How I really feel about sleep is best expressed by Frank Underwood from House of Cards — “I’ve always loathed the necessity of sleep. Like death, it puts even the most powerful men on their backs.”.

But seriously who wouldn’t want more sleep? With our demanding work loads and countless distractions you sometimes just can’t help but send one last email, click the next link or watch the next episode. You just never get enough of it and every hour we push forward into each night eats into the productivity of the next day, and the cycle continues.

We could argue and compromise all day about the optimum number of hours of sleep we need. But the fact is science agrees on at least 7 solid hours, and just so you know I’ve double checked my sources. Even the smallest loss in sleep can affect our mood and energy; however well you might think you’re handling it. So using the rest of this article I hope to help you understand the biology of sleep, share a few tips on getting more of it and hopefully wrap this up before midnight.

Sleep isn’t basically when your body and brain shutdown. Your brain remains awake as you sleep, controlling your breathing, heart rate and what not as it prepares you for the next day. Sleep is broadly split into two categories. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) when we dream, and non-REM sleep.

Non-REM sleep goes through 3 progressive stages:

Stage 1: Lasts up to 10 minutes in most people. The sleeper can still be awakened during this stage. This is the least restorative of the 3 stages.

Stage 2: Intermediate stage. This is where the sleeper gradually descends into deeper sleep and usually lasts about 20 minutes.

Stage 3: Deep sleep.This is the most restorative of the 3 stages and what you need most. It would be much harder to awake a person during this stage. Deep sleep is the stage during which your body grows and repairs itself and as you grow older you tend to get less of it.

REM Sleep: As mentioned before dreaming occurs during REM sleep. As you might expect it requires high brain activity, because as you dream the brain not only needs to navigate or perceive the environment you’re in, but also create it unlike in real life. The characteristic eye movements during REM sleep are actually synchronized with the movements of the eye during the dream — meaning that if you look left in your dream, your eyes also look to the left. [Just an interesting fact.]

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Tips for better sleep

The side effects go beyond just yawning and upset moods, and sleep deprivation is in no way a badge of honor for the workaholics. It can increases your risk of heart-disease, affect your memory, cause depression and do more damage to your lifestyle and health than those extra hours could ever make up for!

To begin with you need to understand that the quality of sleep matters more than quantity.

One. Stick to a proper schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Your sleep-wake cycle matters and any changes to it can affect you for several weeks before your body adjusts to it.

Two. Regular exercise promotes better sleep. Doing some physical activity everyday can help you fall asleep faster and get more deep sleep.

Three. Understand that your circadian rhythm (biological clock) relies on environmental cues. At night, your body responds to the loss of daylight by producing a hormone (melatonin) which makes you sleepy and the opposite happens during the day. But the problem is lighting indoors doesn’t help in creating this distinction. So avoid bright lights close to your bedtime. Dimming your lights and staying away from those bright screens at night will actually help you fall asleep faster.

Four. Eating and drinking. Stomachs either stuffed or empty don’t help with sleep. The discomfort is likely to keep you awake for longer, so watch how much you eat for dinner.

Five. We have what you would call a sleep debt, which is the total hours of sleep lost during the week or so. It is important that you sleep more to make up for any accumulated sleep debt as it can seriously disturb your natural sleeping rhythms and can also result in insomnia.

Simply understanding the importance of good sleep and following these steps can quickly improve your sleeping habits and help you understand that the increase in productivity from a good night sleep can easily makeup for all the hours spent slouching over a laptop well past midnight.

Speaking of good sleeping habits… — Goodnight!

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