Sleep and Wellbeing
Not all workers work through the day. There is another set of workers, who are working just as hard through the night. They are the shift workers who sleep by day and work at night, spread across many and varied industries.
From air traffic controllers, pilots, IT professionals, health care workers, truck and transport drivers, hospitality, police, firefighters, bakers, farmers, engineers, road construction and maintenance. The list is endless. It’s well documented that the non-traditional work hours can and does have negative emotional, social and physical impact on their lives. Some thrive working night shift and prefer it while others find it challenging and tiresome.
Whether you’re a night owl or not, staying up all night influences your well-being.
When you don’t sleep for long periods, your sleep/wake patterns end up out of sync along with your biological clock (circadian rhythm).
This disrupted pattern has been associated with increased risk of developing cardiovascular, metabolic and gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes and mental health issues.
We live on a clock, whether we want to or not, a natural body clock. The rhythms of our days are at least partly biological. Physiological functions, as well as social and cultural events, occur in cycles. Even in our modern technological world, these cycles are important and measurable differences in abilities are everyday tasks (cognitive and physical) depend on the time of day and where the body is within its cycles.
It is important that we are aware of our rhythms and the rhythms of others.
The body’s physiological processes vary considerably in how sensitive they are to circadian rhythms. Some respond more to circadian clock changes and others more to the sleep-wake process. A variety of mechanisms in the body keep it all together and external cues from the environment entrain the body to the larger world. The most important external cue is daylight and temperature and our food intake which tells the body where it is on the timeline. Man-made, cultural cues are important, too. These include work and school times, television and radio programs, as well as the activity of friends and family. Sometimes man-made clocks clash with the body’s natural clock and this can result in circadian rhythm sleep disorders.
It is important to do your best and stick to one sleep schedule—every day. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time. Get enough sleep and make sure it is high-quality rest. When sleep has a regular rhythm, your biological clock will be in sync and all of your other bodily functions will go smoother, including your sleep.
The Stages of Sleep
Usually, sleepers pass through five stages: 1, 2, 3, 4 and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. These stages progress cyclically from 1 through REM then begin again with stage 1.
A complete sleep cycle takes an average of 90 to 110 minutes, with each stage lasting between 5 to 15 minutes. The first sleep cycles each night have relatively short REM sleeps and long periods of deep sleep but later in the night, REM periods lengthen and deep sleep time decreases.
There five stages of sleep.
Stages 1-4 are non-REM sleep, followed by REM sleep.
Stage 1 is light sleep where you drift in and out of sleep and can be awakened easily.
In this stage, the eyes move slowly and muscle activity slows. During this stage, many people experience sudden muscle contractions preceded by a sensation of falling.In stage 2, eye movement stops and brain waves become slower with only an occasional burst of rapid brain waves. The body begins to prepare for deep sleep, as the body temperature begins to drop and the heart rates also slows.
When we enter stage 3, we experience extremely slow brain waves known as delta waves. This is where we experience deep sleep. It is during this stage that a person may experience sleepwalking, night terrors, talking during one’s sleep, and bedwetting. These behaviours are known as parasomnias and tend to occur during the transitions between non-REM and REM sleep.
In stage 4, deep sleep continues as the brain produces more delta waves almost exclusively. People awakened from this state can feel disoriented for a few minutes.
During REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) the brain waves copy the same activity as the waking state. The eyes remain closed but move rapidly from side-to-side, related to the intense dream and brain activity that occurs during this stage.
During the sleep cycle, one doesn’t go straight from deep sleep to REM sleep.
The sleep cycle progresses through the stages of non-REM sleep from light to deep sleep, then reverse back from deep sleep to light sleep, ending with time in REM sleep before starting over in light sleep again.
After REM sleep, the individual returns to stage 1 of light sleep and begins a new cycle. As the night progresses, individuals spend more time in REM sleep and equally less time in deep sleep.
The first sleep cycle takes about 90 minutes from there it can average between 90 to 120 minutes. An individual can experience four to five sleep cycles a night.
Deep sleep reduces your sleep drive and provides the most restorative sleep of all the sleep stages. This is why if you take a short nap during the day, you’re still able to fall asleep at night. But if you take a nap long enough to fall into deep sleep, you have more difficulty falling asleep at night because you reduced your need for sleep.
During deep sleep, human growth hormone is released and restores your body and muscles from the stresses of the day. Your immune system restores itself.
The brain also processes, deletes information like a recycle bin and refreshes itself for a new learning day.
Slow wave sleep comes mostly in the first half of the night, REM (Rapid Eye Movement) in the second half. REM sleep typically begins about 90 minutes after you first fall asleep, with the first REM cycle lasting about 10 minutes. Each successive REM cycle lasts longer, with the final REM stage lasting up to 1 hour. Most people experience three to five intervals of REM sleep each night.
In the REM phase, breathing becomes more rapid, irregular and shallow, eyes jerk rapidly and limb muscles are temporarily paralyzed. Brain waves during this stage increase to levels experienced when a person is awake. Also, heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, males can experience erections and the body loses some of the ability to regulate its temperature.
What Stage of Sleep Do Dreams Occur?
REM sleep is the time when the most vivid dreams occur because the brain is so active during this stage. If awoken during REM sleep, a person can remember the dreams.
Muscle paralysis often accompanies REM sleep. Scientists believe this may be to help prevent us from injury while trying to act out our dreams. A person may dream 4 to 6 times each night. All people do in fact dream, whether they remember their dreams or not.
Being deprived of REM sleep some people can experience psychosis. Those who take drugs or alcohol lose out on the REM sleep stage and this is well documented that a lack of REM sleep can alleviate clinical depression. Scientific research links REM sleep to learning and memory.
The amount of time you spend in each stage also depends on your age. Infants spend almost 50% of their time in REM sleep. Adults spend nearly half of sleep time in stage 2, about 20% in REM and the other 30% is divided between the other three stages. Older adults spend progressively less time in REM sleep.
But what about sleep quality? Sleep quality is achieved by sustained rest, with sufficient time spent in each of the four sleep stages—Stages 1-3 and REM sleep—to maintain physical and mental health and function.
To all those people who are up at night while the rest of the world sleeps. Thank you for taking care while we sleep. Live well, Sleep well!
Poor Sleep habits attribute to less sleep. Stress is a major factor that contributes to sleep deprivation. When the stress hormone is activated it governs the fight or flight response. This then floods the body with adrenaline identified by our perception of urgency and burden which makes it difficult to sleep. Even the thought that we have to and must sleep brings stress and anxiety into our body. Turn the mind off by bringing your focus to your breathing.
This is a simple and effective exercise aimed at calming the nervous system.
Better sleep can happen by making some simple lifestyle changes and simply following the practices of good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene can help you develop a pattern of healthy sleep.
Following these tips can give you a head start down the path to better sleep.
Always check with your health professional or practitioner first.