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  • Tools To Optimise Your Sleep Quality | with Marilyn Milsom

    February 14, 2024 6 min read

    What is considered good quality sleep?

    Sleep is typically divided into several stages that cycle throughout the night. These stages are characterised by different patterns of brain activity, eye movements, and physiological changes.


    NREM Sleep (Non-Rapid Eye Movement):

    NREM sleep is divided into three stages, N1, N2 & N3, each representing a progressively deeper level of sleep.


     (i) N1 light sleep

  • You may experience drifting in and out of consciousness and may have occasional muscle twitches.
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  • It is easy to awaken from this stage, and it typically lasts for only a few minutes.
  • (ii) N2 is a deeper stage of sleep.

     

  • Your heart rate and breathing become more regular, and your body temperature drops.
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  • Most of your sleep time is spent in N2, and it plays a crucial role in maintaining sleep continuity.
  • (iii) N3 is the deepest stage of NREM sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep (SWS).

     

  • During this stage, it's difficult to wake someone up. If awakened, they might feel groggy and disoriented.
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  • This stage is essential for physical and mental restoration, and it's when the body repairs and regrows tissues, strengthens the immune system, and consolidates memories.
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    REM Sleep (Rapid Eye Movement): 

  • REM sleep usually occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and then repeats in roughly 90-minute cycles throughout the night.
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  • During REM sleep, the brain is highly active, and the body experiences temporary paralysis (known as REM atonia) to prevent acting out dreams.
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  • Emotional processing and memory consolidation are thought to occur during REM sleep.
  • The sleep cycle typically progresses through N1, N2, N3, and REM sleep in that order, with each cycle lasting approximately 90 minutes.

    As the night progresses, the proportion of time spent in REM sleep increases, while the time spent in deep N3 sleep decreases. Towards morning, you may experience more frequent and longer REM periods.

    A complete sleep cycle includes all these stages and typically lasts about 90 minutes to two hours. Over the course of a night's sleep, you'll go through multiple cycles, with the majority of deep sleep occurring in the earlier cycles and more REM sleep in the later cycles.

    This cycling of sleep stages is important for overall sleep quality and restoration.

     

    Why is Good Quality Sleep Important for Health?

  • Physical Restoration: During deep sleep stages (NREM sleep), the body undergoes repair and regeneration processes. This includes the repair of tissues and muscles, immune system strengthening, and the release of growth hormones, which are essential for growth and repair.

     

  • Cognitive Function: Quality sleep is closely linked to cognitive function. It helps with memory consolidation, problem-solving, creativity, and learning. When you sleep well, you're better equipped to focus, make decisions, and think critically.

     

  • Emotional Well-being: Sleep has a significant impact on emotional stability and regulation. Lack of sleep can lead to mood swings, increased irritability, and heightened emotional reactivity. Good quality sleep helps regulate emotions and reduce the risk of depression and anxiety.

     

  • Cardiovascular Health: Poor sleep quality is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular issues such as hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, and stroke. Quality sleep is essential for maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system.

     

  • Metabolic Health: Sleep and metabolism are closely intertwined. Sleep deprivation can disrupt hormones that regulate appetite such as leptin and ghrelin, and can decrease the body's response to insulin.

     

  • Immune Function: Adequate, high-quality sleep is crucial for a well-functioning immune system. It helps the body produce immune cells and antibodies, making you more resistant to infections and illnesses.

     

  • Hormone Regulation: Sleep plays a role in regulating various hormones which are released at different times throughout the day. For example, cortisol is at its highest upon waking and growth hormones are synthesised while we sleep. Due to the dynamic nature of hormones, disturbances in one hormone often have a cascade effect causing hormonal imbalances.

     

  • Pain Management: Good quality sleep can help reduce the perception of pain and improve pain tolerance. Chronic pain conditions can be exacerbated by poor sleep quality.

     

  • Longevity: Several studies have suggested that people who consistently get high-quality sleep tend to live longer and have a lower risk of premature death compared to those with poor sleep habits.

     

  • Daytime Alertness: Quality sleep is essential for feeling alert and awake during the day. Poor sleep quality can lead to daytime sleepiness. There is even some recent evidence and research into the effects of sleep deprivation leading to parts of the brain going "offline" or into a "local slumber" while the individual is awake.

     

  • Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases: Chronic sleep problems have been linked to an increased risk of chronic diseases, including diabetes, obesity, and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's disease.

     

  • Enhanced Athletic Performance: Athletes often see improvements in their performance and recovery with better sleep quality. Sleep helps with muscle recovery, coordination, and reaction time.

     

    How Do We Optimise Sleep Quality?

    1. Sunlight Exposure Upon Waking & In the Evening

  • Exposure to natural light, especially in the morning, helps synchronise the body's internal clock with the external environment. This synchronisation is essential for maintaining a consistent sleep-wake cycle.

     

  • Sunlight exposure suppresses the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, which is produced in higher quantities in the dark. In the morning, exposure to natural light signals to the body that it's time to be awake and alert.

     

  • Sunlight exposure during the day helps regulate melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that plays a key role in the sleep-wake cycle, promoting sleepiness in response to darkness.
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  • Sunlight exposure is a natural source of vitamin D. Adequate levels of vitamin D are associated with better sleep quality and may have a positive impact on overall health.
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  • Aim for at least 30 minutes of natural light exposure in the morning, preferably within the first hour of waking.
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    2. Limit Stimulants in the Afternoon and Alcohol in the Evening:

  • Avoid consuming caffeine and alcohol in the hours leading up to bedtime. Caffeine can impact your ability to fall asleep, while alcohol interferes with the sleep architecture - AKA your ability to cycle through the different phases of sleep.

     

    3. Minimise Screen Time Before Bed

  • Reduce screen time before bed, as the blue light emitted from electronic devices can suppress the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
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  • The same rule can apply to bright, overhead lights - in the hours leading up to bed utilise low lighting and lamps instead.
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    4. Optimise your Sleep Environment

  • Make your bedroom conducive for sleep with comfortable bedding that is breathable and easy to remove to ensure your body temperature is able to drop 1 - 3 degrees to fall asleep.
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  • Consider blackout curtains, a white noise machine or earplugs if you are struggling to fall and stay asleep or live near street lights/ street noise.

     

    5. Utilise Herbs & Magnesium

  • There are some beautiful sedative and relaxing herbs you can utilise before bed. You may choose to brew a pot of herbal tea with Chamomile, Lemon Balm and Tulsi or Passionflower or diffuse Lavender essential oil.
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  • Magnesium is supportive of sleep - There are different types and doses. Speak with your Naturopath about the right Magnesium for you. If you would like to speak with someone for our team, you can book a complimentary 10-minute Discovery Call
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    6. Meditation/ Breath Work Techniques

  • If you are struggling to fall asleep or get back to sleep breath work and meditation techniques can be very beneficial for putting your body into a calm and relaxed state to fall asleep. My favourite is a Body Scan which involves bringing your attention to each body part, noticing the sensations in that area, and then moving on. There are so many techniques available on Youtube and Google as well as Meditation apps. Even the Head Space Guide to Sleep on Netflix has guided meditations!

  • Remember that it may take time to see the full effects of these changes, so be patient and consistent in implementing these tips. If sleep problems persist, or if you suspect a sleep disorder, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a sleep specialist for further guidance and evaluation.

    With love, Marilyn


    At Floralia Wellness, we're passionate about providing you with evidence-based, integrative medicine and a personalised health care experience. If you are seeking individualised guidance from a registered health practitioner, you can book a complimentary 10-minute Discovery Call online with someone from our team.
    Marilyn is a student naturopath and the Practice Manager at Floralia Wellness.

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