What is that terrible sound? Oh.. right, it's my alarm. It can't be time to get up, can it? It feels like I just fell asleep. Oh why not, another 7 minutes (hits snooze).
Typical morning conversation for you as well? If it is, and if you are hitting the snooze like I used to, please just STOP. This is completely throwing off your productivity and cognitive ability in the morning. More on that later.
Sleep, and rest in general are things we don't necessarily have to think about while doing, so we typically don't think about how to best optimize them beforehand.
They are not as passive as we may think; in fact, a lot of times we end up sabotaging our ability to properly recover because we don't think about either enough.
As a potentially widespread, undervalued asset to health and performance, taking and applying the science of sleep to our daily lives could be more life altering than many of us realize.
The Biology of Sleep
By the time we die, we'll have spent an astounding third of our lives asleep, despite our culture's promotion of a less is more attitude when it comes to sleep.¹
I myself often burn the candle at both ends, and have been guilty of buying into Margret Thatcher's comment of "Sleep is for wimps."
But, the reality is, it's actually not for wimps. It's for people who want to be elite and is an unavoidably critical aspect of human physiology.
Lack of sleep means functioning in a constant state of fatigue, causing:
Sleep to Remember
There is a natural phenomenon called the forgetting curve, where our brains forget 40% of the information just learned within the first 20 minutes of learning it. Discouraged? Don't be.
What scientists have discovered, is that while short-term memory is pretty pathetic in terms of retention, long-term memory is far more durable.
We can remember more information through a process called memory consolidation, in which information from our short-term memory is moved to our long-term memory.
This is enhanced when our bodies enter Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) "deep" sleep cycles, both of which are entered into 4-5 times per night after two stages of "light" sleep.³
The Cruel Cycle of Stress and Sleep
Stress can both keep us from getting sleep and increase if we aren't getting sleep. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 43% of adults report that stress frequently keeps them awake at night, and 21% report that if they do not sleep enough, they feel more stressed.
Very unfortunate to be the one who experiences both. Which, if that's the case, it's time to work on some stress management techniques to help with daily functioning and overall quality of life!
In fact, on average, American adults sleep 6.7 hours a night and only 20% report that their sleep is good or excellent.⁴
I used to think of sleep as a kind of linear thing, with a dosing stage, dreaming stage, and eventually ending in REM. Of course now that sounds silly when we focus on the meaning of a sleep cycle, which naturally implies something that repeats itself.
The typical adult will drift through 90-120 minute cycles, comprised of four different repeating stages.
Sleep Inertia: STOP Hitting Snooze!
When pulled from the midst of REM sleep, scientists have formally identified that temporary state of grogginess and mental fogginess, as sleep inertia.
Defined as a "transitional state of lowered arousal occurring immediately after awakening from sleep and producing temporary decrements in performance," sleep inertia can be blamed for your feelings of mental and physical dishevelment upon waking.⁶
This is due to higher levels of melatonin that is formed in our bodies during the REM stage. The longer we sleep, the higher those levels get.
Contrarily, when we wake up during non-REM sleep, blood pressure, heart rate, and brain activity are slowed down, which helps us feel awake and alert much quicker.
So back to that bit in the beginning about hitting the snooze and it's slap in the face to our productivity.
The two hours prior to waking, our body begins to go through a thaw out stage that gradually helps us wake up more easily; however, if we hit snooze, our body thinks we are returning to another 90-120 minute sleep cycle.
Physically we can wake up, but mentally the cortical region of our brain cannot. It will take our brains up to 4 hours to come out of sleep inertia when this happens.⁷
Therefore, the initial amount of energy that is required to push yourself out of bed will have a higher return on investment than the extra energy you think you're depositing by snoozing after the alarm rings.
Also, the small act of getting up when you intended to the night before, deposits a coin of discipline into your mental bank. When enough deposits accumulate in this bank, it translates into other areas of your life.
It will suck in the beginning, there's no doubt. But, if change and difficult choices were easy, everyone would do it, and we would all be fit, rich, and beautiful.
How Much Sleep Do I need?
The average adult needs 7-8 hours of sleep, and adolescents need around 10. Yet, like anything, there is individual variance within this generalization.
I know people who function great on 4 hours, others who must have 8 or they are major crank-pots, and some who are chronically functioning in sleep deprivation (6 or less) and supplementing liquid naps to make up for it.
Bottom line, find what works best for you. If possible, go a week without setting an alarm, which for many of us this may need to happen on a vacation, and see how much sleep your body wants based on when it naturally wakes up.⁸
Making time for a full nights rest is not only highly undervalued in our society, but also scoffed at. Yet, there is no out talking the science that has proven sleep is a critical part of human physiology that should be taken seriously.
Sleep is not for wimps, Margaret Thatcher, it is for the elite.
1, 8. Foster, Russell. Ted. Accessed December 13, 2018. https://www.ted.com/talks/russell_foster_why_do_we_sleep.
2. Aguirre, Claudia. Ted. Accessed December 13, 2018. https://www.ted.com/talks/claudia_aguirre_what_would_happen_if_you_didn_t_sleep?language=en.
3. Marcu, Shai. Ted, Ted, www.ted.com/talks/shai_marcu_the_benefits_of_a_good_night_s_sleep#t-267995.
4. American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/sleep.aspx.
5. "Stages of Sleep - Non-REM and REM Sleep Cycles." Tuck Sleep. Accessed December 13, 2018. https://www.tuck.com/stages/.
6. Tassi, P., and A. Muzet. "Sleep Inertia." Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports.
August 2000. Accessed December 12, 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12531174.
7. Robbins, Mel [VNV]. The 5 Second Rule: The Surprisingly Simple Way to Live, Love, and Speak with Courage. S.l.: Post Hill Press, 2017.