Our Factory Sleep Settings
Our factory sleep settings are predetermined and naturally in tune with the world. But world progress is moving too fast for human evolution and so we find ourselves out of sync!
Read on to find out how to restore your factory settings and get back in sync with your body clock or why not download The Art of Falling Asleep guide, for free, here.
PREDETERMINED AND NATURALLY IN TUNE WITH THE WORLD
As humans, we are born with in-built, default ‘sleep-wake settings’; however, the modern digital world has propelled us into a place where our brains now find it hard to switch-off.
Our days, and especially our nights, have changed so much from our caveman ancestors that many of us are out of sync with our natural body clock. So, let’s go back to basics and understand our body’s sleep settings so we are better informed to make simple changes to improve our sleep.
YOUR BODY HAS TWO NATURAL SLEEP CLOCKS
- This is better known as our body clock which is an inbuilt, 24-hour cycle regulated by our brain.
- Controls our internal systems including our immune system, body temperature, hormone production, mental energy, hunger, thirst and sleep cycle.
- Ensures that everything happens at the right time within our body.
- The major external influence on our circadian rhythm is light. At night, the absence of light stimulates our brain to produce Melatonin, the sleep hormone, which signals the body to prepare for sleep.
- In the morning sunlight switches off Melatonin production which helps to wake us up.
- Our body clock gives us the urge to sleep.
- This part of the brain is our internal timer or sleep counter.
- Throughout the day it adds up the time that’s elapsed since we last had ‘adequate sleep’.
- It generates a pressure to sleep and regulates sleep intensity.
- The longer we are asleep, the more this pressure dissipates, meaning that the likelihood of waking up then increases.
- It tells us that we need to sleep.
HOW MUCH SLEEP DOES THE BODY NEED?
Guidelines suggest that adults need between 7 to 9 hours, with teens and children needing more and older adults, over 65, getting slightly less. However, there is no biological evidence that we need less sleep when we get to ‘old age’. Instead, it is more likely that, on average we find it harder to get our full hours in one block of sleep.
Around 8 hours is a healthy length of time to aim for and fewer than 6 hours for an adult is regarded as a health risk. Similarly, too much sleep - over 10 hours - can be a problem.
WE SLEEP IN 90 MINUTE CYCLES, NOT HOURS
A number of sleep scientists and specialists now recommend that that we aim to sleep in cycles rather than hours.² A sleep cycle typically lasts for 90 minutes.
Each cycle starts with two stages of light sleep, then moves into two stages of deep (physically restorative) sleep and finally Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep - which is when we dream and restore our mental faculties. At the end of each cycle, we naturally enter a period of light sleep - often waking up without knowing it before going into another cycle. If you wake up in a middle of a cycle, especially from a stage of deep sleep, you can feel groggy, which we often put down to a lack of sleep.
REM sleep is particularly important in children’s brain development when it makes up a much higher percentage of total sleep. REM can account for up to 80% of a baby’s sleep.
We get relatively more deep non- REM sleep in the first third of the night and relatively more REM sleep in the last third of the night before daybreak. This shift from deep non- REM sleep to REM sleep happens at certain times of the night irrespective of when you go to sleep, and we need the correct ratio of both to feel totally refreshed when we awake in the morning. Therefore, if you go to sleep very late in the evening, or do shift work you can often end up feeling foggy headed the next day.
Going to bed sometime between 8pm and midnight (between dusk and dark) is regarded as the window which we can optimise our sleep, getting the correct balance of REM and non REM sleep.
If we don’t get enough sleep, if our sleep is interrupted, or we don’t get enough deep sleep, we can build up what’s called a sleep debt. If this debt builds up over several days, we start to lose mental alertness and emotional control - becoming moody and irritable and we tend to feel fatigued. From here, if we continue to accumulate more sleep debt we can suffer from decreased immune function, increased inflammation, changes to our metabolism and an impulse to over eat.
SLEEP PREFERENCES AND CHRONOTYPES
Some of us tend to be early risers (morning larks) and are more alert in the mornings, whilst others prefer late nights, tending to get more active later in the day (night owls) with a preference to get up later; although, most of us are somewhere in the middle. This preference for the times we sleep and our mental alertness at different times of the day is determined by our Chronotype which we inherit from our parents.
A study published last year showed that just one week of sleeping fewer than six hours a night resulted in changes to more than 700 genes, increasing risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.³
Our inherited Chronotypes determine when we prefer to go to sleep at night and rise in the morning and also how much sleep we individually need.
You can download the sleep guide for free, here. Tell us what you think, we would love to hear from you!
2 (Prof. Richard Wiseman, Chris Idzikowski, Shawn Stevenson, Dr. Michael Breus, Nick Littlehales)
Whilst great care has been taken compiling the information within this guide is intended as a resource for general information only, and should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your GP if you have ongoing problems or concerns regarding your sleep.
The statements and suggestions made within the text have not been evaluated by the NHS and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or illness.
Always consult with your healthcare professional before starting any diet, exercise or supplementation program, before taking or stopping any medication, or if you have or suspect you might have any health problem.