Sleep is a fascinating and mysterious activity that we all go through. In our daily life, we hear over and over again how important sleep is, but do we really take it to heart? Most importantly, are we aware of the sleep cycle?
Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I’m reborn. – Gandhi
We all know that exercise, diet, and sleep- these are 3 key factors to a healthy mental and physical state. Lack of sleep is the reason for so many problems like stress, depression, tiredness, and so on. It is usually recommended that 7-9 hours of sleep is the optimum duration.
But does that mean we can go to bed at 2 a.m. each night and wake up at 9 a.m. and feel just as good as someone who went to bed at 11 p.m. and wakes up at 7 a.m.? is there an ideal time to hit the bed and wake up for better sleep and health?
Well, the answer is yes and in general, the earlier the better.
Sleep cycle and circadian rhythm have a strong influence on sound sleep and better recovery, hence only focusing on the duration of the sleep isn’t enough. We also need to focus on the timing aspect too.
How does the sleep cycle work?
During an ideal night’s sleep, you go through several 90-minute cycles. In each cycle, you through each stage of sleep: light sleep, deep sleep, REM, and repeat. The light sleep and deep sleep together are called NREM (Non-rapid eye movement) sleep.
It’s the NREM sleep that has a significant impact on recovery and growth. During this sleep cycle, muscles relax, heart rate slows down, blood flow increases to the muscles, growth hormones are released, tissue growth and cell repair occur, the brain flushes out waste, etc.
On the other hand, REM sleep is essential to re-energizing your mind. REM is associated with dreaming, memory consolidation, learning, and problem-solving. Hence, brain activity is higher during this sleep cycle and vivid dreams may occur.
Generally, your body goes through these sleep cycles four to five times every night. This is the crucial point, cycles earlier in the night tend to have more NREM sleep while later cycles have a higher proportion of REM. By the final cycle, your body may even skip NREM deep sleep completely.
If you have read this far, I guess you know why you feel tired or lethargic every day during work or for exercise. You’re lacking the NREM sleep, more specifically the deep sleep cycle.
Is there an ideal sleep window?
That’s a good question. So far, I’ve mentioned that going to bed earlier is better but how to define the early window. According to some experts, getting into bed between 8 p.m. to 12 p.m. will get you adequate sleep including both restorative and dream rich sleep.
Our circadian rhythm works in such a way that our body goes through the recovery phase mostly from 11 p.m. till 3 a.m. Hence, it’s better not to delay sleeping time beyond 12 a.m. If you don’t go to sleep during this window, then you may feel the urge of sleeping between 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the afternoon!
I know what you’re thinking now. It’s easy to say but hard to do.
Sure, I agree. Some can’t get enough sleep, some struggle through insomnia. I always say, if there’s a bad habit, it won’t go away easily. It’s something you have to work on.
The first step to improving the sleep cycle is to make it a priority, period.
In your life, you prioritize things constantly. Only when you prioritize reading a book or spending time with your family or committing to a training routine, you notice the change. So, set a feasible sleeping window first and then try to structure your daily life around it.
If you don’t get sleepy until 11 p.m., don’t force yourself to sleep at 9 p.m. in the hopes of recovering better and energized. You have to be patient enough and gradually improve the sleep cycle. Otherwise, this will backfire and you’ll go back to the old routine again.
If that’s a chronic situation, visit a doctor. Don’t take sleeping pills without a doctor’s consent. For physical anomalies, it’s better to take help from professionals. Sometimes, things are out of our control and we need to recognize that too.
Overall, it’s best to go to bed earlier in the night and wake up early each day. it may be difficult for some people but the impact of sleep on daily performance is an important consideration. If you’re an athlete, then prioritize the sleep cycle more than anything.
Talk to a doctor if you’re struggling to fall asleep for a while. Sleep has the biggest influence on performance compared to diet and nutrition. So, if you want to feel better or improve fitness, stop procrastinating, and get to sleep, early.
Speaking about diet, if you want to learn more on should you follow intermittent fasting or not, click here.