Sleep has been a source of curiosity since the existence of humankind.
Undoubtedly, sleep is an essential part of human life and health. You’ve felt the aftermath of staying up late, and you know the uplifting feeling of having gotten a good night’s rest.
One way or another, everyone eventually learns that sleep is not to be compromised. It functions as a recovery period for the human body and brain and allows for optimal function throughout the waking day.
The body, brain, and sleep are closely connected. Giving the body sleep allows it to learn, remember, and perform. As you may have noticed, you often feel delusional and irritable when you resist sleep, which greatly inhibits your ability to focus and learn. Throughout the night, the brain goes through different stages of conscious- ness and sleep, each uniquely affecting memory and learning.
As noted in a recent Harvard sleep study, fact-based memory is associated with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and serves as a way for the brain to process newly learned materials.1 REM sleep is also critical for procedural memory, the remembering of how to do something. Interestingly, this is also the stage of sleep where most dreaming takes place.
Furthermore, a study conducted on the Stanford basketball team made the connection between sleep and performance; players drastically improved in all areas of the game by over 10 percent after improving their sleep patterns.2 As the research demonstrates, there is no question that sleep is paramount for a truly healthy life. Understanding the science of sleep and its factors will help you guide your patients toward a full night of restful sleep.
To cope with a 24-hour day, the human body is hardwired to be awake for 16 hours.1 The brain has a “flip-flop” switch from wakefulness to sleepiness; accordingly, researchers have found that certain parts of the brain are associated with arousal and sleepiness. Namely, the hypothalamus is responsible for both.
The area of the hypothalamus called the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus (VLPO) holds neurons that shut down arousal signals stemming from the tuberomammillary nucleus (TMN).1 Therefore, the VLPO is responsible for the brain’s transition to sleep. These areas of the brain work conversely, which is why humans are able to stay awake for a long period of time and then fall asleep quickly.
In general, people require about 15 minutes to unwind and relax enough to fall asleep. Typically, the deepest stage of sleep happens 20 or more minutes after sleep onset; however, sleep onset can occur in an instant.1 The same goes for waking up, as most people can awaken from an alarm clock in less than a second; however, it may take a few minutes for a person to be fully alert after awakening.
There are many factors that contribute to the switch between falling asleep and waking up. Internal factors include the homeostatic sleep drive that accumulates the longer a person stays awake, and circadian rhythms that set up a day-to-night pattern over a 24-hour period.1 Other environmental factors that contribute to falling asleep include noise and light exposure.
Additional considerations when trying to achieve a night of sleep are both comfort and pain. Discomfort limits the depth of sleep and will only allow short periods of slumber between awakenings throughout the night. Medical conditions and bedroom environment contribute greatly to these factors.
By understanding the factors that go into creating the best sleep possible, the following are recognized as the constituents of a replenishing night of sleep:
- Muscular comfort and pressure Unobstructed blood circulation allows for full cell repair, eliminating numbness and soreness.
- Reduced By extending your REM and non-rapid eye movement sleep, or NREM patterns, you’ll wake feeling like you can conquer the world.
- Proper posture and spinal Relieving stress on the heavily impacted lumbar region allows for better circulation and ameliorates back pain.
- Base support and A firm and supportive base cushioning offers full body-weight support.
- Clean air An environment with low volatile organic compounds prevents obstruction of the central nervous system and allows for proper rest.
Extra steps can be taken to improve your sleep such as using a high-quality sleeping platform, and avoiding heavy foods, caffeine, and exercise in the later hours of the day. These activities stimulate the brain and make it more difficult to fall asleep. Instead, create a pre-sleep routine to calm down and prepare for bed. Reading a book, taking a bath, and breathing deeply are great alternatives to get in the right mindset for rest.
Jack Dell’Accio is CEO and founder of Essentia, makers of the only natural memory foam mattress. After experiencing a family member’s battle with cancer, Dell’Accio realized that chemicals in everyday items are detrimental to health. This was his motivation to create a cleaner, healthier approach to sleep. He can be contacted through myessentia.com.
1 Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “The Science of Sleep.” http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/science. Published March 2008. Accessed August 2015.
2 Mah CD, Mah KE, Kezirian EJ, MD, Dement WC. The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players. Sleep. 2011;34(7):943-950.