Sleep is a truly fascinating subject for health and wellbeing. Up until the 1920’s, we thought the that brains simply switched off during sleep and rebooted when we awoke. Although we now know it’s a lot more complex than that, there are still many questions being asked when it comes to what we do in the land of nod. Understanding the way we sleep can help you greatly when it comes to having enough energy in the day and feeling rested. We’ve put together and condensed some of the most interesting facts known about sleep to help you get to grips with your own sleeping habits. There is of course, a lot more information out there, and we’re only touching on everything with these 4 facts, but have a read and start improving the quality of your sleep.
1) We follow very strict sleeping patterns
Most people realise that we need around 8 hours sleep every night, and that we tend to get tired at the same point each evening if we have a good routine. However, what happens once we are asleep? We actually go in waves of deep and shallow sleep during the night, meaning waking up at the wrong time in your sleep cycle could have an affect on your energy for that day.There are two types of sleep, non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. When we first fall asleep, we go through 3 stages of NREM sleep, each stage achieving a deeper slumber. This takes around 70-100 minutes. After this, we slip into an REM stage of sleep, which is considered to be a lighter sleep than the last stage of NREM. Throughout the night, we alternate between NREM and REM sleep, each cycle lasting about an hour and a half. The best time to wake up is the end of a cycle, during REM sleep. We need at least 6 hours in total, depending on the person, but to wake up at the right point in the cycle, 7.5 hours or 9 hours are the two optimum lengths of time to be asleep every evening.
2) Being a morning person or a night owl is actually down to genetics
If you’re a morning person, you’re the chirpy one who sings along with the birds at the crack of dawn. If you’re a night owl, you’re the one still up and raring to do something when the rest of the world wants to go to bed. We know this much, and we also know that one will always annoy the other at either end of the day. However, did you know that the time we feel most awake could be down to genetics? We all have a circadian rhythm in our bodies, and it runs at roughly 24 hours, in line with the day. However, the time varies a little from person to person. If your clock runs slightly faster than 24 hours, you’ll be a ‘lark’ or morning person and will get tired quicker, whereas night owls tend to have a slightly longer internal clock and won’t feel the evening as much, but will pay for the lack of sleep the next morning. Understanding this can help you to fit in with your clock, and access the time when you’ll be most productive, along with the time you would get the best sleep.
3) Sleeping disorders are common
Depending on which study you choose to use, around 50-70 million US adults suffer from sleeping disorder, and 1 in 3 people will suffer from insomnia at some point in their lives. The 4 main sleeping disorders are:
Sleep apnea - difficulty breathing whilst asleep
Insomnia - difficulty achieving or maintaining sleep
Restless Leg Syndrome - twitching or tingling in the limbs whilst asleep
Narcolepsy - ‘sleep attacks’ during the day
If you’re worried you have any of these sleep disorders, or you think you may have another sleep disorder, run your symptoms through the Isabel Symptom Checker and visit your GP to discuss treatment.
4) Parasomnia can happen to anyone
What is parasomnia, you ask? It’s a term for sleep episodes such as night terrors, sleep walking, sleep talking and even sleep paralysis. Even a nightmare is a form of parasomnia. It is indeed true that parasomnia is most common in children and they usually grow out of it, but adults can suffer from these conditions too, and at any point in their life. Parasomnia episodes usually happen during the NREM stage of sleep, and involve been partially awoken during deep sleep, therefore confusing the body into what is real and not. The best thing to do during any episode is to go with flow; waking up someone sleep walking or talking will confuse them further, and could result in violent reactions. Simply guide them back to their room or tell them they are okay, and mostly the affected will go back into a deep NREM sleep within a few minutes.
So there is your crash course to help you sleep better. You’re aware of the sleep disorders and strange episodes that can happen during a night’s sleep, and you understand the cycle of sleep, and when’s best to wake up. We'll leave you with this interesting video that explains why we need sleep in the first place, and the effects lack of sleep can have. Have a good night’s sleep tonight!
If you're unsure of your symptoms or think you may have a sleeping disorder, run your symptoms through our symptom checker: