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Sleep better

Learn about sleep and how to improve its quality.

The quality of sleep is one of the most important factors which influences our health and well-being. Our goal is to equip you with all the information and tools in order to experience improvement in your overall well-being by improving the quality of your sleep.

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What is sleep?

Sleep is a natural state of body and mind. Our consciousness is altered in this state, our interactions with our environment are lessened and our sensory activities are inhibited when compared to our waking state. Researchers have divided sleep into various stages, Non-REM (NREM), Stages 1, 2 and 3, as well as Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.

  • NREM Stage 1 - Lightest sleep

    NREM Stage 1

    Lightest sleep

    This is the lightest NREM stage. During this stage, we’re easily disturbed by our environment. Our bodies begin to unwind, our eyes move around a little, our muscle tone relaxes and brain waves begin to slow down. Sometimes people might feel as though they’re falling, or experience muscle spasms.

  • NREM Stage 2 - Light sleep

    NREM Stage 2

    Light sleep

    This is the first true NREM sleep stage as it’s more difficult to wake us up when compared to stage 1. Our eyes don’t move around the way they do during stage 1. K complexes (sleep structures) and sleep spindles are combined as bursts of rapid activity as the brain waves continue to slow down, this helps to protect us from awakening from sleep. Our heart rate slows down and our temperature decreases.

  • NREM Stage 3 - Deep sleep

    NREM Stage 3

    Deep sleep This stage is really important, it’s the restorative sleep stage which involves slow waves or delta waves. ‘Awakenings or arousals are rare and often it is difficult to awaken someone in Stage 3 sleep. Parasomnias (sleepwalking, sleep talking or somniloquy and night terrors) occur during the deepest stage of sleep.’[1]

  • REM Stage 4 - REM sleep

    REM Stage 4

    REM sleep REM sleep is the stage where we dream and it is sometimes referred to as ‘the dreaming stage’. More active than in stages 2 or 3 of Non-REM, brain waves in this stage can cause us to move around and as the name suggests, they cause rapid eye movements. It is quite easy to wake up during this stage but if that happens (unlike in stage 1), you are likely to feel overly tired or bewildered.

Sleep cycle

All four stages together create a sleep cycle, which on average, lasts approximately 90 minutes (each stage duration changes as cycles progress throughout the night) and constitute the most fundamental unit of sleep. For optimal physical and mental health development as well as a sense of general wellbeing, 35 cycles a week or 5 cycles a day are generally advised.

Why do we need to sleep?

During the night, a process known as consolidation takes our short-term memories and transfers them into long-term memories. All of the short-term memories are made up of the information we gather during the day, information which needs to be processed.

  • Process and understand information

    Process and understand information

  • Consolidate and strengthen memories

    Consolidate and strengthen memories

  • Restore and rejuvenate body

    Restore and rejuvenate body

Sleep is vital in that it helps us with this, it enables us to understand the information and strengthen memories.

’’Researchers have also shown that after people sleep, they tend to retain information and perform better on memory tasks. Our bodies all require long periods of sleep in order to restore and rejuvenate, to grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones.’’[2]

''Why Do We Need Sleep?”, The National Sleep Foundation

How long should we sleep for?

The amount of sleep a person needs depends on a number of factors, especially age, however the majority of authors and researchers recommend between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night for adults.

Children

Generally, as we age, the amount of hours we need to sleep every day decreases. Newborns are asleep for about sixteen to twenty hours per 24 hours.[3] Children who are about one or two years old need eleven to fourteen hours of sleep per 24 hours. Most of this sleep will occur at night but children at this age will spend a lot of time napping during the day.

childrens on bed

Teenagers

Once they’re between the ages of three and five, they’ll need ten to thirteen hours per 24 hours. Those who are aged six to thirteen will need about nine to eleven hours of sleep per night. Teenagers aged fourteen to seventeen should get eight to ten hours of sleep a night.

Unfortunately, almost 80% of all teenagers don’t get as much sleep as they should[4] and this is largely due to technology overuse. This is especially concerning as most of the brain’s development during adolescence takes place when asleep, and there is evidence suggesting that a limited amount of sleep increases the chances of developing psychiatric disorders amongst teens.[5]

Adults

As mentioned, adults need somewhere between seven to nine hours of sleep per 24 hours, and the elderly will require a similar total amount but might not sleep the whole seven or eight hours in one block, as it may be split into naps during the day. Oftentimes however, age related illnesses decrease the total number of hours slept by the elderly.

It's an individual matter

Keep in mind the above figures are statistical averages, and research does indicate that there can be some individual differences - not everyone might need as much as eight or nine hours of sleep every night. Some people, mostly due to their genetics, might thrive with six, whilst others might need as much as ten.

When it comes to the lower end of the spectrum however, people oftentimes identify their current “acceptable” sleeping habits as optimal, whilst not being aware they could greatly benefit from increasing both the duration and quality of their sleep.

How do I find the optimal amount of sleep I naturally need?

The difference often lies in the quality of sleep

Imagine a scenario where you fall asleep a different time every night, even though you tend to wake up at a similar hour. Prior to falling asleep, you watch a series episode on your laptop while at the same time responding to messages on your phone. Checking work emails causes you to think about work. Even though you eventually feel tired, you can’t seem to fall asleep right away, so you continue to check your phone for news or content out of boredom, until you finally drift off. The entire process, from closing your eyes for the first time, up to the waking point in the morning, took seven and a half hours (or more), which may lead you to believe you have completed at least five cycles of sleep that night (90 minutes), and you should feel fine.

smartphone distractions

However, as we all know, that’s often not the case.

Environmental factors and bedtime habits

Due to excessive light exposure, mind stimulation, stress, and sometimes some other factors, the mechanisms responsible for your healthy sleep likely got disturbed, which drastically decreased the sleep’s cycles quality.

It’s very possible that if you were to keep your phone and laptop in another room, decrease your stress levels prior to sleep (by reading a book or meditating), yet sleep only six hours, those six hours would regenerate you far better than the seven and a half mentioned above. Long sleep does not mean quality sleep.

Consider number of cycles in a week

What’s therefore important to understand is that the amount of hours we sleep matters only as long as it represents a total number of quality sleep cycles we finish each night.

We don’t need to feel bad after one night of poor sleep. Our body is adaptive and there is some flexibility in the matter - Nick Littlehales argues in the book Sleep, that ‘rather than take a nightly approach it’s important to be looking at our sleep on a weekly basis. Littlehales suggests that the average person needs around 35 cycles of sleep a week - which works out as five lots of 90 minutes a night.[6]

How does sleep affect us?

Both our physical and mental health are affected by sleep. Getting enough sleep means you’ll likely have a higher sex drive, a better ability to maintain or lose weight, lower blood pressure and a stronger immune system. It means you’ll be less likely to experience heart disease, you’ll be less at risk when it comes to developing prediabetes or type 2 diabetes and you’re less likely to lose your balance or have an accident resulting in a serious injury. Not getting enough sleep will result in an opposite effect.

Physical Health

Sleep has been known to affect our physical health in a variety of ways.

It affects you positively if you get enough sleep and negatively if you don’t. From our immune system and our weight to our ability to conceive and more, it’s important to get enough sleep in order to stay healthy.

  • Immune system

  • Weight

  • Fertility

  • Sex drive

  • Sugar levels

  • Heart

Mental Health

It isn’t just our physical health which is affected by getting too much or too little sleep, our mental health can be affected too.

The impact a lack of sleep has on mental health is detrimental as our brains require sleep more than any other part of our body.

  • Mental well-being

  • Mood changes

  • Memory

  • Thinking & Focus

How harmful is a lack of sleep (sleep deprivation)?

In a large-scale sleep study conducted by the University of Oxford and the Royal Society for Public Health, more health risks associated with sleep deprivation have been revealed. The reason this study was necessary is that a third of Americans weren’t getting enough sleep and according to the Royal Society for Public Health, the British statistics were similar, with most people missing out on about eight hours of sleep a week on average.[7] It’s not an exaggeration to say that by ignoring the importance of sleep, we are harming almost every system in our body.

Effects similar to when you drink alcohol

Sleep deprivation can affect the body in the same way as drinking alcohol. After approximately 17-19 hours without sleep, a research study has shown that our ability to stay alert is similar to someone with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05%. [8]In the US, someone with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05% is considered on the legally drunk scale to be ‘impaired’.

This is why truck drivers and people on road trips need to be particularly careful when it comes to long journeys. If you wouldn’t drive drunk, you shouldn’t drive tired. After 24 hours of sleep deprivation, the body is in a similar state to that of someone with a BAC of 0.1%.

Considering that 0.08% is legally drunk, this shows how serious a lack of sleep can be. Pulling all-nighters is counterproductive for this very reason, you’re better off going to sleep and waking up earlier than putting the work in at night. It would be the equivalent of working whilst drunk, so probably not the most productive method.

There are a growing number of people struggling to get enough sleep. One of the most obvious contributing factors is how much our lifestyles have changed in recent years.

How has our lifestyle and the way we sleep changed?

We switched from offline to online.

Over time, our lifestyle and the way we sleep has changed. In the days before excessive technology use, specifically before smartphones, laptops and tablets were commonplace in every home, free time would be spent offline. People would make sure their alarm clock was set and then they’d go to bed. Nowadays, from the moment we leave work, we’re connected, to our phones, tablets and more. It’s very hard to switch off and our free time is less about doing things offline and far more about doing things online.

How does modern technology influence our sleep quality?

  • Keeping us awake

  • Blue light damage

  • Constant stimulation

  • Information overload

Time sink

We need to be more careful with how we manage our time.

When we use our phones, laptops or other devices before going to bed, we’re usually so focused on what’s happening on the screen that we forget to think about the ways in which we’re disrupting our bodies. We’re so distracted that we might stay awake much longer than we initially intended to, we might strain our eyes due to excessive glare, or if trying to concentrate on something such as replying to emails, we might accidentally make mistakes.

Time sink is the term used to describe time seeming to disappear very quickly when you’re engrossed in an activity, particularly an activity considered to be unproductive, such as entertainment without educational value etc. Due to the immersive nature of social media, news and information portals, television series etc. most people have experienced time sink at some point.

When “just one more article” means you finished reading the entire news page.

When “just one more message” becomes an all-night messaging marathon.​

When “just one more email” means you work all night and harm your healthy sleep in the process.

When “just one more level” becomes an hour of fitting colourful falling blocks together.

When “just one more episode” becomes an “are you still watching?” message.

How can we combat time sink?

At the weekend, or after work, time sink might not be really a problem, but when you know you need to go to sleep, that’s where the issue lies. The idea of “just one more…” misleads our brain into thinking that we should be awake. Some people do fall asleep using their devices, whilst browsing the web or watching a series in bed, but for others, the gripping nature of screen based entertainment is too strong.

We can combat time sink in the following ways:

  • Airplane mode

    Turn your phone onto airplane mode, as silent mode can still distract you.

  • Distance

    Move your phone, tablet, or television to another room.

  • Analog alarm clock

    Switch to an analog alarm clock instead of using your phone.

  • Bedtime activities

    Plan for an alternative, healthier activity prior to bedtime, such as reading or calming yoga.

Set up a sleep schedule with a time designated for offline relaxation

Decide at what time you would like to fall asleep, and 1-2 hours before that time, start your evening relaxation routine. Enjoy a warm shower, read a book, meditate or do some breathing exercises. Take it slowly and get accustomed to the process. Cutting all technology overnight might be too much for some people, so take it easy, don’t worry and do your best to limit your distractions before bedtime, step by step.

Taking care of our circadian rhythm

Circadian rhythm is an invisible, twenty four hour internal clock we all have deep within our brains. It’s responsible for creating a cycling, day - night rhythm that makes us tired and alert at certain times of the day, and is communicating it’s rhythm signals to every other region of the brain, as well as to all organs in our bodies. Our life processes work in accordance to its daily beaming rhythm signals

Melatonin hormone levels

When our internal clock senses it’s time to go to sleep (this process is associated with dark as our ancestors fell asleep straight after dusk), it secretes the melatonin hormone, which is responsible for making us fall asleep, and which secretion is being inhibited by blue light exposure (our bodies mistakenly interpret it as daylight, thus forcing us to remain awake).

Stick to a routine

By using devices which emit this blue light, such as backlit LCD displays, our circadian rhythm (internal clock of day and night) is disturbed. Without a routine, or with one which involves using devices for varying amounts of time every night, we fall asleep at different times, meaning we wake up at different times every morning, causing further confusion and chaos to our bodies by disrupting our sleep cycles.

In order to fully grasp the benefits of quality sleep, it is necessary to adjust one’s sleep in accordance with one’s circadian rhythm.

Reduce device use before sleep

Making your bedroom an electronic device free zone, no phones, televisions, tablets, laptops etc. is a good way of getting to sleep if you struggle to do so. Try to transition from using your devices to not using anything, at least half an hour before bedtime (although we do recommend you strive towards 2 hours). If you’d still like to learn more about how to stop disrupting your circadian rhythm, or you’re interested in learning more about sleep in general, we recommend that you read (or listen to) the book Sleep by Nick Littlehales, or the book “Why we Sleep” by Matthew Walker.

How does our environment influence our sleep?

The importance of sleep hygiene

‘Sleep hygiene is defined as a set of [behavioural] and environmental recommendations intended to promote healthy sleep, and was originally developed for use in the treatment of mild to moderate insomnia.’[9] It is crucial to remember that your behaviour before you go to sleep and the environment you sleep in are going to affect your sleep quality.

There is an increasing number of studies and resources relating to the positive influence of sleep hygiene. One we can definitely recommend is the SleepImperial project founded in 2017, which initially started as an initiative to improve the sleep quality of the 22,700 students and staff at Imperial College London, but eventually opened itself to all interested users.

Light and darkness

The increased alertness in brain waves that comes with over exposure to blue light (or any bright light) before sleeping shows that people feel much more tired after using their devices. An hour and a half of device usage five nights a week will delay the body clock’s ability to sleep by approximately the same amount of time, in this case, an hour and a half. Our eyes absorb the blue light, which delays the release of melatonin, which makes it harder for us to fall asleep, and changes our circadian rhythm.

Electromagnetic fields

In a study on the effect of electromagnetic fields emitted by mobile phones on human sleep, the results showed ‘evidence that mobile phone exposure prior to sleep may promote rapid eye movement sleep and modify the sleep electroencephalogram in the first non-rapid eye movement sleep period.’[10] This means that sleep quality is unlikely to be as deep or as restful as it should be when we use electronic devices in bed.

How can we create the perfect sleep environment?

Creating the perfect sleep environment involves a little bit more than just changing your sheets, making your bed and closing the curtains. All of those things help but there’s even more you can do to improve the quality of your sleep. Here are more ideas for you to try:

Minimise interruptions

Sleep experts such as Nick Littlehales advise us clearly: “Control technology levels in the room. Make sure any standby lights are off during your sleep time and that your phone is either out of the room or at least out of sight. The less there is to disturb your sleep, the better - it is a factor which is absolutely essential for our mental and physical health”.[11]

Here are more ideas for you to try:

  • No blue light

    Don’t use electronic devices (with screens which emit blue light) before sleeping.

  • Analog

    Replace your phone alarm with an analog alarm clock.

  • Temperature

    Make sure the room is an adequate temperature, not too hot or cold. Use a thermometer to experiment with best bedroom temperature.

  • Bedtime routine

    Start a bedtime routine if you don’t already have one: shower, brush your teeth, mediate or read a book.Train your body and mind to fall asleep after these activities.

  • Morning routine

    Start a morning routine, preferably a one that’ll make you excited to get up at your desired wake up time! Walking your dog or doing some yoga are perfect day starters.

  • Comfortable pillow

    Don’t sleep using a pillow that causes you to feel neck pain, or allergies, buy a new one.

  • Darkness

    Make sure the room is dark and that there’s no light pollution.

  • No technology

    During and after your routine, try not to use any technology.

Why replace my phone with an alarm clock?

It can be beneficial to replace your phone with an alarm clock so that you’re not tempted to check it during the night. It’s also important not to snooze your alarm clock. ‘After you hit snooze and drift off, your brain starts its sleep cycle all over again. When the alarm goes off a second time, you're likely at an even deeper, earlier part of your sleep cycle, which results in you feeling even worse than you did the first time.’[12]

Perfect your sleep environment with the help of Mudita Harmony

Mudita Harmony is our first take on a device that will support us in developing and maintaining healthy sleep habits. It is still in the development phase; however, we’ll be sharing more details soon. For now, we would like to invite you to check out first information about this alarm clock. We’re eager to know what you think about it, so please check the Mudita Harmony subpage and share your opinion with us.

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