Are you tired of being tired and not being able to sleep at night so you wake up tired, go through your day tired, come home tired, not have a good night’s sleep and get even more tired?
If this sounds familiar, you need to understand all about sleeping patterns, why sleeping patterns change, sleeping pattern disturbances and how you can fix them before you have a mental meltdown.
Sleep is that elusive thing that you have been trying to get since, what seems like, a century. You probably feel like a vampire with under-eye bags that fall to your feet. Fortunately for you, scientists have a way to explain sleep– sleeping patterns!
But hold your horses! Before you read this article, I have one thing to tell you: No one can help you but yourself. If you refuse to believe that staying up on your phone all night is not causing problems and think ‘who needs sleep anyways’, stop reading. Seriously.
I will tell you everything you need to know about sleeping patterns, what a normal sleeping pattern is, why sleeping patterns change and how to fix your sleeping pattern.
And you, my friend, take notes and apply them to your life. I guarantee you will feel healthier, happier and most importantly less tired after implementing these tips.
So let’s get started!
What is sleeping pattern?
If your body’s biological clock (circadian rhythm) and its sleep-wake homeostat had a baby, it would be called a sleeping pattern. Let me back up a little and explain exactly what the first two are.
Your biological clock (or circadian rhythm) is what it sounds like– a clock. Except this clock is inside your brain and controls your physiological processes so they occur at regular times (monthly, yearly, seasonally).
For example, your period. It comes every month (with a vengeance), and is a cycle that repeats itself every 28 days.
Your sleep-wake homeostat is even easier to explain. Homeostasis is your body’s way of regulating internal biological mechanisms. A homeostat is like a thermostat– it detects outside stimuli and reports back to the brain so it can tell the body to react appropriately.
For example: if you’re too cold, you will start shivering. This rapid muscle contraction releases the energy that will keep you warm.
Now, it is becoming pretty clear that sleeping patterns are the way in which your body rests throughout the night– the type of sleep at different times of the night, the exact time you feel sleepy or wake up, etc. Sleeping patterns differ from person to person.
For example: if you have been watching Money Heist till 3 AM every day, you will only feel sleepy at 3 AM, and wake up at noon the next day.
Obviously, this is a classic example of an abnormal sleep schedule. So, what is the ‘normal’ one?
What is normal sleep?
A normal or ‘natural’ pattern consists of different sleep phases or cycles that occur for a certain appropriate amount of time.
There are two types of sleep– REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) and NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Yes, they are what they sound like. In REM sleep, your eyeballs are moving underneath your eyelids while in NREM they are not.
Even though this sounds kinda creepy, it is absolutely essential to our health. NREM and REM sleep occur in cycles, usually beginning with NREM sleep. This is a normal sleeping pattern.
You can identify that you are following a normal sleeping pattern when you wake up and sleep at the same time every day, usually feel well-rested in the morning and have deep sleep from which you do not wake up frequently.
Any change to your normal sleeping pattern can result in a lot of health problems and feeling tired throughout the day.
Why is my sleeping pattern messed up?
If your sleeping pattern changes, there are a huge number of things you can blame it on. The complete list is quite extensive but here are the top five reasons your sleeping pattern is messed up:
- You use electronic gadgets right before you sleep: the blue light coming from your devices keeps you awake. It makes your brain stay active, which is why it is even harder to sleep even after you have put it away. Then you blame your sleep for not coming easily to you and decide to scroll through your phone “till you get bored and sleepy”. Seriously?
- You watch late-night TV or Netflix: The same applies here. Watching movies or TV series right before you sleep, suppresses the production of melatonin– the hormone that controls your sleep-wake homeostat.
- You don’t sleep or wake up at the same time every day: I know that it is hard to sleep and wake up at the same time every day but your body’s biological clock demands regularity.
- Your job hours got shifted: The night shift is everyone’s worst nightmare, am I right? It really messes with your sleeping pattern. Similarly, any other circumstance where you have to change from a normal sleeping pattern (like having a baby) is bad for you.
- You consume alcohol, caffeine or nicotine before you sleep: Caffeine and nicotine both make you feel more active. Your brain, therefore, will not feel the need to sleep even if you are all cosied up. Then you might take a teensy bit of alcohol to help. And sure, you fall asleep but alcohol doesn’t let you get the deep REM sleep that you need.
How to improve sleeping pattern
If you have googled ‘How to fix my sleeping pattern’ at least once, you’re in the right place! Here are five steps you should follow to get those golden eight hours of sleep you want and need:
- Make sure you keep active in the daytime: You need to have some sort of exercise, be it a two-hour strenuous workout or just a walk. Exercise not only combats symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnea, but it also makes you feel more energised and awake during the day. Talk about a win-win situation!
- Avoid any drinks or food before sleeping: We have already talked about how alcohol, caffeine and nicotine affect your sleeping pattern. Even food and drinks that do not contain these substances are not good for you. For the two hours leading up to your bedtime, don’t eat or drink anything. This is to avoid acid reflux, heartburn and going to the toilet in the middle of the night.
- Keep your electronics far far away: No matter what is happening in the outside world, you have to turn off your phone (iPad, laptop, tablet, kindle, etc) at least an hour before going to bed. If you feel “bored”, good. That’s what we want. Now shut your eyes and drift away.
- Create a night-time ritual: In that one hour before going to bed, have a specific routine you follow. For example: brush your teeth, wash your hands and face, sit on your dressing table and moisturise your body. Slip into your pyjamas and then pull the curtains. You can end this ritual by doing some light stretching, yoga or meditation to help you relax. This entire ritual will condition your body and mind for sleep.
- Make a schedule and stick to it (even on weekends): Now that you have followed the rest of the steps, you need to make sure that you keep doing that. Set a time to go to bed and a time to wake up. After a couple of weeks, you will notice that you will be sleeping and waking up at that time even without an alarm clock.
While this is a prominent feature in many tropical and eastern cultures, people often label it to be laziness. However, there is research about daytime napping that suggests that humans are actually built to take a short nap during the day.
Our circadian rhythm takes a little dip during the day, something called ‘afternoon slump’ in western culture. During this time of the day, it is advisable to listen to your body and go take a short nap.
This will ensure that you not only feel refreshed and energised, but also avoid the usual decline in productivity after your hearty lunch.
Sleep does not have to be as hard to find as you think. It is something that comes to all of us naturally. However, with the disruptions of our modern life it can be quite hard to balance work and sleep. The only advice there is for such a situation is to prioritise.
Your sleep is extremely important for your physical and mental wellbeing as well as your productivity the next day. I am sure that logically beats the last paragraph of that report and the next episode of The Flash.
If you are showing symptoms of insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much), it could be a sign of mental distress. In that case, don’t hesitate to contact a PsychOWLogist who could help you through it.
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