Dreaming of Sleep: touch base where good health begins
You know how it is. It’s 3am and you haven’t had a wink of sleep. Then, when you finally fall asleep around 4.30am the alarm goes off seemingly within seconds, and you wake feeling as though you have experienced a short coma. The room tilts when you get up, the bathroom seems to be in a different place, and one eye has trouble in looking in the same direction as the other.
Sleep for some, is a nightmare.
Like good sleep, bad sleep is a pattern. And it is one that can be broken and reformed. But understanding sleep and the type of person you are and how you fit with bio-rhythms, stress levels, diet, exercise, personal history, genetics and personality – all have effect on how you sleep and how you think about sleep.
A brief look at sleep
- There are two types of sleep – Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep. Then there are four stages of sleep.
- Light sleep (NREM1) occurs when you first begin to fall asleep. Your breathing slows and your heartbeat becomes regular. It’s during this stage that we sometimes jerk into semi-wakefulness, feeling as though we’ve just suddenly fallen. Interestingly enough, this has been related to a vestigial reflex humans may have developed during the evolutionary process to prevent them from falling out of trees. So you could describe this moment as being literally ‘out of your tree’…
- In the second stage (NREM2), light sleep deepens as your body prepares for deep sleep stage. We spend most of our sleep in this stage.
- In the third stage, we are nearing REM stage. Our brain waves slow down and become larger and we tend to sleep through most potential sleep disturbances (noises and movements) without reacting.
- In the fourth stage we enter REM sleep which is the final stage of a standard sleep cycle. It lasts around ten minutes, but is recurring and we fall into longer and longer periods of REM sleep as the night proceeds. The last REM stage can last an hour. It is during REM sleep that we dream – sometimes so powerfully that we can remember the details of the dream upon waking.
Sleep and good health
The way we sleep reveals as much about us as do our preferences for colour or music. People prefer different positions, either foetal or log position, or either flat on the back or stomach. What is clear is that sleep is a very individual thing, affected by genetics, family history, experience, circumstances and stress.
Genetics: If one of your parents was a poor sleeper, chances are you might be the same. Whether you’re a night owl or an early bird is mostly determined by genetics. What is more important is that sleep patterns may reflect underlying health issues such as thyroid imbalances, poor glucose metabolism, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Chronic depression can be both a cause or a result of too little sleep.
Health: Recent studies have focused on extrapolating genetic influences from environmental issues such as work and social demands. These studies, while still in early trials, have shown that less than 6 hours sleep a night may be a factor in the development of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The optimum hours of sleep for good heath seem to lie between 7 and 9 hours per night.
Experience: Disturbed sleep patterns set up in childhood through ill health, unsettled family life and insecurity or even unpleasant experiences such as schooling problems – or traumatic events such as war or situations involving violence – can create a blueprint for future sleep difficulties as an adult. Sometimes you may need to work through the origins of your unsettled nights – using an approach of both counselling and a regular exercise routine.
Work ethic and stress: Personality and the way we work impacts on each individual differently. If you’re a Type A individual, you might have trouble of letting go the ‘busy’ button. If you tend to think over the day too much, this can keep you wide awake, worrying about what you did and what you’re going to do. Not surprisingly, neurotic individuals may certainly be more susceptible to insomnia. If anxious thoughts are keeping you awake, there are therapies to help treat the problem such as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.
Actions to counteract insomnia
- Get out of bed. If you don’t, your brain may start associating that sleeping place with being wide awake.
- Check the temperature. Best quality of sleep is achieved in a cool, dark room.
- Try an activity. Just make sure it’s boring. Reading ‘War and Peace’ is recommended.
- Turn off screens. Preferably do this an hour before bed. TV, computers, cell phones emit blue wavelengths that may delay production of melatonin, the hormone in the body that helps us drift off.
- Stick to a sleep routine. Start getting ready for bed around the same time and make it a calming ritual.
Exercise – the missing key
Moderate exercise every day will help you sleep better. There seem to be two key reasons: body temperature rises when you exercise, and falls when you stop – and a drop in temperature induces sleep. Exercise helps lower blood pressure, muscle tension, stress, anxiety, improves your mood and is of sound cardiovascular benefit. Can’t get any clearer than that. The kind of exercise you undertake, how much and time of day are important. Aerobics rather than weight-bearing is preferable; about 10 minutes 3 times a day; and best about 6 hours before retiring. Varying your exercises keeps your mind active, while doing exercise in sunlight is very helpful – walking, running, cycling, swimming, etc. But always make sure you don’t overdue your routine – because this can lead to insomnia instead of good, deep sleep!
Experience a new kind of approach to sleep problems!
If sleeping well – soundly and deeply – is just a dream for you, then you are the perfect candidate for improved fitness through exercise monitored by a professional who will take your personal goals to heart. Join with a partner who will know how to train your mind and your body to accept a different pattern. At My Health and Fitness, we have developed a user-friendly platform where you, your specific needs and a personal trainer can meet. Every coach registered with us has a unique professional profile page containing all their relevant information, experience and contact details.
Visit us at www.myhealthandfitness.co.za – and find the right health and fitness trainer who will work to positively change your life.
About My Health and Fitness
Welcome to My Health and Fitness, a rich source of articles to help you become the best version of yourself. From diet to exercise and general health, our content contributors (including Biokineticists, Physiotherapists, and Fitness Professionals) will cover all your frequently asked questions and more!
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Disclaimer: Our articles are not meant to replace any medical advice as given to you by your doctor or healthcare specialist. Always consult your doctor before trying out a new exercise routine or making drastic changes to your diet, especially where pre-existing conditions are applicable.
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