Sleep in Times Past: 4 Hours at a Time

sunriseUntil recently, the supremacy of 8 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep for optimum health has gone unchallenged. A peaceful night of continuous sleep seems to be the elusive goal that doctors recommend and that we are all hoping to obtain. Yet many of us, despite following the advice of sleep therapists or owning a comfortable mattress, continue to wake up in the middle of night. To compound matters, random waking can cause anxiety about getting enough rest before work the next day, making falling back to sleep that much more difficult. Recent research, however, may explain this late-night tossing and turning and perhaps shed light on one of the causes of elevated stress levels in modern society.

In At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, historian Roger Ekirch reveals that before the Industrial Revolution, people used to sleep in two distinct chunks, which people from the time referred to as “first sleep” and “second sleep.” Psychiatrists and other researches call this type of sleep cycle “polyphasic” or “bi-segmented.” A bi-segmented sleep pattern has been observed among some primitive cultures, as well as various animals, but until now it was assumed that most people throughout history slept once per day for a continuous period. It turns out, however, that before the invention of electricity, people were more in-tune with the natural rhythms of light and dark in creation.

By reading hundreds of documents from the early modern period (1500-1800), Ekirch found that people repeatedly referred to a “first” and “second” sleep, as well as a period of semi-wakefulness in-between sleeps. People would usually wind down for bed as soon as it started to grow dark, fall-asleep for about 4 hours, wake for 1 to 3 hours, and then fall back asleep for another 4 or more hours. The time between “first” and “second” sleeps was used for a variety for purposes. After a long day of work, for many it was the best time of peace and relaxation, the perfect time to visit with loved ones or friends. For others, such a writers and philosophers, it proved the perfect time for thinking and journaling. Doctors advising married couples on how to conceive, recommended it as the best time to have sex, as it was during this period that the couple would be most relaxed and rejuvenated. Psychiatrist Walter Brown believes that such a sleep schedule may have helped people better cope with the stresses of daily life.

The tendency for humans to sleep in two phases in the lack for artifical light was confirmed recently by several experiments performed by psychiatrist Dr. Wehr. In one experiment in-particular, Dr. Wehr found that when individuals were transfered from 16-hours of light exposure (what most experience as a result of artificial lighting) to only 10-hours of light exposure per day (equivalent to a winter day without any artificial light), the subjects sleep cycles naturally split into two distinct periods with 1-3 hours of wakefulness in-between.

So is there a lesson from all of this? At this point it’s difficult to say for sure, but it’s not hard to imagine that living without artificial lighting would help us get more rest and better deal with the stresses of life. Yet while going without artificial lighting for a time might be a fun experiment, for most of us it’s unrealistic. If anything, maybe we can try to live a little more with the rhythms of creation by turning the lights or TV off a little bit earlier at night. Also, in the event we do wake up at night, perhaps we can find some solace in the knowledge that it might be because of our body’s natural sleep cycle. Honest research continues to reveal how technology and societal “advancements” affect our health in unforeseen (and often negative) ways. Personally, I believe that the more we trust in God’s provision and enjoy the goodness of his creation, the healthier we will become.

References: At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, by Roger Ekrich; In short photoperiods, human sleep is biphasic. Dr. TA Wehr; Acknowledging Preindustrial Patterns of Sleep May Revolutionize Approach to Sleep Dysfunction Dr. Walter Brown

Recommended Reading: The Neuroscience of Sleep with Russell Foster

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Originally posted 2013-03-13 23:30:56.

Blue light, a red light for sleep.

Have you had a difficult time falling asleep lately? While there are many causes of insomnia, an increasingly common culprit is exposure to blue light. People in our society are constantly looking at a variety of electronic screens, from big screen TVs to cell phones, and it turns out this habit can cause sleeplessness. Do you ever watch TV or surf the internet late into the evening and then have a difficult time falling asleep? If so, the solution might be taking a break from electronics at least two hours before you plan on getting some shut eye.

Electronic devices, like computer screens, emit an artificial blue light that is incredibly disruptive to the body’s natural sleep cycle. When our eyes are exposed to these high energy rays, the brain thinks it’s the middle of the day and stops producing the sleep hormone, melatonin. Lack of sleep and melatonin deficiency are linked to numerous health problems, including depression, heart disease, weight-gain, and cancer.

If you can, tune your body to the cycles of creation. Getting sunshine in the morning and exercise during the day can help prepare your body for sleep when the sun goes down. Take a break from electronic devices at night; read a book, journal, or play a good old fashioned card game instead. If you’re worried about not getting enough work done, think about the long term investment in your health and the higher level of productivity you’ll be able to achieve with a good night’s rest.

Rest is vital part of life. Despite what society tells us, we weren’t created to work non-stop, to be constantly busy. If you absolutely must use a computer at night, consider wearing amber-colored lenses, which have been found to block blue light and improve sleep. Otherwise, take a breather and rest your eyes tonight.

References:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21415172
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17435349
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21552190
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20030543

Originally posted 2012-10-23 15:33:00.

Tips for Falling Asleep at Night

I didn’t always think quality sleep was so necessary (Read: How Getting More Sleep Changed My Life), but after finding out how it affected my concentration, mood and even weight, I knew I needed to change something.  I eventually figured out How to Create the Perfect Sleep Environment, which helped immensely.  Through research and personal experience, I have also learned a few tips and tricks for the actual falling asleep part.

Tips for Falling Asleep at Night:

  1. Wind down an hour before you hope to be asleep, preferably in the room where you will be sleeping.
  2. Turn off technology a couple of hours before bedtime.  The blue light that emits from TVs, cell-phones, and computer screens disrupts melatonin production and tells the body to stay awake!
  3. Establish a bedtime routine. If you have children or think back to your childhood, most of us had a bedtime routine. Maybe it was dinner, bath time, or reading a book all snuggled under the covers with mom or dad, then possibly requesting a drink of water to stay up later. A bedtime routine, however, is necessary at any age. As we grow into adolescence, and the need to assert our independence arises, bedtimes get pushed later. As demands grow during during college and into professional life, many of us get even less shut-eye, and we can easily forget what it feels like to get to bed at the same time (and a decent time) every night.

Here are a few suggestions for creating a healthy bedtime routine :

  • Turn lights down low.
  • Have a cup of decaffeinated tea and read a book.
  • Listen to relaxing music.
  • Read the bible or a relaxing book.
  • Pick up the house and get things ready for the morning.
  • Wake up at the same time every morning. It seems counter-intuitive when you stay up late to wake up early, but this will ensure that your sleep cycle stays on track. This will also probably reduce your chances of waking up late on Monday morning.
  • Avoid afternoon caffeine if you can. It is understandable that you may experience an afternoon slump, but try to take a walk outside to boost your energy level instead of drinking a caffeinated beverage. If you cannot go without that afternoon caffeine boost, but usually have caffeine at night as well, start with eliminating caffeine from your evening ritual.
  • Avoid doing work right before bed. Working on a project or something that causes even a little bit of stress and/or brain power will keep your brain a-buzz even after you head to bed.
  • Write down all of your worries or concerns. If a racing mind prevents you from falling asleep, keep a notepad next to your bed to write down a to-do list or anything that is concerning you, and deal with it in the morning. There is no use in worrying about something you cannot do anything about at night.
  • Exercise regularly. According to the National Sleep Foundation, people who consider themselves “exercisers” report more shut-eye each night. It makes sense, right? Wear yourself out and you will be more likely to crash at night. Also, don’t worry too much about what time you do your workout, unless you have personally noticed adverse effects from late night workouts. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most people experience no trouble sleeping even when working out 30 minutes before bed.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol in an effort to fall asleep. An article on WebMD states that a review of 27 studies found that alcohol does not improve sleep but actually negatively affects REM sleep. Even though alcohol may help you feel drowsy, the negative effects outweigh the perceived benefit.
  • Pray. If you truly cannot fall asleep, take that time to pray for loved ones. Having something positive to focus on can help you drift peacefully to sleep and, if anything, it is time well spent, not wasted.

Do you have trouble falling asleep at night?
Do you have a bedtime routine established?

References: 2013 Sleep in America Poll by The National Sleep Foundation, Alcohol and a Good Night’s Sleep Don’t Mix found on Web MD

Originally posted 2013-09-02 20:47:15.

Creating the Perfect Sleep Space

Do you ever wonder when you crawl under the covers at night, why you can’t fall asleep right away? One reason might be that you haven’t created a relaxing sleep environment. Your brain takes certain cues to get sleepy. So use these tips to clue your body in as to when it’s time to hit the hay.

1. Keep the bedroom and bed for “bed specific” activities. As tempting and as comfortable as it may be, don’t bring your work into the bedroom. You want your body know that once you are in your bed with the lights out, it’s time to rest.

On that same note, when it is time to get up, don’t lie around in bed watching television or checking your phone. Get out of the room to a place where your brain realizes it’s time to start the day.

2. A dark room. Melatonin is a sleep hormone that helps our body sleep. While melatonin is still somewhat of a mystery to scientists, it’a clear that it helps to tell the body what time of day it is. Melatonin is also thought to be more active at night, or in the dark. This is likely the reason why we can get sleepy in dark theaters or on cloudy days. To take advantage of the power of melatonin, try to find dark shades, especially if there are street lights outside of your window, or wear a comfortable sleep mask.
Along the same lines, it’s also important to get sunshine at the start of your day.  Sunshine signals the body’s hormone system as to what time of the day it is, promoting healthy sleep cycles.

3. The proper temperature. Although there is no exact agreed upon temperature by sleep specialists, the general rule of thumb is to keep the room cool. Disturbances in sleep are typically noted when the temperature is lower than 54 degrees and higher than 75 degrees (which is around the universal “room temperature”).

For me, the perfect temperature at night in the summer (where I don’t feel I am draining the bank cooling the apartment, but also don’t awaken toasty and cranky) is 71 degrees. Experiment with the thermostat to find the right temperature for you! I figure if I’m spending a little more money to get better sleep during the summer, I will make up for it in the winter months.

4. The proper noise. Just as we all prefer particular sleeping temperatures, we all prefer a particular level of noise (or lack of noise) that helps us sleep. In high school I lived in a room right by our laundry room, so I often fell asleep to the sound of the whirr of the dryer. I’ve since found it difficult to sleep when it’s dead silent.

I found a simple sound machine a few years back to help with this issue AND to block the noise of my roommate who woke at 3am for work. Not only did I sleep better, I wasn’t irritated at my roommate for her early rising.

I’ve also learned that earplugs can be helpful for trips, and they’re small enough to not be a burden when packing. As a side-sleeper, I put one earplug in the ear that is away from the pillow, that way I can hear my alarm clock going off if necessary. The key is finding what works best for you. If random noises are keeping you up at night OR it’s too quiet, take the appropriate action.

5. Turn your phone on silent. It can be hard to “unplug,” but even if our electronic companions aren’t notifying us of an incoming message, we are probably slightly more alert just in case it does. I have a separate setting on my phone for bedtime where all notifications are silent and it only makes noise when someone is calling. Text messages can wait until the morning. If it is serious, they will make an actual call.

6. Get comfortable. Rest is a key component to a healthy lifestyle, but how can you get  rest if your sleeping arrangement is waking you up at night? Make sure you (and your partner) have enough room to move around without kicking each other. Choose a mattress that is comfortable and won’t leave you with aches and pains.

The perfect, peaceful sleep environment contributes to a good night’s rest which will in turn contribute to better overall health. 

Questions:
Do you prefer silence or white noise when you sleep?
Do you have a hard time keeping work out of the bedroom?

You Might Also Enjoy:
How Getting More Sleep Changed My Life
Sleep in Times Past: 4 Hours at a Time
Blue Light, A Red Light for Sleep

Sources: Sleep Disorders, The Sleep Environment

Originally posted 2013-08-13 09:00:00.

How Getting More Sleep Changed My Life

Believe it or not, we were not created to go non-stop.

We are taught by society that in order to succeed in life, we need to do everything and anything it takes. The wide availability of caffeine and energy drinks gives us the false sense of security that even if we don’t get enough sleep tonight, we can just grab a grande latte in the morning.

I personally went through a period of time where I worked multiple jobs, went to school, and tried to have a personal life on top of it all.

I would stay up late at night studying or working my second job and rise early in the morning to get to my day job.

I always brought three or four energy drinks with me to stay awake at my desk. Even with the energy drinks and frequent snacks (often sugary) to keep me awake, I felt fuzzy and not “all there” during the day. I definitely wasn’t performing at my full ability.

I made many excuses to myself.

“No one gets eight hours of sleep these days.”

“All college students go through this.”

“I’m just doing what I gotta do to succeed!”

Unfortunately, after awhile, I found both my physical and mental health deteriorating. I was gaining weight, feeling sluggish and my emotions were all over the place. I eventually became so depressed that I had to seek help from a professional.

Through journaling, I discovered what I already knew deep down… I needed more rest. My worst emotional days were those with the least amount of sleep. My overall health had taken a back seat to money and a promised career at the end of my schooling.

The thing is, God commands us to take time to rest.

The importance of rest is demonstrated by Him taking one full day off after He created the earth. If God needs rest, don’t you think us humans need it as well?

Our brains need time to recharge in order to make necessary nerve connections and enforce things we’ve learned or need to remember each day. Over time lack of sleep can cut down on our ability to retrieve these memories. This doesn’t just affect students studying for a test, but might cause you to forget an important date or fact about a co-worker.

Sleep and depression are so closely connected, scientists often have a hard time figuring out which came first. It is certain, however, that lack of time in bed causes irritability, anger and may even lower one’s ability to cope with stress.

In addition to mental and emotional processes, sleep is also correlated with metabolism related hormones, such as ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and leptin (the hormone that tells our body we are “full”).  Imagine how our eating habits can change if this regulation system is out of whack.

Even scarier, sleep deprivation puts us at risk behind the wheel. Our reaction times are cut down so much that sleepy driving is comparable to drunk driving. I can recall more than one time where I had to pull over to shut my eyes while driving at night. Not safe.

effects-of-sleep-deprevations

I knew that I needed to reevaluate my priorities if I wanted to heal my body, mind and emotions. Money is great, but this endless cycle was detrimental to my well-being.

Once I quit my full-time job to focus on school and to get more rest, I was able to make other life improvements, too.

I learned how to budget. I got better grades. My relationships also improved since I wasn’t in such a foul mood all the time. I began to feel happy and like myself again.

I even had time to go to the gym on a regular basis and my sweet tooth was no longer out of control. From all of this I developed a passion for fitness and health that I’m turning into a career.

All from getting more sleep at night.

I won’t lie, I’m not perfect. I don’t get a full eight hours every single night. I do make it a priority because I now know what can happen if sleep gets pushed to the back burner.

How about you? Are you getting enough sleep at night?
What are some things you can change to make your rest time a priority?

You Might Also Like:
Sleep in Times Past: 4 Hours at a Time
Blue Light, A Red Light for Sleep

Sources:
Web MD
Harvard Medical
Mythbusters

Originally posted 2013-08-01 20:49:57.