It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in
the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.
Rest and Recovery
I remember in college when my husband and I were dating, after basketball practice and dinner at the dining commons, we would ride our bikes to the library to study. He was a premed double major in history and human physiology, and I was majoring in bioengineering. We would often start strong in our studying, and then we’d literally take a nap—at the table. At the time, I thought it was weird. Now it makes more sense. As we were challenging our brains with different problems, not to mention after a hard practice and high-glycemic food, we would just need some recovery time. After a nap lasting less than thirty minutes usually, we would feel rejuvenated, restored, and ready for more studying until closing time. As I mentioned before, we have been boring for a long time.
Understanding the cycle of sleep may help understand why the nap seemed to help restore and rejuvenate even during those late library hours. The National Sleep Foundation (sleepfoundation.org) describes the following pattern for sleep. The sleep architecture, or makeup, follows a pattern of alternating REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) throughout the night in a cycle that repeats about every ninety minutes. Each stage has a unique role.
NREM occurs for approximately 75% of the night and is composed of four stages. Stage one is just between being awake and falling asleep, during which you are in a light sleep. Stage two is the true onset of sleep where you become disengaged from the surroundings and your breathing and heart rate become regular. Your body temperature drops, and so sleep is often easier in a cooler room. (My husband likes this fact because it means he can keep the heater down low so as not to waste money.) Stages three and four are the most restorative sleep stages, where the blood pressure drops, breathing slows further, and muscles relax. The blood flow to the muscles increases, tissue growth and repair begins, and energy is restored. Hormones like growth hormone are released that play a vital role in growth and development.
The second stage of sleep is REM and occurs for only 25% of the night, and first occurs about ninety minutes in to falling asleep. This may occur at longer intervals later into the night. REM sleep provides energy to the brain and body and supports waking performance. During this stage, brain activity increases in the form of dreams, eyes move, and the body becomes immobile and relaxed as the muscles are entirely turned off.
Hormones like cortisol tend to dip around bedtime and increase through the night to stimulate wakefulness in the morning. Sleep is restorative to the immune system and can regulate appetite centers in relation to hormones ghrelin and leptin. We spend nearly a third of our lives sleeping, but it is not unproductive.
Returning to the library again, would our little siesta be restorative? In the short-term, I would say yes. We were getting rapidly into stage three to stage four of sleeping. Although we didn’t spend much time sleeping, we were able to feel rested enough to finish our studying. However, during basketball season, I was sure to commit to the truly restorative sleeping that required uninterrupted sleep for hours in order for REM to occur.
As you can see, it is critical to the whole body to turn your consciousness off in order for the reparative process to take place, not to mention that during those REM cycles, I was likely solving some of those engineering problems. Has it ever occurred to you that you struggle with a work or life problem, and after a good night’s sleep, you wake up and somehow have a solution in mind? That is the power of good sleep.
Remove. Replace. Restore.
Remove lack of sleep.
Replace with restorative sleep.
Restore the hormonal regulation of sleep. Restore health and even the ability to solve problems.
Eat well. Move well. Sleep well. Soar on.
More details about sleep available in Soar Into Health.
Photo Credit: Flickr commons, Mikael Tigerstrom, license
Holistic Health Coach