To Sleep Is to Live
Episode #1 of the course How to manufacture the greatest sleep of your life by Austin Gill
On average, each of us spends nearly 36% of our time sleeping. Given the average lifespan, that’s more than ⅓ of our time here on earth. By the time we reach age 75, we’ll have spent 25 of those years asleep.
Yet we know surprisingly little about this thing we spend so much time doing. One thing we do know, however, is that sleep is essential to the human condition.
Over the next 10 days, I’m going to reason that sublime sleep is the most important ingredient in great health. I’ll do so by explaining the science that illustrates how sleep regulates both your health and your quality of life.
But knowledge without action is worthless. That’s why each lesson will include a tip for improving the quantity and quality of your sleep.
After all, if you’re going to spend ⅓ of your life doing something, you may as well be good at it.
Let’s start with the basics.
Sleep Occurs in Five Stages
The stages of sleep, in order from lightest to deepest, are REM (rapid eye movement), non-REM 1, non-REM 2, non-REM 3, and non-REM 4 (also known as deep sleep). Each of us, when sleeping, passes fluidly through these stages in what is known as the sleep-wake cycle.
The most important stages are REM and non-REM 4 because it’s in these stages that some of the most critical processes of our brain and body are regulated.
REM is recognizable by heightened brain activity. It’s responsible for memory connection, learning, and neuronal growth. Time in REM sleep enhances your creativity and can even help you solve complex problems. You also dream during REM.
In deep sleep (non-REM 4) your heart rate slows, blood pressure lowers, breathing becomes regular, and you become less responsive to your environment. In this stage of sleep, your body releases growth hormone to stimulate muscle and tissue repair.
In short, REM sleep heals your mind and deep sleep heals your body. The amount of time you spend in these stages determines the quality of your sleep.
There are two ways to achieve more time in REM and deep sleep (non-REM 4).
1. Get more sleep
Adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep per night, sometimes more, to be at their mental and physical best. But the average American only sleeps about 6.9 hours per night, and 30% of adults report sleeping less than six. We’re sleep deprived, and it’s a serious issue.
Many people mistakenly think the recommended seven to nine hours is an average. But sleeping six hours tonight and nine tomorrow night to average eight hours simply doesn’t work. You must get seven to nine hours of sleep EACH night.
As soon as you drop below seven hours, you begin to suffer the consequences of sleep deprivation. Sleeping a little extra the next day (or on weekends) doesn’t make up for the loss, especially for your brain (Brues, 2010).
While “making up” sleep can diminish daytime sleepiness, reduce inflammation, and restore cortisol back to baseline levels, it cannot restore mental performance; that’s things like attention and focus (Pejovic, 2013).
More sleep equals better sleep.
2. Sleep at the right time of night
According to Dr. Matt Walker, head of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, “The time of night when you sleep makes a significant difference in terms of the structure and quality of your sleep.”
Timing matters. Aim to fall asleep between 8pm and midnight every night. Missing this window throws off your sleep cycle, causing you to lose valuable time in REM and deep sleep.
This doesn’t seem like too much to ask of ourselves; seven to nine hours is a reasonable amount, and most people already go to sleep at the same time every night.
Sleep Deprivation Has Been Likened to Dying
Without sufficient deep sleep and REM sleep, the body literally begins to die.
If you deprive yourself of sleep, you’re unable to recover physically, your immune system weakens, and your brain becomes foggy.
Or, as the researchers put it, “sleep deprived individuals experience increased risk of viral infections, weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, mental illness, and mortality.”
In fact, sleeping less than six hours per night adds 10% to your mortality chances, meaning the amount of sleep you get directly predicts your longevity.
To sleep is to live.
Tomorrow I’ll be talking about the sleep-stress connection and providing the first tip for manufacturing the best sleep of your life.
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