We spend one third of our lives asleep! Sleep is such a major part of our lives and how we spend our time. Most of us are aware of how important sleep is and can immediately feel when we have not had enough: we may be more irritable, lacking concentration, have difficulty remembering details etc. Adequate sleep not only is critical for one’s overall health and wellness, but it can also boost creativity!
Understanding How Sleep Happens
Sleeping is part of our daily routine that we are so used to doing that we do not even question how it happens and the role it plays in keeping our bodies healthy. Sleep involves:
- Non-REM Sleep: includes the beginning phases of falling asleep. There are three stages of non-REM sleep that bring us deeper and deeper into sleep. It begins with our eyes closed but still somewhat awake, moves to being in a light sleep where the body is preparing to be in a deep sleep (by reducing heart rate and body temperature), and then moving into deep sleep.
- REM Sleep: REM phases of sleep get longer as we are sleeping with the first phase beginning 90 minutes after we are asleep. The first period of REM sleep is usually about 10 minutes, and the last may be an hour. During REM sleep, there are more physiological indicators of wakefulness: increased respiration, brain activity, rapid eye movement etc. People can experience intense dreams during REM sleep because there is brain activity and body immobility simultaneously.
Cycling through non-REM and REM sleep revitalizes tissue, builds muscles and bones, strengthens the immune system, and restores energy.
Sleep & Creativity
People often express that they are more productive, make decisions more effectively, are the clearest, and more creative in the morning. Research suggests that this is because we have recently woken up from REM sleep. People experience the longest duration of REM sleep right before waking up. During this time, the brain is highly active but the body is not and people can experience vivid dreams.
Additionally, the release of acetylcholine, a chemical that enters the brain, causes the hippocampus and neocortex to enter a flexible state. This flexibility extends to neurons which can form more easily; allowing the neocortex – responsible for high cognitive functions- to unconsciously search and establish connections between seemingly unrelated things.
This type of random association can cause people to wake up and solve a problem they’ve been working on, come up with new ideas, finish a project etc. It can open up creativity and is the brain quite literally, thinking outside of the box. In doing so, people can see things differently and make connections they previously could not.
How to Improve Sleep
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. This provides the body quality time to rest, recover, and be prepared for the next day. Millions of people are not meeting this recommendation and struggle with various challenges with sleep. According to the American Sleep Association:
- 50 to 70 million adults have a sleep disorder
- 35% adults sleep less than 7 hours
These significant statistics reveal that issues with sleeping is a pervasive phenomenon that millions of people are navigating. There are useful ways that people can create the conditions for better sleep including the following:
- Create and commit to a sleep schedule
- Exercise regularly
- Develop and practice a bedtime ritual that is calming (taking a bath or warm shower for example)
- Avoid using electronics and looking at screens right before you sleep
- Make sure your bedroom is as comfortable for you as can be: lighting, temperature, sound, bed, pillows etc.
- Avoid consuming caffeine late in the day
- Reduce daytime naps and naps that are long
- Avoid late night eating and drinking (try not to drink water 1-2 hours before sleeping)
Sleep is such an integral component of our lives. It happens so often and naturally that we don’t question why or how we sleep. Taking the time to think and read about sleep highlights the importance, benefits, and strategies of good sleep. Quality sleep can enhance your wellness, increase energy, and cultivate creativity.