What is quality sleep? If you think that it's simply getting the recommended eight to ten hours of sleep then you're only partially right. There is no "one size fits all" formula for the "right amount of sleep" because everyone has different needs.
One thing that is consistent are the symptoms of your failure to achieve the required amount of quality sleep. These symptoms are:
Loss of creativity
Lack of motivation
Lack of energy
Loss of concentration
Reduction in social activities
There can be more dangerous symptoms as well including possible heart disease, stroke, and delusional behaviour which may lead to self-inflicted injury. A lack of sleep is also a major contributor to motor vehicle and on-the-job accidents. In fact, recent studies show that between 200,000 to 400,000 automobile accidents each year are the result of drivers falling asleep behind the wheel. Another study states that almost $70 billion is lost by businesses annually due to lost productivity, increased accidents, and increased insurance costs from sleep-related incidents.
Each person is driven by their own internal clock which is called the
"Circadian Cycle". This clock is responsible for sending signals to the brain
telling you when it is time to sleep, wake up, and eat. When we ignore this
clock our body is affected by the disruption of its natural rhythm cycles.
These cycles are somewhat different for every one of us and, thus, we all have
our own natural definitions of what constitutes quality sleep. Fortunately, it
is easy to get into sync with our natural clock. In fact, you can easily tell
what time it is "set" to by performing this simple experiment:
Keep the same wakeup time every day but change your bedtime throughout a two week cycle. Keep a chart of how you feel each day. Are you more energetic on the days where you received an extra hour or so, or are you more groggy? After two weeks or less you will know exactly how many hours of sleep you need, under normal circumstances, to qualify as quality sleep.
Of course the amount of sleep that you need varies according to the amount of energy, physical or mental, that you expend. If you are coming off of an especially active day then you may require a bit more quality sleep to fully recover. Sleep requirements also change as you age with the body generally requiring only 6 hours, or so, by the early senior years.
In order to understand the importance of getting quality sleep it helps to understand what the term "sleep" actually means. Sleep is not a shutdown of our state of being, it is actually an alternate state of being which goes on without our conscious involvement. While we are sleeping our muscles exercise by alternately tensing and relaxing, our blood pressure, pulse and heartbeat rise and fall; our brain and body temperatures even go up and down as we pass through the different stages of sleep. What may be the most amazing occurrence is our brain's ability to produce dreams of every nature and description!
When we "fall asleep" we are really passing through several defined stages. Each of these stages have a purpose and we need to experience all 5 stages in order to receive the full benefits of quality sleep.
Stage 1 is where we begin drifting off to sleep. Our brains create irregular rapid waves and our muscles begin to tense. Our breathing begins to form a regular pattern an miscellaneous thoughts drift through our minds. If we are awakened at this point we might not even realize that we were asleep at all and we will not have experienced quality sleep.
After about 20 minutes we enter Stage 2. During this stage our brain waves get larger and there are sudden bursts of brain activity. You eyes are no longer capable of responding to stimuli.
After about another 20 to 30 minutes we pass into Stage 3 where all of our bodily functions noticeably decrease. We do not respond to normal sounds in our environment and we are difficult to wake up.
Stage 4 is where true quality sleep begins. At this point we are in the deepest sleep and our body has entered the deep discharge/recharge cycle. Once we complete Stage 4 our bodies shift back into Stage 2 for about 20 to 30 minutes and then we enter the stage known as REM.
During the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage our brain wave patterns are almost like they are when we are awake. Fingers and toes sometimes twitch but the muscles of our legs, arms and torso are paralyzed and we can not move most of our body. It is during REM when we have our most vivid dreams.
After REM we go back to Stage 2 and then pass through Stage 3, 4 and then REM again. These cycles repeat 4 or 5 times throughout the night and combine to produce quality sleep.
There are many reasons why people do not experience quality sleep. The easiest ones to remedy are the social and environmental ones. Social causes are simply not going to bed early enough to get a good nights sleep, or eating too much food, or sugar, or caffeine close to bed time. Environmental causes may be an uncomfortable bed which causes you to toss and turn and creates pressure points which block the body's blood circulation. You may also be trying to sleep in a room which is too hot, too cold, or too noisy.
There are several medical causes for not getting quality sleep as well. Chief among them are:
Insomniacs are unable to fall asleep easily and generally do not cycle through all of the sleep stages.
While this may not affect the snorer's ability to get quality sleep it definitely affects the sleeping partner's ability. Snoring occurs when the tongue falls back and covers the opening to the throat. Since snoring usually occurs when the person is sleeping on their back, many sleeping partners will poke the snorer in an effort to get them to turn onto their side. While this often works it then tends to interrupt the snorer's sleep cycles as a result.
This is a potentially life-threatening condition where the sleeper actually stops breathing during the night. The body wakes them up, in alarm, to re-start the breathing process and then they fall back asleep. This cycle repeats itself hundreds of times during the night and wreaks havoc with all stages of sleep. Symptoms of sleep apnea include amazingly loud snoring, morning headaches, chronic fatigue, loss of concentration and sometimes depression. Sleep apnea is believed to cause high blood pressure. This condition needs to be medically diagnosed and you should seek medical advice at once if you think you are affected. There is no way to receive quality sleep if you are affected by sleep apnea.
Quality sleep is more than a nice thing to achieve. It is a life-renewing physical necessity that our bodies absolutely require in order to maintain themselves in top physical and mental condition. If you are not getting quality sleep, and you can't find the answers in this article, seek the help of a doctor who specializes in sleep disorders. Your health depends upon it.