Sleep is an important yet often over-looked aspect of not only our physical well-being, but also our emotional and mental well-being. Both insufficient sleep and poor sleep quality can lead to depression, anxiety, irritability, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or injuries.
Many people in the western world suffer some form of sleep deprivation. On average it is recommended that most adults between 18-64 years of age receive 7-9 hours of sleep a night, and adults over the age of 64 receive between 7-8 hours.
These are recommended guidelines, as not everyone receiving less sleep will experience adverse well-being. It is important, however, to not underestimate the importance of good sleep. For example, Canadian statistics have revealed that the extra-hour of sleep received when clocks are put back in the fall of our nationwide “daylight savings,” this has coincided with a fall in the number of road accidents the next day.
Some studies say that anything less than 5 minutes to fall asleep at night means that you have some form of sleep deprivation. The ideal time it takes to fall asleep is between 10 and 15 minutes — still tired enough to sleep deeply, but not so exhausted that you feel sleepy by day.
Poor sleep can be attributed to stress, excitement, or the demands of juggling work and family responsibilities. It can also be a function of anxiety, depression, or physical issues such as thyroid problems or other undiagnosed medical conditions.
The presence of light when we are trying to sleep can also interfere, as light has a stimulating influence on our circadian rhythms, which are like our “biological clock”. The blue light from computers and hand held electronic devices can be particularly sinister when it is time to settle into sleep, as the wavelength emitted from blue light appears to be the most disruptive light at night. Some energy efficient lighting emits blue light as well.
What’s going on when we are sleeping?
Brain waves vary according to a sleep-wake cycle. In healthy adults there are several distinct stages in one sleep cycle. This cycle repeats five to six times during the night, about every 90 minutes.
Stage 1 is considered a form of light sleep, where we feel relaxed but may still wake easily and lasts for 5-10 minutes.
Stage 2 is a further progression of light sleep, as the body prepares for deep sleep, with the heart rate and body temperature lowering.
Stage 3 is deep sleep, when one is not so easily awakened, as this is when the body is repairing tissue and bones and strengthening the immune system.
Stage 4 is REM sleep — “rapid eye movement” — where the most dreams occur. REM sleep is a vital part of the sleep cycle, as this is when the brain exercises important neural connections which are key to over-all well-being and mental health. This is when the most brain activity occurs, especially in the areas of learning and making or retaining memories.
In healthy adults, the light sleep stage takes up about 50% of total sleep each night, with both deep sleep and REM sleep stages comprising about 25% each of total sleep each night. The most deep sleep occurs in the beginning of the night, reducing as the night goes on. REM sleep gradually increases with each 90 minute cycle throughout the night, sometimes lasting as long as one hour at the end of the night.
Healthy Sleep Habits
Going to bed and waking up at the same times each day, and avoiding naps, which can disrupt the sleeping pattern
Getting physical exercise several times a week, ending at least one hour before bedtime
Eating a healthy diet, and staying hydrated with water throughout the day
Avoiding or reducing caffein (found in coffee, non-herbal tea, most soft drinks, and chocolate), especially in the evening
Restricting or eliminating alcohol, especially just before bed
Relaxing before bed, perhaps with a warm bath or listening to soothing music
Closing down electronic devices one hour before going to bed
Sleeping in a quiet, darkened room with a comfortable temperature
At Burnaby Counselling Group, we can help!
If you find pressures or the burden of concerns you carry to be interfering with sleep quality or quantity; talking to a therapist can help address the areas of concern and explore self-care measures, so that the way forward can emerge for you. At Burnaby Counselling Group our therapists are interested in all aspects of your mental and emotional well-being. If pressures, worries, or despondency are leading to sleep disturbance; or if sleep disturbance is leading to emotional issues, please consider making an appointment.
Written by: Susan Hobkirk, Registered Social Worker, Marriage and Family Therapist, Burnaby Counselling Group