The Science Behind Sleep
Quality sleep is an essential part of living a healthy life. The sleep cycle works in two ways. NREM sleep works to repair your body, stimulate growth and development, boost your immune system and build energy for tomorrow. Whereas, REM sleep helps to process memories and information from the previous day into long-term memory. But what is REM and NREM sleep in the sleep cycle and how does it work?
During our sleep, we cycle through an alternating pattern of rapid-eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, each lasting around 90 minutes. Whilst NREM offers a deeper and more restorative sleep, REM sleep involves shorter, high-activity periods of heightened brain activity and vivid dreams. We need to complete 5-6 cycles of both REM and NREM sleep each night to fully complete these processes. This means that if we don’t get enough sleep, our brain can’t form important learning pathways, which can make it difficult for us to concentrate.
What’s keeping you awake?
- Blue light emitted from our devices delays the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, causing our brain to tell us to stay awake. Avoid using devices in the hour before you go to bed.
- Not being active enough may mean your body is not tired enough to be ready to sleep. Try some at home exercises to tire your body out, using apps such as Aaptiv or Zombies, Run! or YouTube videos – or even just by taking brisk walk! It’s best to exercise outdoors in sunlight, as this can help to regulate our sleep cycle.
- Stress and anxiety is not conducive to a good night’s sleep. Minimise the amount of news you take in – scientists recommend just 1-2 articles to stay updated then put that phone away! Jump on FaceTime with a friend and have a cup of tea to talk it out, or try your hand at some yoga or meditation to calm your mind. We recommend the Headspace or Calm app.
It’s time to HEAL
If you’re still struggling to sleep, take a look at these 4 categories with the acronym HEAL – Health, Environment, Attitude, Lifestyle! These 4 things are the most common preventers of sleep so it’s most likely one of these aspects of your life is off balance and needs some tweaking to help with your sleep cycle.
Health: Physical health problems like a blocked nose to back pain or mental health problems such as anxiety and depression can stop you from comfortably getting a good night’s sleep. Speak to a GP or mental health professional if you are experiencing issues.
Environment: Your bedroom should be associated with sleep – try not to spend all your time there. If possible, watch TV, play games, and study in a different room. Most people prefer a cool and dark environment to sleep in. You may benefit from wearing an eye mask and/or earplugs. Some people also like to fall asleep to white noise – a fan, music or podcast could do the trick.
Attitude: It is important to wind down at the end of the day and relax as you are trying to fall asleep. Lying awake for long periods in bed can be quite frustrating. Practices like mindfulness, meditation and progressive relaxation can help reduce stress.
Lifestyle: A lot of students stay up late to study, pumping down caffeinated drinks and snacks. This makes it harder to get to sleep. Avid caffeine after 3pm, and substitute all caffeinated drinks with decaf options. Doing exercise, turning on the blue light filter on your phone and getting natural light earlier in the day will also help.