By Phyllis A. DeLaricheliere MS
Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep
Growing up, I often was told the older you get the less sleep you need. Well, that’s an Old Wives Tale. Our bodies need on a regular basis between 7-9 hours of “healthy” sleep. What does healthy sleep mean? A healthy sleep cycle contains a variety of sleep levels where you land for different durations during these levels as you go through the night. Each level has a purpose/function that is important to our overall health.
The four levels are NREM1, NREM2, NREM3, and REM. NREM1 is the transition from awake to sleep. This is where your body relaxes; heartbeat, breath decreases, muscles might twitch as they relax. This level lasts no more than 5-10 minutes and can be easily interrupted. NREM2: this is still a level where you can have your sleep interrupted but during these 25 minutes you transition into a deep sleep where your body temperature drops and it continues to relax.
For “naps,” it’s suggested to set a timer to wake up after NREM2. It’s enough to allow you to recharge. Often called a “power nap” anything longer than that will make you feel groggy. NREM3, the start of deep sleep where it is difficult to wake up easily and where your body is at its most relaxed state. This is where your body heals, and your immune system recharges. If awoken during this level, you may experience mental and physical difficulties for up to an hour. REM4 is the interesting level as this is where dreaming and creative problem solving happens. During this critical level, your memory consolidates, “It’s where your brain does its data backup.” Here, your body is at complete rest, yet your brain is active – as if it is awake. Your heart rate can also increase during this level.
Understanding the levels of sleep and their functions, it’s no wonder that many studies state that unhealthy sleep habits can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, memory/cognitive issues and anxiety/depression. It’s proven that how we treat our heart affects our brain, through diet, exercise, and sleep. Inconsistent sleep patterns can be brutal on your heart and its functioning which can cause problems with how it delivers blood and oxygen to the brain.
So, what do we do? Many Americans have deferred to sleeping pills to assist them in getting the sleep that they need. New studies are now presenting the theory that sleeping pills and the long-term uses could increase the chances of you being diagnosed with dementia. Although correlation does not mean cause, we do know that sleep aids assist in altering the chemicals in the brain and over a long period of time the end results are unknown. Sedating yourself is unnatural and should not be associated with getting a good night’s sleep. It’s a false positive.
With so much going on in the world and Post-Covid, sleep is a commodity. But making it a priority is going to keep you healthy both physically and mentally. Here are some tips to try;
- Commit to 7-9 hours of sleep every night. (Making it up on the weekends does not assist in your day-to-day mental health and physical functionality. You can’t bank your sleep.)
- Have a regular bedtime and wake up time every day. Even on the weekends.
- Physical activity daily is critical. The body will rest better at night and function better during the day. (Take a walk a day to keep the doctor away)
- Get the natural light. It does not need to be sunshine but daylight early in the morning is so important to our brain health.
- Avoid screens (TV, iPad, laptops, phones) 2 hours before you go to bed. This will begin to train your brain to relax and not a rapid cycle.
- Have your bedroom temperature cooler than the rest of your house. Make sure it’s quiet and dark. Darkening shades/curtains work great and white noise does help calm the body and leaves your brain in a “float” stage where it will not begin to run through your day, your tomorrow or your “to do’s.”
- Before bed, write down what you need to do tomorrow and things you want to get done. Having this out of your head and on paper is the appropriate data dump so your brain will not process it for you at night.
- Finally, avoid eating and drinking a few hours before bed. This will allow your body to not have to work overtime to food process and let it relax as it should through the REM levels. It will also support fewer trips to the bathroom at night. Having to go to the bathroom once during the night is pretty normal, but frequent trips are not good for you. (If it continues, talk to your physician)
SLEEP is REST, RECHARGE, RELAXING and ESSENTIAL for a healthy body, mind, and spirit. Lack of sleep affects our mental state, our body’s ability to function and our brain to recall, think and process. SO, GOODNIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT!
Phyllis DeLaricheliere, MS is an award winning columnist and has been writing her “Ask the Hippie” article for 7 years. She is inspired by Patricia Abbate who encouraged her to write about her passion for educating those about Dementia/Alzheimer’s and spreading her message. Her website is: www.askthehippie.com and her book will be available this Spring – go to the website to get on the waitlist and to see where she is lecturing next.