Why is sleep so important?
Carl Jung is credited with saying: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” Contemplation, journaling, and meditation clarify intention and the unconscious forces that resist it.
Let’s make our unconscious thoughts about our health conscious so that we may become healthier without impediments.
I count sleep as my #1 health behavior and although my list is fluid, it has been at the top for a while. If you are under 50, you may not fully appreciate the value of sleep, but as you age you will grow to understand its value. We as humans can go longer without food and water than we can without sleep.
My intention is to get quality, restorative sleep to build the foundation of my health. Because I have this intention, I measure, contemplate, and track my sleep on a daily basis. It is not difficult to do. There are inexpensive smart phone apps that work well to get you started. If you want something more advance, there are “wearables” which include watches and other wrist monitors. The most useful tool I have found to date is the “Oura Ring” which I recommend starting at about $300. When you incorporate the data these devices collect into your observation, mediation and contemplation, you become empowered to identify and clear the obstacles “messing up” your sleep.
Conventional wisdom is that there are four stages of sleep. While this can be argued, a simple understanding is useful for guiding you to better sleep and better health. These stages are further categorized by the presence of “rapid eye movement” (REM). There is one stage involving REM and 3 that don’t (“non-REM”).
The first stage of sleep is entered as you are “dozing off.” It is the transition between wakefulness and sleep. It is “Non-REM” (NREM) and is sometimes labeled “N1.” In this stage your body is beginning to relax but has not fully done so yet with muscle twitching and sometimes a sense of falling being part of this stage. Generally, you are not in this stage for very long (5 minutes or less) as you drift off to sleep and if you sleep well, you may not return to this stage later in the night.
The second stage (N2) is sometimes called “light sleep” and it is also NREM. In this state your muscles become more relaxed, your temperature drops, and your heartrate and breathing slow down. This stage is defined by a change in brain waves in sleep studies. This is the stage that transitions you into deep and then REM sleep in cycles throughout the night. This stage typically lasts about 10-25 minutes per cycle and while in this stage you can still be easily woke.
The third stage (N3) of sleep is “deep sleep” or “slow-wave sleep” (SES) and is characterized by “delta wave” brainwaves. Some sources refer to these “short-waves.” This is also a non-REM stage. This is stage where your blood pressure drops, the blood vessels in the muscles open up, and your body releases “growth hormone” which repairs and rebuilds your body. Your brain “flushes” out its waste contributing to better cognitive function for insightful thinking, memory and creativity. This stage typically lasts 20-40 minutes and you are likely to enter it twice in the first half of the night and just briefly, if at all in the second half of the night. During this stage, it is difficult to awaken as you typically will feel groggy and disoriented when you are suddenly awakened from it.
The fourth stage of sleep is “REM Sleep.” During this stage, the activity of the brain takes over and most of the activity of the body is limited by a state of “temporary paralysis” of the muscles. The two sets of muscles that are totally free to move are those of the eyes and the breathing. Your breathing increases, your heartrate increases, your temperature regulation is shut off, dreams are more vivid and your eyes begin to move rapidly behind your still closed eyelids. The state of “temporary paralysis” prevents you from physically acting out your dreams. It is in the REM sleep stage that our memory, learning, and problems-solving ability is repaired and enhanced.
According to Oura, the average adult spends 2-5% of their sleep time in the awake state, 45-55% in light sleep, 13-23% in deep sleep, and 20-25% in REM sleep. In a night of 7-8 hours of sleep, we typically will go through 3-5 cycles of light sleep to deep sleep back to light and back to deep in the first half of the night and then from light up to REM sleep and back to light in the second half of the night.
Our sleep patterns change with age. As infants we spent far more time in REM sleep and get there almost immediately upon falling asleep. Once we hit 5 years old, our sleep patterns are like that of adults. As we move into our senior years, we spend less time in REM sleep.
Being aware of these stages, monitoring them, researching behaviors that influence them and observing them in relation to our own behaviors is the way to start. Then refining our behaviors to enhance or sleep and function is ultimately what we want to do.
Michael Buyze, L.Ac. is a healthcare entrepreneur with some 40 years of experience including expertise in acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine, functional medicine, clinical exercise physiology, and nutrition. He owns and operates East Wind Healthcare, an acupuncture and wellness clinic with a 23-year history of helping people in the Fox Valley with offices in Appleton, Oshkosh and Fond du Lac. He holds Master of Science degrees in Chinese Medicine, Business Administration and Exercise Physiology. He and his team offer acupuncture as well as wellness programming for acute and chronic pain as well as many chronic disease states. Acupuncture consultations and wellness consultations are available by appointment. Contact information: East Wind Healthcare, 3000 N Ballard Road, Unit#3, Appleton, WI 54911; 404 N. Main St., Suite 201, Oshkosh, WI 54901 and 180 Knights Way, Fond du Lac WI 54935 (inside Fox Valley Wellness); Tel: 920-997-0511; Website: eastwindhealthcare.com.
“We as humans can go longer without food and water than we can without sleep.”