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19th September 2018

Sleeping in cycles

I love my sleep.  I love my normal bedtime sleep and I love a good doze.  I’ve read a lot of articles about how good sleep is a must for your mental and physical health.  That there is a minimum amount of sleep needed.  Then, you read about all these exceptional people who only need 5 hours sleep a night.  I am not one of them.  I believed I was someone who needed at least 8 hours just to function or at least to help make me look prettier.

I have always been a good sleeper.  I could sleep standing up.  Then I read that too much sleep is as much of a bad thing as too little. Why?  Well, I won’t bore you with all the ins and outs but this leads me to read about ‘sleeping in cycles’.  Not like cycle cycles like sleeping in a bicycle (I don’t know how that would work).

It turns out there are different stages or ‘cycles’ of sleep.  The only one I was aware of was REM (my brother bought me tickets to see them once believing I liked them but I don’t) but there are actually 5 stages of sleep we need to get through to ensure a full sleep cycle.

Each cycle lasts roughly 90 minutes with four stages of NREM before you reach your REM (rapid eye movement).  During REM is when most of your dreams (or nightmares) will occur.  Apparently, they can’t determine why during the REM stage of sleep our eyes move yet they can tell me how long I should dunk a biscuit for.

I’m not an expert but the basic premise is that you need complete cycles of sleep to ensure you’re well rested.  So four cycles is six hours of sleep.  Five cycles is seven and a half hours of sleep and so on.

Now you can’t go to bed at midnight and set your alarm for six am and think you’ll be refreshed, you won’t.  It is never that easy, well not for most of us.  You need to ‘wind down’ before you actually go to bed and allow yourself time to fall asleep.  An average person takes between 15-20 minutes to get to sleep if they are wound down.

So, let’s say I want to be asleep for midnight.  I’d have to be in bed with the lights off for 11:40pm.  Given we are recommended to avoid our phones, laptops and tablets at least an hour before bed I’d need to start winding down from 10:40pm.  Fine, I can do that.  Or so I thought.

I have an overactive imagination so reading before bed actually doesn’t help me relax, it just seems to set my brain off again.  Hot baths didn’t work.  Alcohol didn’t work (plus I’m told it’s bad for you).  Relaxing music didn’t work.  Lavender didn’t work.  The two things (one oddly) that worked were meditation and putting my face in a sink of cold water, Google it, there is science behind it.

I could set and watch TV, feel like weights have been attached to my eyelids and drag myself upstairs to prepare for bed.  The actual second my head hits the pillow my brain starts fecking with me.  Ah, what are you doing?  We’ve had 30 seconds sleep, that’s enough.  You can’t force me to sleep again!

So, I can get to sleep now in roughly 10-15 minutes.  Problem solved.  So back to the sleep cycles.

The first three weeks weren’t good.  I went to bed all relaxed and ready to sleep at 11:30pm.  Alarm set, and placed out of the room, for 6:00am.  I looked and sounded like Lurch from the Addams Family getting to the alarm.  It was a fight not to go back to bed and I didn’t always win.  Always that voice, sure snooze it for 10 minutes, what’s 10 minutes.  Damn you brain, you should be working with me, not against me.

I felt tired during the day and on occasion had to have a doze which then messed up my sleeping routine for that evening so I learned to either not doze at all or set a 20-minute timer so I didn’t fall into a deep sleep.

I wanted to go to bed earlier as I felt so tired, which again impacted as that meant being in bed for 10pm instead of 11:30pm but meant I got 7.5 (5 cycles) and not 6 (4 cycles) hours sleep.

So gradually I started to get into a routine.  I can manage either the 4 or 5 cycles as long as I get up at 6am and if I need to for whatever reason push back to 7:30am on the odd occasion.  Other times are available depending on your schedule but it’s all about getting the full cycles in.

Weekends can be slightly problematic but I’m still trying to ensure I sleep in cycles even if it means having the odd sneaky 9-hour sleep, though those are becoming less and less frequent as my body seems to want to automatically move around the 6am mark.  Unless I’m hungover then it doesn’t get a choice other than to stay in bed and assist me in feeling sorry for myself.

Sleep is important.  The quality of your sleep is more important.  For me, as someone who has always loved their sleep, I am surprised about how much a routine has helped.  I feel more rested.  I have more energy.

I don’t always make the most of my additional time but that’s the next hurdle. I’ll let you know how I get on with managing my additional time and not squandering it on Reddit or reruns of Frasier.

Sleep in cycles.  Get good sleep.  It’ll be painful to begin and for most, your brain will not help but keep pushing through.  The benefits could be endless.


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