Sleeping is much more complicated than most people think. The dictionary defines sleep as a condition of the body and mind which typically recurs for several hours every night, in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes are closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended.
Initially, people thought that the body and brain “shut off” when we sleep but studies have shown that this statement is incorrect.
In fact, the body and the brain work extremely hard during sleep to facilitate learning and memory, rebuild cells and generally improve health among other beneficial processes. It takes the average adult about 10 to 20 minutes to fall asleep.
What factors affect sleep and how do you go about fixing them?
The circadian rhythm
The sleep/wake clock also known as the circadian rhythm is an internal clock located in your brain that determines your wake and sleep patterns by the release of the melatonin hormone. This is the hormone responsible for regulating sleep cycles.
The circadian rhythm can be influenced by environmental factors such as light and darkness and the genetic makeup of an individual. People suffering from chronic insomnia and other sleep disorders could be experiencing abnormalities in their circadian rhythm.
Sleep latency is the amount of time it takes someone to fall asleep after they get on their beds. Neither too much nor too little time is good. As mentioned earlier it takes the average person between 10 and 20 minutes to fall asleep. In those ten to twenty minutes, you should have drifted from full alertness to light stages of sleep.
Taking too long to sleep?
Many people wonder whether they are taking too long to fall asleep. Worrisome thoughts do nothing to help the situation and in fact work against you because your brain is not relaxed well enough to sleep.
If it takes you longer than 20 minutes, you are not alone. Many people struggle to fall asleep due to various reasons with some taking up to an hour. This is called sleep-onset insomnia which is an indication that something is wrong.
Unless you are sick and under medication that is inhibiting your sleep (in which case you need to talk to your doctor), make sure to find out what it is that is keeping you awake.
If it is depression, anxiety or other factors such as sleep apnea, heart disease, diabetes among others that are causing you comorbid insomnia, try relaxation techniques and exercises.
You could also have your doctor write you a prescription for anti-anxiety meds or sleeping pills. Avoid too much intake of fluids right before bedtime, limit your caffeine intake to morning hours, do not eat too close to bedtime and keep yourself busy during the day so that your body is tired and ready for sleep and rest by the time you get to bed. These are useful tips on how to wake up refreshed and ready to go.
If some of the habits mentioned above are not dealt with, they may cause you to experience difficulties finding sleep or getting back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night. This may cause acute insomnia or maintenance insomnia which is the inability to stay asleep or difficulty in returning to sleep after waking up. It can be very disruptive to your sleep which in turn affects your general health and productivity.
Sleeping too fast?
If you sleep right after laying down on your bed, it could be an indication that you are not getting enough sleep and your body is exhausted. You might want to cut down your to-do list so that you give your body the restorative sleep it requires to re-energize and deal with the effects of wear and tear of daily life.
Taking a bath before sleeping helps you feel relaxed and you are also able to maintain sleep throughout the night without interruptions. Ensure that even if you are able to sleep in the stipulated time, you do not need to wake up multiple times which will mean you end up not getting enough sleep.
Treat your sleep with the respect and importance it deserves by giving yourself enough of it. And like everything else, do not overdo it. Our bodies can do with about 6 hours but some adults need between 7 to 9 hours.
Something that most people found really helpful with maintaining a good sleeping habit was having a sleep schedule and sticking to it. And again, just like any other routine, consistency is key. Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up the same time every morning is instrumental in helping your circadian rhythm to adjust accordingly.