Get Ready

Everything You Need to Know About Sleep and Then Some

by Annie Behrens

For two weeks, I was waking up at 4am every morning for work and creative purposes. My doctor made it clear that I was clinically exhausted (hello, Bragging Rights). I could barely work out, I couldn’t eat a healthy meal because my body told me it didn’t want that, and I could not have a conversation without having a ‘tude.
After getting my circadian rhythm back on track, I couldn’t help but wonder (a la Carrie Bradshaw) what else could I do to improve my sleep? And what else causes poor sleeping habits? What is sleep?! I dive in below.

Let’s start with the stages of sleep you go through each night.

Stages of Sleep

Stage 1 – This is the super light phase, one where you can be easily awakened by a text notification. This stage is when you might feel like you’re falling and wake up instantly.

Stage 2 – In this stage, your eyes stop moving. Your brain waves become slower and your heart rate drops. This is when your body begins to have a nice, deep sleep.

Stage 3 – This is your deep sleep phase. Your brain waves actually pick up speed. This is the stage where many people experience parasomnias like bedwetting, sleepwalking/talking and night terrors. These parasomnias occur most often when one is transitioning between non-REM and REM sleep.

Stage 4 – Your brain waves are still movin’ and groovin’ like in Stage 3 but this time, you’re in a way deeper sleep. If you’re woken up during this stage, there’s a good chance you’ll feel disoriented for a few minutes.

REM – This is what I like to call the “Hell Yeah” stage of sleeping. There’s major brain wave movement in this stage, as if you’re still awake. Luckily, your muscles are temporarily paralyzed during this phase so you won’t act out your dreams. Hitting the first REM stage happens about 90 minutes after you fall asleep and it lasts for about 10 minutes. The cycles happen every 100-120 minutes, and we usually get 4-5 cycles a night! You can hit that “Hell Yeah” stage a few times!

So now that you’re a professional when it comes to sleep stages…

What actually happens to our bodies when we sleep?

Before you start to sleep, your pineal gland, located in the brain, releases melatonin, a natural hormone produced in our body that makes us sleepy. During your slumber, your pituitary gland releases growth hormone, and this growth hormone helps our muscles and tissue repair and heal and grow. For example, say you had a difficult workout and now you’re sore. When you get your healthy 7-9 hours of sleep, your body will release the growth hormone so you’re fully recharged and repaired for your workout the next day of conquering the world. Without proper sleep, your physical progress will become stagnate and your muscles won’t heal properly.

When we sleep, our brains sort information from the day. It determines what information we need to retain and what isn’t super important. This is how the brain determines what will become our long term memories and what will become short term memories. Long term memories could be a special event, how to spell a word or how to execute an equation. This is actually why teachers tell you that cramming for a test doesn’t work! Also while you sleep, your sympathetic nervous system, which controls your fight-or-flight response, gets to take a chill pill. When you don’t get enough sleep, this system sees more activity. This means that when you’re going about your day on a less than ideal amount of sleep, you’ll see responses similar to the symptoms of fight or flight such as increased heart rate and blood pressure and sweating.

Sleep is also the surefire way to escape stress. When you’re in the early stages of sleep, the body’s cortisol levels drop. Cortisol is sometimes referred to as the stress hormone. The hormone, however, reaches its peak right before you wake up. That’s why when we get a healthy amount of sleep, we’re actually perky and nice to be around. Cortisol also switches on your appetite, so we’re hungry in the morning! 

Lastly, our immune systems release cytokines while we sleep. Now this is not a drug you find at Burning Man, apparently, as cytokines are little proteins that fight inflammation, infection and trauma. This can affect the way your skin looks, too! Your starts to suck when you don’t get enough sleep because the cytokines are only released during sleep. When you don’t get proper sleep and the cytokines are not released, your face or existing acne can become inflamed. Even just pesky little zits would become full blown pimples when you sleep five hours. 

Hopefully by now you’re asking, “How can I make my sleep more beneficial?”

First up, just a few things that DO NOT help no matter how much you want them too. Alcohol and weed might make it easier to fall asleep, but you won’t hit the later sleep stages that recharge you and make you feel rested. Sancerre is my wine of choice to unwind after a long day/week/hour, so I am not lecturing you. I am just a pal, letting you know that a glass or shot might help you get to sleep, but it won’t give you beneficial sleep. 

With those ones out of the way, follow the tips below for a much better night’s sleep.

      • No electronics before bed! The LED / blue lights will excite your brain rather than letting it calm down before you go to sleep.
      • Lavender, bergamot, and sandalwood are great essential oils to use before bedtime. I put lavender oil on my chest and it relaxes me within minutes. If you don’t want a topical, you can use a diffuser or drop it in your shower or bath.
    • Create a sleep schedule! This is the most difficult thing for me to do for my sleep. I started it a few months ago and now I wake up at 6:30 a.m. naturally and I feel better than I would if I slept in until 8. Set an ideal bedtime to start the process.

However you find yourself reading this, you came to the right place. If you are reading this on your phone and you’re lying in bed hoping to fall asleep soon, stop. Put your phone away and we will try again tomorrow. If you just can’t seem to get any shut eye, try some of our sleep suggestions below. Sleep tight!

Feature image via Emma Craft

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