Game-changing mindfulness and sleep psychologist, Hope Bastine puts your sleep troubles to bed once and for all
We know instantly when we’ve had a bad night’s sleep. We feel it. Despite getting in your usual quota of hours, you wake up feeling rubbish, sluggish, and lethargic. So, if sleep quantity is not the only determinant of good sleep then what else matters? The Sleep Health expert panel found that the factors determining a quality sleep are:
- You are asleep for 85% of the time you spend in bed
- You can fall asleep within 30 min of going to bed
- You are aware of only waking up once per night
- And, when you do, you fall back asleep within 20 minutes or less
The science of good sleep
Before you try to fix the problem – allow me to give you the science. It’s both fascinating and provides a backdrop to better understand what you’re trying to achieve with a quality night’s rest.
A single sleep cycle is characterised by 90-120 minute cycles of rest, each of which is comprised of five stages and flows through two distinct periods, non-rapid eye movement (NREM), which is sub-divided into four stages, and rapid eye movement (REM).
Following a general slowing down in activity, referred to as the pre-sleep alpha brainwave state, stage N1 begins, also known as light sleep and the alpha brain activity drops to 50%.
Stage N2 is characterised by intermittent alpha and theta waves where sleep spindles are formed, the breathing and body temperature reduces to settle and prepare for N3 and N4.
Slow-wave sleep or delta sleep (N3 and N4) is the most restorative as muscle tone is relaxing, the prefrontal cortex (responsible for analytical thinking) is switched off, breathing is periodic, and our body temperature is lowest.
From here we transition to REM; while our muscle tone is completely relaxed our visual brain centre is active, allowing for dreaming as our brain rapidly moves through the range of waveforms to complete your first sleep cycle.
You will briefly wake up between each cycle, but how robust your sleep is is determined by how quickly you fall back asleep. It is normal for us to wake up for as long as 20 minutes at around 4 am because melatonin production drops off.
We will spend approximately 25% of total accumulated sleep in REM sleep and about 75% in NREM sleep (of which between 15-30% of the time is in a deep sleep, N4). However, this varies between individuals depending on our sex, age, chronotype, or hormonal balance.
Unfortunately, as we age, the amount of deep sleep decreases. Research now shows that in order for our brain toxins to be flushed out and our body to efficiently be restored, we need to transition through 5 sleep cycles over a 24-hour period. The golden ‘good sleep’ is therefore determined by your ability to hit this sleep target.
This is how you do it.
Five Tips to Boost Restorative Sleep
Here are some fail-safe, evidence-based ways to ensure the precious deep sleep state is not interfered with:
- Kill caffeine after lunch! Caffeine stays in your system for 12-14 hours and destroys the sleep architecture and our ability to get deep sleep.
- Supper for super slumber! Eating food that helps produce melatonin, the sleep hormone is a proven way to support the body’s harmony. Foods high in Magnesium, tryptophan, and B6, serotonin such as pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, kiwi, cherries, turkey, and greens are a winner.
- Block blue after 8pm! The light-dark cycle controls cortisol and melatonin production. Artificial light is high in the blue end of the light wave spectrum which wards off melatonin and promotes cortisol, the stress hormone. Research shows there is a one hour phased delay of melatonin release after looking at your screen at night – which may explain why you’re tossing and turning.
- Hack Deep Sleep! Techy scientists are mad for finding ways to boost deep sleep and have begun developing some interesting devices that mimic the deep sleep state in order to prolong it. The App Sonic Sleep uses sound waves, the Zeez Sleep Pebble uses the same electromagnetic pulses of sleep architecture throughout the night in order to encourage robust cycling through the sleep stages smoothly, and there’s also the Philips Sleep Headband to try out.
If you want to gain better understanding and treat your insomnia get in touch with Hope here.