There is still much that remains a mystery about sleep. Neuroscientists are still trying to work out the real purpose of sleep. We know it is vital for life. Sleep helps to repair body tissue, enhance growth and help with consolidation of memory. We all know how negatively affected we are if we don’t get enough sleep. The lack of sleep reduces our immunity, affects our appetite and creates a myriad of negative emotions. Some conditions such as diabetes 2 and obesity can be linked to the lack of sleep. Mental health illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, Depression and Schizophrenia can also be result in disruption of sleep. Research tells us that in Britain adults get on average an hour less sleep than we need (UK Royal Society of Public Health). In the US studies show that 1/3 of adults experience the symptoms of insomnia. I believe it is very important to learn about sleep and how we can positively affect its quality so we can stay healthier into the future.
You may remember being taught that 8 hours of sleep per night is the correct requirement. That hypothesis seem to have been disputed now by various research studies that claim that the ‘sweet spot’ is about 7 hours (National Sleep Foundation). Too little or too much sleep can cause deterioration of health. If sleep is shorter than 4 hours, the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone)go up and the immune system suffers. Recommended sleep varies according to age too. Children and teenagers really do need more sleep, no matter what mum and dad thinks.
We have a 24 hour sleep/wake pattern that is called the circadian clock. This means that those who do not sleep regularly ie.shiftworkers will be disrupting their biological pattern. Smoking disrupts sleep as it affects the circadian rhythm. Drinking alcohol in the evening will affect the metabolism during the night. The chemical adenosine is released in the brain and builds up towards night time and helps us to fall asleep. If you have a cup of coffee, it will block adenosine. The sleep hormone melatonin is also produced at mid-late evening and helps us to fall asleep. If you are on a computer, phone or other electronic devices up to two hours before bed, beware that the blue light emitted reduces the amount of your melatonin by nearly a quarter.
Melatonin is a hormone that helps our body to cool down at night. This is why also temperature of the room is important. Too hot or too cold are not good for sleep. Ideally the room should be between 18-21 degrees.
We go through 5 or 6 light and deep sleep cycles each night. How effective your sleep is, very much depends on how long you spend in each cycle. REM (rapid eye movement) is a form of light sleep and forms about 25% of our sleep. Time in REM increases throughout the night. This is the time of sleep when we dream and also can often remember our dreams. The reason why our dreams feel ‘real’ to us is because our cognitive, rational, pre-frontal lobes are switched off when we sleep. Our subconscious however, never sleeps. It is busy rewiring neural networks and embedding learning and memory. The REM phase is used by the brain to consolidate emotional experiences and learning, comparing recent experience with old ones. The deep sleep cycles on the other hand strengthen memories. Dreams are no longer thought of in Freudian analytical terms. REM dreams tend to be more emotional and negative whilst deep sleep dreams have friendlier scripts.
Short daytime naps can boost performance and alertness. They can also help with memory. A 45minute nap helps with emotional recovery. 60-90 minute naps help with memory, which also include motor memory, so it is good for sport performance. Due to our circadian rhythms morning naps help with emotions and afternoon and evening naps help with memory and physical strength.
As a Solution Focused therapist I always look at sleep patterns with my clients. I aim to restore quality sleep by enhancing the ability to relax. Although our conscious mind doesn’t decide on the depth and quality of our sleep, it can do much for the sleep quality throughout the day by helping to create healthy and balanced experiences. Self-care with positive thought processes, effective and productive focus builds a network of connection within the subconscious mind that help the brain to make most of the sleep time. Hypnotherapy puts the brain into the subconscious state of a daydream where we mimic REM states. It is therefore dealing with emotional processes both directly and indirectly. Hypnotherapy also helps with consolidating new memories and positive goal setting for the future. Hypnotherapy is utilising the power of a daydream state to enhance many aspects of the client’s experience.
Enjoy your good night sleep and gain protection from negative influences. It will in return keep your body healthier and your mind happier.