Last updated on April 12th, 2018
Wonder why you wake up tired, even if you’ve managed to get a full 8 hours sleep? If so, consider these two issues that might be sabotaging your sleep without your awareness.
The average person is a short thinker when it comes to sleep.
And with good reason…
Sleep is not sexy. We don’t fully understand it, and what we don’t understand we tend to scorn and shelve on the bottom rack of our priorities.
The basics and why they’re not enough
Even when we deal with our sleep habits it’s superficial. We read an article about how important it is to get those 8 hours and decide that we’ll go to bed earlier.
Our partner tells us that we’re snoring and we decide to lose some weight and talk to Scott from work about that sleep clinic he visited.
But sleep is not simple as dieting or losing weight. It’s much more intricate.
We’re going to address two of those intricacies here.
If you are getting your 7 or 8 hours, you don’t suffer from sleep apnea but still find yourself tired just a few hours after you get up, you’ll want to continue reading.
The eight-hour myth
- The eight-hour myth
- The two issues
- 1. Sleeping in full cycles
- 2. Imbalanced sleep phases
- Three tips to correct the problem
Think about it like this – if you were to go to bed tonight at 10 PM and get up at 7 AM, but have somebody waking you up just for a moment every hour, would that count as a good night’s sleep?
A good night’s sleep is about getting enough sleep hours in well-balanced sleep phases.
The two issues
There are two issues to be discussed here – not sleeping in full cycles and not getting enough deep sleep.
1. Sleeping in full cycles
The fact that we’re supposed to get full sleep cycles for optimal rest is becoming somewhat of a commonplace for most health-conscious people, so we’ll just reiterate the basic facts and move on to what’s our main point of interest today – DELTA or DEEP SLEEP.
How long is one sleep cycle?
Length of a full sleep cycle is 90-110 minutes. The fact that it varies from person to person makes complicates the planning of full-cycle sleep.
What can we do to make sure we’re getting full cycles?
Plan your sleep schedule to complete 4 to 5 sleep cycles.
Here’s how to plan right:
- Get a sleep tracker to determine YOUR sleep cycle length
- Do the math
Let’s assume that you’ve determined that your sleep cycle is approximately 90 minutes. If you are going to bed at midnight and you have your alarm clock set to wake you up at 7 AM, you’ll wake up in the middle of your 5th cycle.
Instead, if you are getting up at 7, make a habit of going to bed at 11 PM. This will allow you to naturally wake up as your 5th cycle ends at around 6:30.
>> You might like: Sleep Tracking – The Ultimate Guide
2. Imbalanced sleep phases
We won’t get into wavelengths and other scientific chatter because we don’t need it.
We’ll be concise and clear.
Two basic phases of sleep are quiet (non-REM) and REM (Rapid Eye Movement).
But, before you even get to stage one, your brain needs to get into a state of “relaxed wakefulness”. As outside stimuli subside, your brain is getting ready for sleep.
Your eyes are closed and are slowly moving from side to side, but it’s still easy to wake you up.
Your muscles are relaxed, and your body temperature slightly drops.
This stage lasts 5-10 minutes.
Stage 2 – light sleep
Your heart rate slows down, and body temperature drops even more. Your body is still and preparing for deep sleep.
This stage lasts for about 15-20 minutes, and we spend about half of the night in “light sleep”. You can still be jolted awake by low-level stimuli (like somebody closing the door).
Stage 3 – the critical DEEP SLEEP
Your brain slows down, and there’s minimal brain activity. You breathe slowly and your heart rate and blood pressure decrease even more.
You are now in DEEP SLEEP when all the body reparation magic happens.
While the brain is idle, your body is buckling down to regrow tissue, shed dead cells, build bone and muscle and replenish the immune system.
The one issue that we promised to unveil in the title is not getting enough deep sleep, more on that in a minute.
The brain is active, and your body is still.
This is when we dream.
Just as your body needs to replenish and get rid of unwanted cells, during REM-phase your brain is riding of the clutter of information we’re exposed to during the day. It refreshes the neural pathways.
We spend about 20% of the night in REM-sleep.
The problem – not getting enough deep sleep
So, you get your 8 hours, but wake up tired.
Most of us will account this to being “chronically overworked”.
Don’t judge just yet, we’re not saying you’re not working hard. We’re saying that even with long hours, no vacation and given that you’re not depressed, a good night’s sleep will mean waking up energized and replenished.
The underlying issue might be in a disturbance in sleep phases.
To be more precise – you might be spending more time in light sleep, time that “bites” into deep sleep periods.
The sleep monitor that we mentioned should give you some idea about what’s going on.
If it turns out that you’re not getting enough deep sleep
If a monitor gives you reason enough to visit a sleep clinic and it turns out that you DO have the problem of unbalanced sleep phases, resolving it is not simple.
Don’t go Googling “before bed-time drink” and think some turmeric, milk and honey will fix it.
You’ll have to rethink and redesign your nightly (and some of your daily) habits.
Most of it is common sense and you probably know about it, but here, we get specific and stress how much of an impact certain habits have on sleep.
Three tips to correct the problem
1)Enforce a caffeine curfew
Yes, yes, you heard it before, but few of us know more about the issue than the old “don’t drink coffee late” bro-science rule.
Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine published a study on the exact effects of caffeine on sleep patterns.
The study observed two groups of people, one given caffeine 3 hours and the other 6 hours before bedtime.
BOTH showed significant irregularities in sleep patterns.
The study measured the effects not just by tracking the sleep patterns but also subjectively, by asking the participants to keep a journal.
This is the interesting part…
While the machines tracking their sleep found that those who consumed caffeine 6 hours before bedtime lost about 1 hour of sleep, the participants did not notice any difference in the sleep quality.
The sleep monitor showed that they weren’t dipping into normal ranges of deep sleep and they reported to have slept just fine.
Correcting your caffeine habit
Caffeine has a half life of 5 to 8 hours.
This means that having a double shot espresso 5-8 hours before sleep will have similar effects on your sleep as getting a single shot right before going to bed.
Don’t go to caffeine for energy, drink less of it and if you can’t kick the habit, have your guilty pleasure in the mornings.
2)Fix your digestion
After finding out that they gut has the same number of neurotransmitters as the brain, they rightfully nicknamed it “the second brain”.
What is the connection with sleep?
One of the major players in the game of getting a good night’s sleep is melatonin – it regulates sleep and wakefulness cycles.
The building block of melatonin is serotonin, and 95% of our serotonin is in our gut. It’s produced there by the intestines.
So, healthy intestines and good digestion make for healthy levels of serotonin.
This is the real shocker from recent research…
Melatonin is known as a hormone secreted by the pineal gland, yet, recent research shows that our intestines hold 400 times more melatonin than the pineal gland.
Furthermore, if the pineal gland is surgically removed, the levels of Melatonin in the gut don’t change, which means that the cells in our digestive tract are immensely efficient at producing the hormone themselves.
Correcting your digestion
Making sure that your digestion is optimized for good sleep comes down to:
- Minimizing foods and chemicals that “confuse” your digestive system, such as:
- Processed foods
- Chlorinated water
- Additives and preservatives
- Chemicals used in agriculture
- Eat more pro-sleep nutrients
- Tryptophan (found in chicken, eggs, turkey, chia/hemp/pumpkin seeds, almonds, bananas and leafy greens)
- Magnesium (nuts, seeds, leafy greens, fish, beans, dark chocolate, bananas, avocados, whole grains)
- Selenium (beef, chicken, sunflower seeds, oysters)
- Vitamin C (citrus fruits, kiwi, leafy greens, strawberries, bell peppers)
- Potassium (bananas, leafy greens, broccoli, avocado, potatoes)
- Calcium (sesame seeds, sardines, collard and mustard greens, kale)
- Vitamin D (apart from sunlight, you can get this precious vitamin in food form by eating salmon, mackerel, tuna, shiitake mushrooms and oysters)
- Omega 3s (chia, pumpkin, hemp and flax seeds, salmon, halibut, walnuts and cold-processed oils like krill, olive or flax)
- Vitamin B6 (bananas, peanuts, almonds, spinach, eggs, avocado)
- Prebiotics and probiotics (pickles, yogurt, kefir, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha)
The list might seem overwhelming, but you’ll notice that most of the foods overlap, which means that a well-rounded diet will tick all the fields without too much planning.
3)Create a serene sleep oasis
We are creatures of habit and perception.
Your eyes are closed and the bedroom is dark and yet, the “feel” of the room makes all the difference.
A well-designed bedroom is not about upscale furnishing, it’s about creating a feeling that you’re stepping into a different dimension when you walk over that doorstep.
You‘re creating an interlude from the rush of everyday life.
The FOUR paramount rules of designing a bedroom that will ooze tranquility
1)The decluttering rule
Why do you feel so relaxed in a nice hotel room?
Is it because the sheets are better than those you have at home? Is it the mattress?
It’s the simplicity and absence of clutter that makes hotel rooms calming.
So, if there’s one room in the house where less is more, it’s the bedroom.
2)The rule of focus
BED-room. It’s the room where the bed is.
The bed must be a focal point of your bedroom. It should be the first thing you see when you enter the room. It is what sets the mood of the rest of the room.
A good way to achieve this effect is a featured wall behind the bed. A featured wall can mean painting it darker than the rest of the room, thus creating a perception of depth and the feeling of that part of the room being special.
It can also be as simple as hanging a calming piece of art above the bed.
3)The colors rule
Nothing makes more impact on how a room feels than the color of the walls.
We know you’d expect us to go on and on here about earthly tones, blacks, whites and grays.
You’d be mistaken.
Blue is the warmest color
A survey conducted across top hotel chains in the UK found that guests got the most sleep (7 hours and 52 minutes on average) were the ones in the rooms painted in pastel hues of blue like aqua or eggshell blue.
A survey found aqua blue is the most sleep-promoting bedroom colorThe same research pinpointed the “worst” color schemes for a bedroom: purple, brown and gray.
These are the precise results:
- Purple – 5 hours and 56 minutes on average
- Brown – 6 hours and 5 minutes
- Gray – 6 hours and 12 minutes per night
Here are the complete research results:
4)The bedding décor rule
The easiest and least expensive way to change the feel of your bedroom is well-chosen bedding.
The sheets don’t have to be high-thread Egyptian cotton. If you’re on a tight budget even micro flannel or microfiber sheets can “work” with the room to create your peaceful womb.
Two rules of thumb
- Color-block the sheets and the throw versus the pillows and the headboard.
In other words, chose a color for your pillowcases that’s similar to your headboard and a kindred color for the rest of the bedding.
- Solid bedding colors beat patterns every time when it comes to creating a feeling of peace.
We spend a third of our lives sleeping and the rest of it is profoundly affected of how well we sleep.
Sleep is a skill to be learned.
Study it, act on your findings and you’ll be amply rewarded.
About the author
James Menta is editor in chief of 3Beds.com, a website where his team a few handpicked testers review air mattresses and other sleep products. His wellness and sleep-related articles have been published in a number of reputable online publications such as the ElephantJournal, WorldOfLucidDreaming, HikingTheTrail, PlanetD and many others.