To truly feel and look our best, we must have sleep!
There is simply no way of getting around this.
But how much sleep do we need and what kind of sleep should we have in order to feel completely rejuvenated?
The idea of getting enough “beauty sleep” has been around for centuries. Probably even before the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty was invented.
But it wasn’t until quite recently, in 2010, that a scientific study was conducted by a team of researchers to confirm that sleep deprivation leads to the perception of being less healthy and attractive.
This scientific study was done by a team of Swedish researchers and published in the British Medical Journal.
I’m not sure we actually needed a scientific study for this, but at least now we have real scientific support arguing for the beauty benefits of sleep. So hooray.
What this research fails to address, however, is the question of how many hours of sleep we must have in order to feel completely rested.
We often hear we need at least 8 hours of sleep. But there exists contrary evidence that 8 hours may actually be too much sleep. And too much sleep may be equally as bad for you as too little sleep.
Take this article from Time Magazine for example, where it’s suggested that 8 hours of sleep may begin to be too much sleep. In fact, people who get between 6.5 and 7.5 hours of sleep per night may end up living longer than people who sleep too much or sleep too little!
Ironically, the idea that we need at least 8 hours of sleep can stress people out over their lack of sleep and eventually contribute to stress-induced insomnia.
There is so much varying research out there that I am beginning to believe there really is no magic number to the amount of sleep that we need.
It makes sense that different age groups need different amounts of sleep. And the amount of sleep needed also varies upon the individual. Infants can need as much as 15 hours of sleep, while adults may only need 7.5 hours in order to function at their best.
However, it’s not just the amount of sleep that we have to get right.
The quality of sleep also matters. A lot.
Once we fall asleep, we go through different stages of the sleep cycle. There are two main types of sleep. Non-REM sleep, which consists of four, ever-deepening stages of sleep. And REM sleep, called Rapid Eye Movement because your eyes are moving back and forth rapidly during this stage. You do most of your active dreaming during REM.
It’s true that each stage of sleep in the sleep cycle offers benefits to the sleeper.
But the stage that is key to waking up feeling completely refreshed and energized? Deep Sleep.
Deep sleep occurs during the 3rd and 4th stage of Non-REM sleep.
When we are in deep sleep, we are beyond the subconscious state in which dreaming occurs.
It is a time for the body to repair itself and build up energy for the day ahead. It plays a major role in maintaining health, stimulating growth and development, repairing muscles and tissues, and boosting the immune system.
Deep sleep may also be important in helping clear the brain for new learning the next day.
But in order to get the full benefits of deep sleep, we must complete the entire sleep cycle. Otherwise, if we are awakened in the middle of the deep sleep stage we will end up feeling very sluggish and experience what is called “sleep drunkenness.”
While deep sleep functions to restore us physically and mentally, achieving deep sleep can be easily disturbed by the effects of stress, sleep disruption, ageing, and stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol.
So! What can we do to get more of this magically restorative sleep stage?
Here are a few helpful tips:
1) Leave behind all of the day’s baggage. Forget about all the worrying things that have happened today or will happen tomorrow. Make an agreement with yourself that you are going to pick it all up again first thing in the morning. But that for now, you are going to prepare your body and your mind for a sound and peaceful rest.
2) Begin to slow and quiet things down a couple of hours before bedtime. Sever yourself from stimulating environments and devices. Dim the lights, shut off your computer and cell phone. And please stop looking at the clock to count how many hours you are or aren’t going to get!
3) Establish a relaxing pre-bedtime routine such as gentle stretching, bathing and light meditation.
Also, in order to quickly enter the refreshing state of deep sleep, you can try this breathing technique:
- Lie comfortably in bed and establish diaphragmatic breathing.
- Avoid any effort or strain and keep the breath even, smooth, and without jerks and pauses.
- In this exercise the exhalations should be twice as long as the inhalations, so you may count 2 breaths in and 4 out, 3 breaths in and 6 out or whatever makes you feel most comfortable and relaxed.
- Using the two-to-one breath count, take eight breaths lying on the back, sixteen breaths lyring on the right side, and thirty two breaths lying on the left side.
Most people fall asleep even before completing this exercise. Give it a try! It may just be what you need to enjoy deep sleep and achieve complete rejuvenation.