Sleep is essential for a healthy body and mind. It cleanses our thoughts, aids our memory, rests our body and rejuvenates us to tackle every new day. In our sleep and our dreams, our brain organizes the sensory input we have received from the day, separating the useful information from the information that we don’t need to retain.
In a normal sleep cycle, we go through 5 distinct stages. The first four stages are categorized as quiet sleep or non REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Stage 1 sleep is only for the first 5-10 minutes of sleep when the brain induces Theta waves. This is a stage between normal waking and sleep, and often if you wake a person in this stage–they find it hard to report being asleep. In stage 2 of sleep, the brain begins to produce bursts of rapid, rhythmic brain wave activity known as sleep spindles–stage 2 lasts for around 20 minutes–the heart rate begins to slow and temperature begins to decrease.
In stage 3 of sleep, deep slow brain waves — or Delta waves begin to emerge. This is the transitional stage between light and deep sleep. The next stage, stage 4 is a deep sleep categorized by slow and deep Delta brain-waves, which lasts for approx 30 minutes. Sleep walking and other sleep phenomenon usually occur at the end of stage 4. The final stage, stage 5 is categorized as REM sleep. REM sleep is characterized by eye movement, increased respiration rate, and increased brain activity. Dreaming occurs due because of increased brain activity, while voluntary muscles also become paralyzed. REM sleep typically occurs 90 minutes after falling asleep. The first REM cycle might last only a short amount of time–however cycles can last up to an hour towards the end of the night.
After REM sleep, the body goes back to Stage 2, then goes through Stage 3, Stage 4, and then to REM sleep again. This sleep cycle usually occurs 4-5 times throughout the night until you wake up again in the morning. REM sleep is the active time for the brain to categorize information, and clean out our un-needed thoughts. If you are sleep deprived, your body will sometimes skip the other stages of sleep and enter REM sleep right away. Have you ever gone to sleep and almost begun dreaming right away? In studies on participants who were seriously sleep deprived (40+ hours without sleep), almost all of the participants fell into a long instant REM sleep, skipping the other sleep stages.
Now that you understand how sleep works, how well do you sleep?
I’ve been reading on the benefits of meditation before sleep, especially for those who suffer insomnia or just find it difficult to get a good nights sleep. Meditation is an excellent way to control those thoughts and is a safe and simple way to balance your physical, emotional, and mental states. Meditation can help you pull your mind away from concerns about the past or future and focus on the present moment. During meditation, the pulse rate slows, blood pressure falls, blood supply to the arms and legs increases, levels of stress hormones drop, and brain waves resemble a state of relaxation found in the early stages of sleep. During meditation, our production of serotonin will be increased and this will influences your mood and behavior. Low levels of serotonin are associated with insomnia, headaches and depression.
Even if you already normally get a good nights sleep, putting yourself in the right state of mind every night by practicing meditation ensures that you can get an optimal sleeping pattern and wake up every morning feeling refreshed and alert. I’ve practiced meditation before sleep many times and I always fall asleep faster and wake up feeling much happier and ready to tackle the day. One such program that provides the benefits of meditation and a healthy sleep is Problems Solved While You Sleep by Silva Method Life.
This program doesn’t just put you in a relaxed meditative state of mind ready to sleep. It allows you to understand and interpret your dreams so you can gain more meaning from them in your every day life. As I mentioned earlier, your dreams which occur in REM sleep are the time when your brain is in one of its most active states and spends time problem solving and sorting information from the day. This program teaches you how to make the most of this time and utilize your brain to its fullest potential so you live a happier healthier life.
Remember, sleep is not just something that we should get 8 hours a night of. It is the most important function of our bodies which allows us to live and function normally. Remember to get a good nights sleep every night and pursue ways to improve your sleep and the positive impact that it can have on your life.