The Importance of Sleeping
Many people try to limit their sleeping time to the minimum possible. However, our bodies are made to function optimally with a certain amount of sleeping time. Research has shown that the amount of sleep one gets per every 24 hours is directly related to health and the quality of life when a person is awake. The quality and amount of sleep influences creativity, mental sharpness, productivity and emotional balance when a person is awake.
When you fall asleep, the body rests. However, the brain remains active conducting a number of restorative functions that prepare the body for the activities of the next day. With enough quality sleep, you will wake up feeling rejuvenated since your body will be properly restored and rested to function optimally.
On the other hand, sleep deprivation and/or low quality can elicit a number of undesirable effects including:
1. Lethargy, fatigue and low motivation
2. Irritability and moodiness
3. Weight gain
4. Concentration problems
5. Reduced creativity and inventiveness
6. Reduced immunity
7. Increased susceptibility to diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular complications.
In general, the amount of time when should sleep reduces with age. Older people need between seven to eight hours of sleep while younger people may require more hours to satisfy their body needs. In addition to the amount of time taken in bed, the timing is another crucial factor that determines how much you benefit from sleeping. The relationship between timing and sleep quality can be explained by the natural sleep cycle also known as the circadian rhythm.
The Circadian Rhythm
The circadian rhythm is a brain regulated process determined influenced by several factors including the transition from daylight to darkness and the number of hours a person has spent awake. Normal sleep-wake cycles comprise of recurring sleep stages that facilitate independently important restorative functions. A typical cycle is 90 minutes long and comprises of two stages where different physical and physiological processes take place. The first stage is characterized by deep sleep with non-rapid eye movements (non-REM). On the other hand, a person sleeps lightly during the second stage and demonstrates rapid eye movements (REM).
In general, non-REM sleep takes up much of the circadian rhythm cycle time during the first few hours of sleep.The trend changes as one continues sleeping and eventually REM sleep dominates over non-REM sleep near waking hours. Non-REM sleep allows the body to build and repair itself and generate energy for the next day's activities. As a result, growth, development, tissue and muscle repair as well as immune system development are effected during periods of non-REM sleep. On the other hand, REM sleep facilitates mental restoration and development. During periods of REM sleep, the brain processes and consolidates previously acquired information, strengthen memory by forming neural connections and builds up neural-transmitters. Clearly, the two types of sleep are individually important determinants of sleep quality. As a result, quality sleep is characterized by a balance between the two types of sleep.
How the Circadian Rhythm Influences the Best Time to Sleep
The Circadian cycle is regulated by several factors. Research has shown that human bodies are configured to switch from non-REM to REM sleep at certain times in the night irrespective of when a person goes to bed. Therefore, sleeping early and waking up equally early gives you more non-REM sleep at the expense of REM sleep. In a similar way, sleeping late denies you the deep non-REM sleep at the expense of the lighter sleep. Either of the two scenarios are not favorable. To benefit optimally, sleep should be timed such that the duration of sleep is equally distributed between the two types of sleep.
Generally, a person will wake up easily and feel most refreshed if waking up coincides with the end of a slumber cycle. To avoid difficulties waking up, snoozing and dismissing alarms or feeling groggy after waking up it is advisable to sleep for periods equivalent to 90 minute multiples. In this way, the best time to sleep is also influenced by when you want to wake up. This implies that it is better to sleep for a shorter period rather than wake up in the middle of a slumber cycle. It is better to delay sleeping for a short while to ensure that the time you spend in bed is equivalent to a number of full sleep cycles.
Proper timing is crucial to the satisfaction and benefits derived from sleeping. Sleeping too late or too early tips the balance between non-REM and REM sleep and hence the restorative processes associated with the two types of sleep. Therefore, the best time to sleep is that which strikes a balance between the two types of sleep and matches the time a person needs to wake up to the end of a circadian rhythm cycle.