Monday, November 26, 2012

Sleep 90 Minute Cycles, Wake Up Refreshed

If you're like me, you have a long-standing hate with your alarm clock. Timex and I are not on speaking terms. Why is it that even when I manage to snag 8 hours of sleep (a rare feat) that I still wake up feeling exhausted?

This cat shares my pain.
Well, studies indicate that the traditional 8-hour ideal of sleep isn't perfect for everyone. In fact, it's perfect for almost no one!

Average Sleep Needs
Age Hours
Newborns (0-2 months) 12 - 18
Infants (3 months to 1 year) 14 - 15
Toddlers (1 to 3 years) 12 - 14
Preschoolers (3 to 5 years) 11 - 13
School-aged children (5 to 12 years) 10 - 11
Teens and preteens (12 to 18 years) 8.5 - 10
Adults (18+) 7.5 - 9

The Sleep Cycle

As you sleep, your body transitions through several different stages. During these stages, different parts of your brain and body are activated to promote healing and relaxation. You also solidify memories in your sleep. If everything goes the way it is supposed to, you wake up feeling relaxed and ready to start the day.

This yawning hedgehog is ready for the daily grind.
Completing a cycle takes 90 minutes on average. If you were to wake up before a cycle has time to complete, your brain would not be ready to perform as it should. Furthermore, key bodily components like blood pressure and base temperature also shift during the cycle, so you would wake up feeling physically unfit as well.

One stage of sleep, the REM stage, is popularly understood as the stage when dreams occur. The only time you are likely to remember your dreams is if you wake up during this stage. Otherwise, the conscious mind has no time to analyze and commit the dream to memory. If you're someone who feels they never dream, the truth of the matter is that you're dreaming, on average, 4-6 dreams per night. You just don't remember them!

How to Avoid Breaking the Cycle

So now that you know about the 90 minute sleep cycle, how can you use this to help yourself sleep better? Well, for starters, you can try to allocate yourself enough time to sleep in increments of 90 minutes. Rather than aim for 8 hours, aim for 7 and a half hours of sleep. Use that extra 30 minutes of wakefulness to gradually relax before bed, like I mentioned in last week's post.

If you have an iPhone, consider this wonderful app that will monitor your movements while sleeping. Not only will it coach you to more restful sleep based on your habits, but it will monitor your progress through the sleep stages and wake you when you have completed a cycle.

You've been replaced, chump.
Or, if you're like me and don't have an iPhone, consider this article from LifeHacker that offers advice for getting the sleep you so rightfully deserve!

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