Let's take a look at what determines how much sleep you need and how to optimise its quality. Let's also explore the importance of napping and the role of dreams.
How would your life improve when you optimise your sleeping habits? How would you feel when you start taking regular mid-day naps to restore your vitality? How would you view dreams when you know their function?
Sleep quality and quantity
The need for sleep varies with every individual and every circumstance. Some just cannot function on anything less than 9-10 hours a night. Others seems to be sharp and energetic day in, day out on 5-6 hours a night. A toxic person beginning a fast may need 14-16 hours for a couple of days. The same person towards the conclusion of the fast may be oozing with energy on 3-5 hours a night. People sleep more in winter than in summer. Mental workers tend to sleep more than physical workers. There are numerous dimensions of variability. Understanding the complexities of nerve energy expenditure and regeneration would allow us to optimise the conditions promoting restorative sleep.
The most efficient sleep, called deep sleep, delta-wave sleep, stage 4 sleep, produces twice the amount of recuperation compared to lighter stages. Minor differences in health would produce comparatively larger differences in sleep needs. Why? Because a healthy person both expends less nerve energy and is more efficient at restoring it at night. The unhealthy, toxic body is double cursed because although it needs as much sleep as it can get, it fails to reach the deepest stages because it is burdened with other processes.
Comfortable bedding, pure air, quiet surrounding, and total or near-total darkness promote deeper and more restorative sleep. Stimulants such as caffeine, as well as unnatural supplements, cooked foods, heavy foods, too much water close to bedtime, interfere with deep sleep. In summary, everything that occasions nerve energy expenditure or disturbs the senses decreases efficiency and necessitates more sleep time.
Regular exercise promotes sounder and more restorative sleep. On the one hand, it generates sufficient physical fatigue to occasion the need for bodily inactivity. On the other hand, it clarifies the mind and systemically improves all functions so that sleep is more effective.
Diet is another major determinant of sleep quality. A lighter easily digestible meal, consumed no less than 2, but ideally at least 3-4 hours before bedtime is essential. People struggling with light or disturbed sleep may omit the evening meal altogether (assuming they are not emaciated and starved).
Relaxation and winding down in the evening are the best prelude to sleep. Gradually reducing lighting and stimulation, especially the one coming from the screens of TVs, computers, smartphones and other personal devices, is critical. Most people would do well to discontinue the use of any blue-light emitting devices at least an hour before going to sleep. So, winding yourself down with an episode of your favourite series, or a quick check of Facebook is not a good idea. I am not even touching on the mental stimulation arising from these activities. Instead, reading a book, listening to quiet relaxing music, or ideally devoting yourself to prayer or meditation are the most wholesome things to do before bedtime. If sleep does not come quickly and naturally once you are in bed, you can practice a body scan where you can progressively direct your attention and relax all major body parts.
The bedding quality is another major factor determining how much and how well you sleep. From a body comfort perspective, a softer mattress is better, unless you are used to sleeping on your back on a hard surface, which also works well for some. Lack of air, hot or cold areas, pressure points tend to disturb sleep. Cotton is perhaps the best fabric meeting these requirements. For people who are very sensitive to changes in temperature, it may be advisable to use multiple layers of covering so that they can be easily ‘peeled off’ if heat is experienced during the night. A cotton pyjama may be required, while others fare best naked but with a thicker covering. In summary, adequate temperature, even weight-distribution, and air circulation are the distinguishing marks of high-quality bedding.
As obvious as it may sound, many people ignore the importance of sleepiness for having a good nightly rest. Just like a well-developed sense of hunger ensures the following meal is tasty, a well-developed drowsiness makes it more likely that we will easily fall and stay asleep. Trying to sleep when you are not sleepy invites frustration as your attempt to second-guess nature will inevitably be unsuccessful.
Some people may be unable to get enough sleep or sufficient quality of sleep. But even those who do can still benefit from napping during the day. A nap lasting from several minutes to an hour (ideally not more) rests the body and allows the brain to recover its nerve energy. The so-called ‘siesta’, a one- or two-hour nap in the afternoon, is a wholesome health-promoting practice common in many countries. Especially in parts of the world where it gets very hot after midday, napping tends to be a normal and well-being practice contributing to overall health. The increased efficiency for the rest of the day following a nap, more than offsets the time invested in having it.
The life-enhancing practice originated in prehistoric antiquity. The first meal of the day among the ancient Greeks was usually taken around noon time and consisted of fruit. It was usually followed by a period of relaxation or sleep-promoting nutrient utilisation and renewing body and mind. Animals in nature also tend to observe ‘siesta’ during the heat of the day.
Although the economic and business demands of modern times have almost destroyed the healthful custom of the afternoon rest period, it is still practised by many. Most students in international universities would recall seeing their Asian classmates taking a nap on the desks in the library. Most people who’ve visited Mediterranean countries during the summer know that life practically stops for approximately two hours after lunch, only to return with new vibrancy in the late afternoon, early evening.
Caveat: Keep your naps to less than an hour to avoid going into the REM sleep cycle. This may leave your more tired after a nap and interfere with your night sleep. For recovering from fatigue 15-20 minutes may be optimal and as little as 5 minutes can make a noticeable difference.
Dreams mostly occur during a sleep stage where there are rapid eye movements (REM sleep). This stage can last from a few brief moments to 60 minutes and always follows a period of deeper sleep. Under optimised sleeping conditions it appears that the necessity for REM sleep can be eliminated with a concurrent reduction in sleeping time and no observable detrimental effects. The reality for most people, however, is that they do dream, so it is worth investigating what purpose is served by the movies played on the screen of our awareness at night.
The 90-minute sleeping cycles occurring under ordinary sleeping conditions can be fused or completely disappear with changes of circumstances. Optimal sleeping conditions or extreme tiredness often result in deep, dreamless sleep. This calls into question the necessity of dreams where the objectives of sleep are adequately met.
From this perspective, one meaningful way of seeing dreams is as guardians of sleep. They play a mental story that satiates internal impulses that would otherwise cause wakefulness. Dreams of eating, drinking, sexual fulfilment, and satisfying other body urges are commonplace examples that can be used to substantiate this view.
Dreams also often becalm or tranquilize the mind. ‘Solutions’ to problems that are occupying our waking minds would often manifest in dreams. Regardless of the practicality of the imagined solution, we stayed asleep and the cognitive urge to problem solve did not wake us up.
A plausible explanation can be that dreaming quiets aroused areas of the brain through vicarious fulfilment.
May you be inspired to optimise your sleeping conditions, indulge in as many naps as you can, and be at peace with your dreams.
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Martin Stefanov Petkov
Master your Super Power