This post is all about understanding your natural sleep cycle which can be crucial in recognizing your sleep patterns and habits or why you suffer from sleeping disorders such as insomnia.
I had read somewhere, ‘sleep is a strange beast’. I would take the liberty of modifying this sentence – ‘sleep is an elusive beast’.
A good night’s sleep is vital to our mood, energy, and mental alertness sadly most of us today struggle to sleep better and complete our daily recommended dosage of sleep.
Poor sleep is a common affliction among adults. As per research, one out of four persons in US doesn’t get enough sleep while 16 million UK adults have sleepless nights.
But even though we all love our precious sleep, it still remains a relatively neglected health issue, mostly undiagnosed, mostly because our natural sleep cycle is not discussed as much as it should be.
Our natural sleep cycle can be the key to understanding our sleep habits and how it can help in regulating our daily routine.
Find Out Your Natural Sleep Cycle
Our body has its own inner clock which runs in a rhythmic manner. These rhythms known as the circadian rhythm or the internal body clock which regulates our urge to sleep and wake up every single day.
The circadian rhythm is determined by a specific area of the brain, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN).
Melatonin hormone, which is responsible for our sleep responds to natural light in the environment and sends signal to the SCN.
Melatonin secretion increases during the night and decreases during day. This is the reason why we feel more alert and energetic during the day and sleepy during night.
This circadian rhythm or your inner body clock actually regulates your natural sleep cycle.
Understanding Natural Sleep Cycle
Every person is born with his particular sleep pattern. You will notice there are some people who wake up early and go to bed early while some are just nocturnal beings.
There are also some people who have a strong urge to take an afternoon siesta post lunch. These individual variations in the sleep patterns are part of your body system.
These sleep patterns and habits comprise your natural sleep cycle which means if you tweak your lifestyle for better or for worse your natural sleep cycle is affected.
Our body typically responds to light, meaning humans are biologically inclined to wake up during the day and rest at night
But timings of our waking and sleeping hours may differ from person to person.
It’s fairly easy to figure out your pattern if you pay close attention. Your body has a particular time when it feels sleepy and when it feels energised.
If you observe closely you will see some people have a tendency to yawn right after having dinner or lunch. This is their body giving a signal to take some rest.
Also observe how you feel fresh and charged after having breakfast.
Unless your pattern is disrupted by external factors you should have a healthy sleep cycle.
15 tips to sleep better at night
Here are some sleeping tips which will help you to maintain your natural sleep cycle. Most of these pertain to making some small changes to your lifestyle.
Remember any source of lights affects your natural sleep cycle. Ideally it is better if you sleep as soon as it is dark and wake up as the sun rises, just like other species of the planet but we are humans with a more complicated lifestyle so that’s not possible, instead try to follow these tips.
Consistent Sleep Schedule
Sticking to a consistent daily schedule will help you to figure out your natural sleep cycle and and get a good rest at night.
Set a fixed time to sleep and wake up. As I mentioned earlier each of us have our own internal cycle and if we pay close attention to our bodies it is easy to figure out.
For example; it took me a long time to figure out that I am not at all a morning person and I function best if I wake up between 7 AM – 7.30 AM and sleep around 11 PM – 11.30 PM.
However, if I wake up an hour early or sleep an hour late it messes up my daily schedule. Since last year I have been more or less consistent with my schedule and it has improved my overall health.
Don’t compromise on sleep time
This is really important if you are trying to bring your sleep on track.
Deviating from your daily schedule because you have to watch a late night TV show will be detrimental to any progress you have made. Prioritise your health over everything.
Don’t jeopardize your natural sleep cycle because you will increase the risk of stress and other lifestyle disease. Also ignoring your natural sleep pattern can lead to insomnia
Indulge in some some physical activity everyday research has shown that exercise helps you to sleep better at night. Even if you are busy make time to take a brisk walk for at least 20 minutes.
Limit use of electronic devices
The light emanating from your TV, laptop and mobile device confuses the brain into thinking it’s not bedtime yet, it activates the cells of your brain and affects your ability to sleep naturally.
Unless absolutely necessary, keep aside all electronic gadgets atleast an hour before bedtime.
Dinner 2 hours prior to bedtime
Having a heavy meal at dinner can slow down the digestion process and can cause acidity and bloating.
It is best to have a light dinner at least 2 or an hour before sleeping. When the food gets properly digested you and you have less chances or bloating, which otherwise interferes with your natural sleep cycle.
No Coffee in evening hours
Coffee is a great beverage for all us sleepy heads but only during morning hours. But since coffee helps you in staying alert you must avoid it during evening hours when your body is slowing down and preparing itself for a good night’s sleep.
Limit afternoon naptime
Research says afternoon naps should be limited to 15 – 20 minutes. If your afternoon siesta is of longer duration you may face difficulty in sleeping at night.
Keep your room dark
Ideally it’s always better to sleep without any lights in a room. If the room is completely dark, you will fall asleep quickly. However, if you cannot rest like this, install the mildest of dimmed lights that don’t emit too much ray.
If you are comfortable wearing a sleeping mask get one to block out any light.
Research has shown that essential oils can help you in improving your sleep quality. Essential oils such as lavender, sandalwood, rose and lemongrass may help in restoring your natural sleep cycle.
Maintain Room temperature
It is recommended that your bedroom temperature should be maintained between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit for you to sleep better at night.
First, Relax to Sleep Naturally
Those who suffer from sleep-related issues should focus on relaxing their bodies rather than sleeping, when you focus on relaxing your body is automatically comforted and there are more chances that you will fall asleep naturally.
You may practice savasana, a powerful relaxation technique in yoga focused on relaxing one body part at a time which ultimately helps you to sleep better.
You can also try the ‘4-7-8 breathing technique’ which apparently is a hack that helps you to relax.
Light music & Reading
Reading a light book or listen to some soothing music does help to a large extent in having a good night’s rest.
Bathe before sleeping
This always works for me. Bathing with lukewarm water before bedtime relaxes all muscles helps you to unwind and have proper rest. Similarly a nice foot massage or stretching your body can also help you to relax.
Maintain a Journal
Journaling is a great way of unwinding before sleep. It helps you to clear your head and get some perspective.
Plan for the next day
Prepare and plan as much as possible for the next day. Make your to-do list, plan your meals and outfit for the next day. Get any and every thought out that interferes with your natural sleep pattern.
If you are still worried I really recommend to get into the habit of chanting affirmations. Repeating had such a positive impact on my outlook and it clams your worried mind down
Don’t ignore therapy
If you are constantly worried about things and brainstorming at night chances are you either have an overactive mind or you are extremely stressed.
In any scenario, please consult a physician; otherwise you are at a risk of suffering from bigger health issues.
Light Exposure & Sleep Cycle
Since light is crucial for maintaining our natural sleep and wake cycle it is useful if we know how to control exposure to light.
Wake up in natural light
When you wake up in natural light it sends a signal to the brain that it is daytime thus making your body fully awake.
During mornings, try to let in as much natural light as possible into your house; it is good for your health just like exercising during mornings.
Avoid harsh light during late evenings
Using strong lights during late evening hours is not at all recommended since it interferes with your natural sleep cycle.
Strong lights can affect melatonin secretion, the hormone responsible for our sleep and wake cycle.
Before having dinner use soft lights to relax your body and mood.
In this way, you are actually preparing your body to relax better at night.
Recommended Sleep Time
As per the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) US, sleep requirements vary among different age groups. The list below indicates your ideal sleep time recommended by NSF
Newborns: 14-17 Hours
Infants: 12-15 Hours
Toddlers: 11-14 Hours
Pre-Schoolers: 10-13 Hours
School Children: 9-11 Hours
Teenagers: 8-10 Hours
Young Adults/ Adults: 7-9 Hours
Older Adults: 7-8 Hours
Reasons for Poor Sleep
Here are some common reasons why most of us are lacking in a good night’s sleep. Most of us are familiar with these issues.
Frequent flying or long distance air travel results in jetlag that messes with your internal body clock.
The symptoms of jetlag are more visible when flying involves travelling across different times-zones.
However, jetlag is a temporary body disorder and when your body adjusts to the new environment you get better.
Our external environment is also responsible for our how well we rest at night.
People in Nordic countries suffer from sleep disorders during the midnight sun phenomenon.
Similarly, when we visit a new place our bodies take time to adapt.
If you live amidst too much noise it can affect your rest time.
Intake of certain food items containing too much spice during dinner or evening hours may cause acid reflux and heartburn which may cause bloating and interfere with your rest time.
Mental and Physical condition
Our physical and mental well-being has a direct effect on our sleep and vice versa.
When you are unwell or injured or in any other physical agony, it affects your sleep.
Conditions such as Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (AHDH), depression, stress can lead to chronic sleep problems and insomnia.
The side effects of some medications may cause lethargy and drowsiness that lengthen the sleep duration of an individual.
This is especially true for cough syrups which induce a feeling of sleepiness.
Working in shifts
Working in shifts can completely throw off your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
The entire body clock changes for those who work in night or evening shifts. It is not very healthy when your nature rest hours are disrupted.
The effects of this may be long-term, even if that person later changes to a normal day job.
As a former media professional I have the experience of working in night shifts and it had ruined not only my sleep pattern but also my health.
Later, even when I changed the job it took me a very long time to adjust my body internal clock.
Sleep is such an important body function; it gives your body rest as well as the time to repair any muscle wear and tear.
If you suffer from poor sleeping patterns, don’t ignore it. Usually poor sleep is an indicator of an underlying health issue.
Sleep is precious therefore, focus on sleeping well. Hope you found this write-up useful. If yes do let me know your feedback in the comment section below.
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