A good night’s sleep is incredibly hard to come by in this fast-paced world. Millions of people suffer from sleep disorders and have trouble getting to sleep at night. How well and how much we sleep can be affected by our stress levels, our family life, our work environments, and by the technology-heavy world that we live in, which keeps us hooked up to the rest of the world via social media at all times. Due to these and many more circumstances, it is difficult for a lot of people to fall asleep or to remain asleep all night; some people are incapable of sleeping unaided at all, and suffer from extreme cases of insomnia.
There are a lot of sleep therapy options available to people struggling to get enough rest, and some of these therapy suggestions include changing your sleep cycle from a traditional seven to eight hour sleeping period. If you suffer from sleep woes, changing the way you sleep and manipulating your sleep cycle can lead to more productivity, better health, and a fuller and happier lifestyle.
What Happens When We Sleep?
Human sleep is defined as a naturally recurring state, in which our level of consciousness is decreased. In this state, we experience decreased sensory activity, meaning outside stimulation does not affect us as strongly as when we are awake (this depends on how lightly or heavily each individual sleeps). We also lose much of our control over the movement of our muscles while we sleep; we only regain full use when we return to full consciousness. When we’re sleeping, our bodies are operating in an anabolic state, meaning a state of molecular regrowth and repair. Out nervous systems, our immune systems, our muscles, and other aspects of our bodies take a breather and rebuild and repair themselves while our consciousness relaxes into disambiguation, or the state of being asleep.
It is not completely clear to scientists why humans require the amount of sleep that we do, which amounts to about one third of our lives. There are several theories as to why we need to spend this amount of time in a different state of consciousness. These theories include the inactivity theory, the brain plasticity theory, the restorative theory, and the energy conservation theory. The inactivity theory supposes that sleeping at night is a habit that organisms, including humans, developed early on in anthropological history to avoid vulnerability at night. Staying quiet and still at night would improve chances of surviving until the following morning. The brain plasticity theory suggests that we need sleep because sleep actually changes the way our brains are organized and structured. Correlations between brain plasticity and sleep are observed very strongly in studies done on infant sleeping patterns, but the correlations are present in adult brains as well. The restorative theory holds that we need sleep to restore certain functions of our bodies that are under exertion while we’re awake. This theory has been tested by studying the effects of sleep deprivation on our immune systems, cognitive abilities, and many other aspects of our functioning. And the energy conservation theory suggests that sleep is an inherent part of our human functioning because sleep saves energy, and the more energy we exert, the more food and sustenance we require to survive. Like the inactivity theory, the energy conservation theory harkens back to our evolutionary history, offering possible explanations as to why we developed our peculiar human habits.
The true answer to why we need to sleep is probably made up of a combination of these and many more sleep theories. As of yet, however, the scientific meaning behind sleep is not completely clear. What is clear, however, is the hugely negative impact that lack of sleep can have on us. Sleep helps to balance hormones, steady appetite, increase concentration, repair sore or overexerted muscles, and much more. If you sleep less than the healthy and required amount, you’ll be operating at a disadvantage when it comes to all of these aspects of your day. The younger you are, the more sleep you need. While infants sleep about thirteen hours a day, teenagers require between eight and ten hours of sleep, and adults require at least seven hours, with an ideal goal of eight hours. Significant lack of sleep, especially over an extended period of time, can lead to memory loss, weight gain, trouble concentrating, higher stress levels, depression, increased risk of inflammatory diseases, and decreased performance when attempting to accomplish both physical and mental tasks.
The Traditional Sleep Cycle
You may already be aware that humans fall asleep and stay asleep according to very distinct sleep stages. Alarm clocks and phone applications are even available now that will use the time you fell asleep and the motion of your sleeping form to wake you up at an ideal moment towards the end of a sleep cycle.
Sleep stages are classified as REM or NREM, meaning rapid eye movement and non-rapid eye movement. The first stage of sleep is NREM, in which your body oscillates between being asleep and being awake. In this stage, your eyes roll slowly behind your eyelids, and can also open and close occasionally. The second stage is NREM as well; in this stage it becomes more difficult to wake you up, and sleep spindles, or minor bursts of activity, occur in your brain. The third stage of NREM is sometimes referred to as slow-wave sleep, due to slow-wave brain activity occurring in this stage. In slow-wave sleep, you no longer respond to your environment; only very strong sources of stimulus around you will produce a reaction from you. After this third stage, you enter REM sleep. In REM sleep, most of your muscles are paralyzed, and it is the most difficult to wake you up. Your brain is consuming more oxygen than it is at any other sleep stage. This is the stage during which you’ll have the most vivid dreams. It takes about an hour and a half after initially falling asleep for your body to fall into the REM sleep stage, and throughout the night, you’ll repeatedly oscillate between NREM and REM stages. On a typical night, you’ll probably get through five or six REM stages. As you can imagine, waking up in the middle of an REM stage is much more difficult than waking up during any of the NREM stages, because you are experiencing the deepest sleep during the REM stage.
The Everyman Sleep Cycle
The everyman sleep cycle is a particular cycle developed from the practice of poly-phasic sleep. Poly-phasic sleep is a practice by which you sleep for a specific amount of time, several times throughout the twenty-four hour period. The traditional way that most of us sleep, for up to eight hours in a row, is referred to as monophasic. Poly-phasic sleep, however, is the way we sleep at the beginning of our lives; infants take short naps throughout the entire day, and only sleep through the night after reaching a certain age. It is believed by some that sleeping many times throughout the day will eventually decrease the amount of sleep that you need in total. Even if it only amounts to sleeping three fewer hours for each twenty-four hour period, all that time will eventually add up to be pretty substantial. It is also believed that this practice will develop your ability to fall asleep and reach the REM stage far more quickly than monophasic sleepers can, improving the overall quality of your sleep and diminishing the practice of tossing and turning that so many of us are familiar with.
If you’re a fan of napping, adopting a poly-phasic sleeping pattern may sound like an amazing deal at first glance. However, keep in mind that you never get to sleep for longer than a few hours at a time. According to those who have made the switch, the first week or two can be pretty horrible, since all you want to do is sleep for an extended period of time. The Everyman sleep schedule is particularly grueling; it allows you only up to 5.2 hours of total sleeping time, and as little as 2.8 hours. The most generous Everyman cycle requires a large chunk of sleep (about four and a half hours) and two short power naps throughout the day. The most restrictive Everyman cycle allows for a 1.5-hour chunk of sleep, with up to five power naps throughout the day. It is recommended that if you’re interested in this cycle, you work your way up to it, by aiming to sleep for a shorter amount of time each night, and adding naps to your daily routine.
Though changing your sleep schedule in a drastic way takes a lot of determination and mental fortitude, some people are adapting poly-phasic sleep patterns and claiming that they enjoy better sleep quality and much more time in which to be productive. Being familiar with your sleep habits and how they affect you can help you to make a change in your sleeping pattern if you so desire.