The types of sleep cycles and their impact
Health and fitness aren’t just about doing burpees and eating chicken. To feel good most of the time, inside and out, you need to focus on several different aspects of wellbeing – things that might not seem so obvious. Of course, a balanced diet is key to feeling good, as is regular exercise and drinking lots and lots of water. But another vital part of personal wellbeing is stress management – and a key way to reduce stress is to make sure you’re getting a proper night’s sleep in a way that suits your body.
There are two kinds of problems in this world: problems you can do something about and problems you can’t do anything about. There’s not a huge amount you can do about having tons of deadlines in the same week – but you can make sure you look after yourself and get a fantastic night’s sleep so that you can handle your manic workload.
How sleep quality affects your health and wellbeing
A full night’s sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of hormones that control your appetite, which is why we’re more likely to overeat the day after a bad night’s sleep.
Although exercising when tired is still beneficial, your body burns fuel less efficiently which means it’s more difficult to tone up and build muscle.
Good quality sleep also directly impacts our mood, our mental health and our ability to handle stress. So healthy sleep habits must be considered and incorporated into your daily routine for a holistic, healthy way of life.
Tips for a better night’s sleep
Here are some tips and tricks to guarantee you a better night’s sleep:
- Put down all electrical devices 90 minutes before going to sleep
- Sleep on the same mattress every night (if possible)
- Sleep in a foetal position on clean sheets
- Use black out curtains
- Sleep in a controlled temperature that stays the same throughout the night
- Don’t drink caffeine after 3pm
- Go to sleep at around the same time every night
- Don’t drink alcohol (you might pass out after a night of drinking but the sleep will be poor quality)
- Incorporate 15 minutes of meditation into your daily routine
The thing is, everybody is different, and when it comes to sleep it’s not always one-size-fits-all. Some people need a lot more sleep than others. So we’ve explored the different sleep categories, the health benefits of each, and what you can do to make sure you get a good, quality sleep every night…
The Monophasic sleep cycle
7 – 9 hours at night time
This is the most unanimously accepted sleep pattern around the world and the easiest to incorporate into everyday life. Most human beings function fantastically well with 7 – 9 hour’s sleep per night, and don’t need any more than that.
This is also the most convenient sleep cycle and works well for people with regular 9 – 5 jobs and those who don’t have time to nap during the day, such as new mothers or shift-workers. However, Monophasic sleep is just one cycle amongst many, and it’s not for everyone!
The Biphasic sleep cycle
5 – 6 hours at night and one nap at midday
Some might find this sleep cycle suits them better than a full block of sleep. Ever heard of a Siesta? People in the Mediterranean and Latin America love this sleep cycle. It also works well for night owls ie. people who struggle to get to sleep before 1am. And there are many health benefits to this sleep cycle too. Napping during the day improves memory and cognitive functions, can improve your cardiovascular health and reduces stress.
However, it’s important to ensure you don’t have any problems getting to sleep at night as a result of napping. Some people who suffer from insomnia might find that a nap during the day is detrimental to their sleep at night.
3.5 hours core sleep, 3 x 20-minute naps during the day
This is where sleep cycles start to get unsocial. Nick Littlehales is a sleep coach who helps some of the world’s biggest athletes including Cristiano Ronaldo, Team SKY and various NBA and NFL teams improve their quality of sleep. Littlehales recommends his athletes sleep in 90-minute cycles as it’s the best way to maximise their performance.
4 x 30-minute naps throughout the day
This cycle is best suited to people with the DEC2 gene AKA “short sleepers.” The DEC2 gene is not common, but the people who have it find that they are able to function just as well on 30 minutes sleep as on 2 – 4 hour’s sleep.
Professors at the University of California San Francisco discovered that a mutation in the gene DEC2 allowed people to thrive and be productive with a few short naps over the course of a day. These people have the gift of time – imagine how much you can get done just needing to sleep 2 hours per day? It’s every over-achievers dream! But unfortunately the DEC2 mutation is very rare and, as it’s something you’re born with, you can’t order it over the counter.
6 – 8 x 20-minute naps throughout the day
This is the perfect sleep pattern for musicians or DJs who are touring the world and travelling in between time-zones. Once you’re fully adapted to this sleep pattern, you can fall asleep anywhere – but being able to adapt and function fully is pretty rare and slight anti-social.
If you want to experience the health benefits of a fantastic night’s sleep, then make sure you take advantage of our cooperation with Headspace – as a USC member you’re entitled to three month’s free membership. Find out more here.