does not realize that he or she is not sleeping soundly.
These fragments cause many problems for sleepers, including:
- Not enough deep sleep.
- Not enough REM sleep.
- Broken and irregular cycles.
- Too much light sleep.
- Sudden changes in normal body changes at night.
They also tend to make the sleeper toss and turn a lot during the night, and this is also an indication of poor quality sleep. The first two on the above list are very important because deep sleep and REM are the two most important stages of sleep. Deep sleep regenerates your body, and REM sleep appears to regenerate your mind.
What all this boils down to is: if you want the benefits of high quality sleep, you'll have to get rid of the fragmentation seen in poor quality sleep. How do you do this? Many long and comprehensive lists of what you should do for good sleep exist and I will not try to cover everything; I'll concentrate only on the things that are most critical for eliminating fragmentation and poor quality sleep. They are:
- Good sleep patterns begin with changes during the day, particularly the hour or so before bedtime. During this last hour you should relax and wind down. It's also important to stick to the same schedule (particularly bed-time) day after day.
- If you are properly primed at bedtime a “wave of sleepiness” will occur. Wait for it, if possible.
- Tossing and turning causes much of fragmentation, so get as comfortable as possible using a proper pillow, mattress, covers and so on.
- Thoroughly relax when you go to bed. Let yourself go! Leave all problems behind.
- It is critical once you are in bed to eliminate all “racing thoughts,” particularly negative thoughts and thoughts related to work or any problems you might have.
- Do not worry about anything. In particular, do not worry if you do not fall sleep fast enough. Enjoy your relaxation. Think of it as fun.
- After turning off all thought and enjoying your feeling, try to enlist images of quiet, peaceful places you have enjoyed. Concentrate on them. Visualize them.
If you follow this routine your sleep should improve significantly.