How to fix a sleep schedule? What is sleep cycle?

Sleep is one of the most important activities every mammal needs to perform. It is the best way to regain what you lost during the day. A person with a good circadian rhythm, i.e., good sleep-wake cycle tends to be active the next day– followed by a tiring day with work. Sleep is also the key to maintain relationships and emotional well-being. The quality and quantity of sleep define the benefits you gain from a good night’s sleep. With today’s work stress, relationship troubles, and disorders like anxiety and depression, it is essential to fix a sleep schedule. Adjusting to a sleep schedule allows your body to adapt to a well-organized internal clock.

How to fix a sleep schedule?

Fix a sleep schedule as per quantity and quality of sleep. Moreover, it is essential to take into account your bedtime. Your bedtime corresponds to the amount, i.e., the time required for sleep, to wake up active from the bed. Everyone uses an alarm to wake up at a specific time to cope-up with the work schedule and society. If your alarm goes on before your sleep, move your bedtime earlier; if it goes on after the cycle, move your bedtime to late night. 

It is also important not to snooze your alarm. If you wake up on the first ring, get up from bed rather than going back to sleep for another 15 minutes. If you fall back to sleep, then it will be much difficult for you to wake at the correct time. This difficulty is because the system starts the sleep cycle all over again. You can’t wake up active from bed until the cycle is complete.

The quantity of sleep required depends on age and daily chores. More activity you do on a daily basis, the more rest you need to compensate for the metabolic stress on your system. Besides, during sleep, the body uses shallow energy with a low metabolic rate, and hence, it is the best time for energy conservation. Along with energy conservation, there are many other benefits with a good night’s sleep. The opposite is true, as well. Sleep deprivation can cause various adverse effects on the human body.

What should be your bedtime for a good sleep schedule?

Prepare a bedtime in accordance with the amount of sleep you need and the time you need to wake up. If your body adapts itself to sleep at 1 am and wake up at the correct time in the morning with enough good-quality sleep, there is no need to change your bedtime. Don’t force yourself to sleep at 11 pm if you are not tired. You are then just going to stare at the ceiling until you fall asleep. Fix your sleep schedule according to your needs. If you don’t have enough sleep, go to bed early. Tiredness makes you fall asleep faster. Although heavy exercise before bedtime is not recommended, a light workout can suffice. Relaxing music, watching television from far (No effect due to the radiation), and reading books can serve as tips to fall asleep faster.

Set the environment according to your sleep schedule

It is imperative to set an environment for a good night’s sleep. Keeping your electronics away would be the first step for a quality sleep environment. It reduces the radiation effects. The second most crucial step is to make the room noiseless. Any sound during sleep can interrupt the cycle, eventually waking you up. Make the room dark so that you can remain unaffected by light. In the morning, make sure you have a well-lit room, to stay awake and active. Change the conditions of your sleep environment to mimic sunlight when you are awake and dark during sleep.

What is the sleep cycle?

Sleep cycle and its duration defines the quality of sleep. The way to gain benefit from sleep is to fix a schedule as per your need. The deep sleep occurs in the starting stages, and REM sleep occurs in between the sleep. REM also occurs in the last stages of sleep, almost about waking time. The cycle primarily comprises four stages. A specific brain wave characterizes each stage.

Regions of the brain associated with sleep

  • Hypothalamus: It contains a group of Nerve cells that act as a control centre affecting sleep and arousal. Some people with damage to the Suprachiasmatic nucleus, sleep erratically throughout the day. They cannot manage their circadian rhythms.
  • Brain stem: The brainstem communicates with the hypothalamus to control the transitions between wake and sleep. Sleep promoting cells within the hypothalamus and the brain stem produce a brain chemical called GABA. It also plays a unique role in REM sleep. It sends signals to relax muscles essential for body posture and movements so that we don’t act in our dreams.
  • Pineal gland: It increases the production of the hormone melatonin, which helps put you to sleep once the lights go down. People who cannot control their natural wake-sleep cycle can stabilize their sleep patterns by taking small amounts of melatonin at the same time each day.
  • Basal forebrain: It also promotes sleep and wakefulness, while part of the midbrain acts as an arousal system. The release of Adenosine from the cells in the basal forebrain supports your sleep drive.
  • Amygdala: Amygdala is the emotional brain, and it becomes increasingly active during REM sleep.

Different stages of a sleep cycle

There are two types of sleep-rapid eye movement sleep (REM) and non REM sleep which has different stages. You cycle through all stages of sleep several times during a typical night.

Stage 1

Non REM sleep is the transition from wakefulness to sleep. During this period, heartbeat and breathing slow down, and muscles relax. The brain waves begin to slow down from their daytime pattern. Both alpha and theta waves characterize this stage. The early portion produces alpha waves. This pattern of wave activity resembles someone who is very relaxed yet awake. As an individual continues through stage 1, there is an increase in theta waves. It is relatively easy to wake someone up during this stage.

Stage 2

Stage 2 of non REM sleep is the light sleep before entering deep sleep. Heartbeat and breathing slow down, muscles relax even further—the body temperature drops. A person spends most of the time in this stage rather than any other sleep stage. Theta waves dominate the 2nd stage of sleep. Sleep bundles usually interrupt this stage. Sleep bundle is a rapid burst of higher frequency brain waves-important for learning and memory. It is also associated with K-complex, which serves as a bridge to higher levels of arousal in response to environmental factors.

Stage 3/4 

Stage 3 of non REM sleep is the period of deep sleep which is required to feel refreshed in the morning. During this time, our body relaxes for the physical strain it experiences during the day. Deprivation of deep sleep can seem tiring throughout the day. Delta waves characterize stages 3 & 4. It is tough to wake-up someone from this stage. Individuals who experience alpha waves during this stage often report that they do not feel refreshed upon waking up, regardless of how long they slept.

REM sleep

It occurs in between the cycle and in the later stages of sleep. The eye movement fastens behind the eyelids. Breathing is irregular; heartbeat increases to nearly waking levels. Arms and legs become paralyzed, which prevents them from acting out. We usually dream during this stage.

REM sleep waves are similar to those observed when a person is awake. People usually refer to REM sleep as paradoxical sleep because of higher brain activity and lack of muscle tone. REM sleep also implicated various aspects of learning and memory.

It is also involved in emotional processing and regulation. If an individual is REM sleep-deprived and is allowed to sleep without disturbance, more time is spent on REM sleep to recoup with the lost time in REM, which is called REM rebound. REM rebound represents an adaptive response to stress in non-depressed individuals by suppressing emotional salience.

When do you experience these brain waves?

  • Alpha (7.5 – 14Hz): You tend to experience alpha brain waves in deep relaxation. These waves usually emerge when daydreaming or during light meditation. The stage of sleep undergoing alpha waves is the optimal time to program the mind for success. It also heightens your imagination, visualization, memory, learning, and concentration.
  • Beta (14-40Hz): Beta brain waves are associated with ordinary waking consciousness and a heightened state of alertness, logic, and critical reasoning.
  • Gamma (>40Hz): At 40Hz and above, the Gamma wave is the fastest frequency. Initial research shows Gamma waves are associated with bursts of insight and high-level information processing.
  • Delta (0.5-4Hz): The Delta frequency is the slowest of the brainwave frequencies. Delta waves occur in both deep, dreamless sleep and transcendental meditation. 
  • Theta (4-7.5Hz): Theta brain waves are present during deep meditation and light sleep, including the all-important REM dream state. You experience a realm of sub-consciousness momentarily as you drift off to sleep from Alpha and wake from deep sleep (Delta).

Related: Sleep deprivation effects: How it influences emotional stability?

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