Sleep is an essential process that we all should be doing plenty of each night. This time is crucial for growing, healing and repair. An average amount of sleep of six hours or less has been shown to increase our risk of developing illness.
What regulates our sleep?
The two main components regulation are Melatonin and Cortisol. These are both hormones made by the body. Melatonin helps to get our bodies to sleep, it builds as the day light decreases and it starts reducing around 4am. The next hormone that takes over is Cortisol, this starts building from the early hours to help us wake up.
The process of sleep
Sleep has five phases, which take a total of 90 minutes to complete. At the end of this cycle we usually lightly awaken before the cycle starts again.
Stage one lasts for about five minutes, it’s when our brain and body starts to relax allowing the brainwaves to slow.
Stage two is when we are drifting off – light sleep. Brainwaves continue to slow and we begin to dream. This is the stage of sleep where we do most of our consolidation of the day’s events.
Stages three and four are slow wave sleep. During this stage we are deep asleep and it is the most difficult phase to be woken from. At this point our body is doing most of its healing and repair.
Stage five is REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement), is another short stage of around 5 minutes. During this phase we tend to dream in colour because our brains become more active.
Tips for a good night’s sleep
- Hydrate well through the day and then start reducing liquid intake from around 5pm, this will help to reduce bathroom trips during the night.
- Create a cool, dark quiet environment free of any noises or distractions.
- Turn off that phone; the blue light given out from electronic devices tends to stimulate our brain thereby making it harder to turn off.
- Use only one pillow; this will help you to keep your neck and spine in a neutral position during your sleep so you wake up free of aches.
- Exercise more than two hours before sleep, so that you have plenty of time to cool down and for your heart rate to slow.
- No bathing before bed! Having a bath is a relaxing and soothing thing to do. However, it increases body temperature which will keep you awake longer and it also relaxes all your muscles. The second sounds like a great thing, but your spine actually relies on the support of your muscles at night so it too is able to relax and recover. If you take away the muscle support to your spine, you are leaving it more at risk of aches in the morning.
- Buy a medium firm mattress, one that is able to support all the curves of your spine.
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By James Revell
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