Why the best purpose of the year 2020 can be to sleep more and better

In our hectic daily routine, we sometimes forget that quality sleep is tremendously important. The consequences of bad sleep are many and very unpleasant, all against our well-being.

Since we are making resolutions for this new year, why not commit to our own health? Acquiring good habits at bedtime is relatively simple, effective and with very beneficial consequences.

Why is sleeping so important?

How long should we sleep, eight hours? What happens in our brain while we sleep? Could you live alone sleeping in very short periods of time, many times a day? ... There is an incredible amount of doubt surrounding the mysteries of sleep. Despite the incredible amount of information we have acquired in recent years, and the fact that we spend a third of our lives sleeping, we know very little about its mechanisms. For example, we still don't know for sure why we need sleep or how many of its physiological processes work.

That does not mean that we do not have some clear things. For example, as stated by the National Institute of Lung, Heart and Blood, in the United States, we know that sleep is necessary to think clearly, maintain reflexes and make decisions. Reducing a single hour of sleep from our needs can make it difficult to concentrate and hinders decision making and risk taking.

But not only that. Lack of sleep also affects our mood, makes us more prone to depression and changes the way we deal with the world. Physiologically speaking, it can promote the appearance of neurological and metabolic diseases. It is important to understand that when we talk about lack of sleep we are not referring to the hours we spend in bed. Today we know that what really weighs on health is not the "sleeping" hours, but the quality of sleep.

We can sleep many hours without our physiological needs being met. Sleeping long and deeply and properly helps our body strengthen the neural system, reduce heart disease and the risk of diabetes, improve the action of the immune system and countless other benefits. But spending too much time in bed without getting good rest can backfire and promote sedentary lifestyle. But before we continue, let's see how "sleep" works.

The dream on the "dissecting table"

As we said, we have all read that it is important to sleep a minimum number of hours. That number is usually, according to the popular heritage, eight hours. However, as we gain a better understanding of how this part of our lives works, a less simplistic picture is painted in which the depth of sleep is more important than the total hours. We call this sleep quality.

The first evidence collected by the National Sleep Foundation The United States is that each person has different sleep needs, in hours. These needs vary by age and personally. Thus, adults and young people can sleep a range of between six and eleven hours depending on their needs. Children are those who need the most time, between ten and eighteen hours, and the elderly between six and nine. This fits with other evidences that show the importance of the quality of sleep we were talking about, rather than its rank. To understand it, we must know what happens to us when we sleep:

To simplify complicated sleep cycles, generally ** quality sleep is said to be identified by falling asleep early, in less than 30 minutes, peacefully, waking up only a few times at night and less than 20 minutes from wakefulness **, with at least 45 minutes of deep sleep throughout the night
  • As explained in the National Institute of Health American, throughout the night we go through various phases of sleep. In the first minutes we begin phase one, in which we change from waking state to light sleep. During this phase our eyes move slowly and give us small muscle tics that indicate that we are entering the sleep cycle.

  • After a short period, which can last between 5 and 20 minutes, we enter phase two, the anteroom of deep sleep, in which our breathing slows down and the muscles relax much more. Our body temperature drops and eye movement stops. This phase repeats several times throughout the night, more than any of the other phases.

  • Phase three is deep sleep. During deep sleep it is difficult to wake up, there is almost no movement and it usually occurs in longer periods at the beginning of the night. Typically, an adult goes through this phase one to three times during a night of sleep.

Sleep cycles often repeat phases one and two many times, and between them occurs another phase known as the REM phase (from Rapid Eye Movement), which we will mention now. However, deep sleep is essential to feel relaxed and rested. In general, it takes between 45 minutes and an hour of phase three sleep per night to have quality sleep.

Returning to the REM phase, it usually begins about 90 minutes after falling asleep, after the first cycle, and is located between phase one and two of a new one. During the REM phase, the eyes move quickly and our body is paralyzed. It is the moment in which we dream (mostly, because we can also dream in a non-REM phase), and we know that it plays a fundamental role in the settlement of memory. This is another indicator of sleep quality, although it is not related to feeling rested upon awakening.

To simplify the complicated sleep cycles, it is generally said that quality sleep is identified by falling asleep early, in less than 30 minutes, peacefully, waking up only a few times at night and with less than 20 minutes of wakefulness, counting with at least 45 minutes of deep sleep throughout the night.

The secrets to better sleep in 2020

Theory is fine, but how can we turn it into practice? Can we do something to improve our quality of sleep and thus fulfill our commitment to sleep better in 2020? Undoubtedly. For that we have physiology on our side. The main objective is to maximize those hours of deep sleep that we must spend each night. To do this we will have to ensure good sleep hygiene that frees us from nervousness, stress or other impediments that allow us to achieve rest.

The first thing we must do, then, is to identify the habits that affect our sleep, as good and good strategists. For example: tobacco and alcohol negatively (and very aggressively) affect our sleep capacity. Caffeine also, although it depends on the person, in general, is an element to reduce or eliminate completely, to sleep better. Another important thing is to put aside devices that emit light just before bed, such as a mobile phone or tablet; since there is evidence that they cause some sleep disruption due to light and its effect on the circadian rhythm. Instead, it is better to read a paper or electronic paper book, which does not emit its own light.

No less important is to consider the environment and our mood before sleeping. We can improve our predisposition to sleep with dim lighting an hour or a half before bed. We must avoid stressful situations, bright light, or loud noises. Within a good sleep hygiene we can include a time to read, do some exercise a couple of hours before going to bed or even use sound techniques, such as white noise. The temperature of the room is also important, because if it is too hot it will bother us.

In the case of not being able to sleep or wake up, there are some small tricks that, far from being infallible, can help us fight insomnia. For example, we can get up and do something for ten minutes: draw, a puzzle, read. Of course, we must avoid bright screens and lights, which will disrupt our circadian mechanism and interrupt the segregation of melatonin.

Another little trick, pure physiology, is known as a mammal immersion reflex and involves submerging the face in cold water for a few seconds. This appears in all mammalian animals and its purpose, we believe, is to adapt breathing to aquatic conditions. This translates into a decrease in heart rate between 10 and 25% and a slowing down of breathing, which can help us adjust our bodies to relax more and sleep better.

Images | Unsplash

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