Are you getting an adequate amount of sleep at night? Do you wake up each morning feeling well-rested and ready to start the day? Or, do you hit the snooze bar several times because you just can’t seem to drag yourself out of bed? Or, perhaps you sleep through the alarm, as it blares for all its worth on your bedside table, altogether?
People tend to sleep in 90 minute cycles. Waking at the wrong point in that cycle can have a profoundly negative impact on how rested and alert you feel throughout the day. However, using a sleep calculator to help you wake up at the right point in a given sleep cycle can greatly improve your quality of sleep as well as how rested you feel afterwards, even if you’re getting a less than optimal amount of sleep.
Sleep and Sleep Cycles
Sleep is actually divided up into several different 90 minute cycles. These cycles include 4 stages of NREM sleep and REM sleep. The total process takes approximately 90 minutes and then the cycle repeats. This will happen several times during a night’s sleep. Waking in the middle of a cycle or during the deep sleep portion of the sleep cycle can leave you feeling groggy throughout the day. However, waking at the right point, or near the top of your sleep cycle can leave you feeling well rested and ready to tackle whatever it is that lies ahead for you.
A sleep calculator is a tool that will help you calculate the proper length of sleep so that you wake up at the top of your cycle, rather than at a point where you’re likely to feel ill effects from your sleep rather than rested and refreshed as you should. Timing is everything when you’re struggling to get an adequate amount of sleep, or at least feel as though you’ve had enough. That’s why it’s so important to take advantage of tools like sleep calculators to help you get the restful sleep you need.
Sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your physical and mental health and well-being. Failing to get an adequate amount of sleep can limit the body’s ability to heal itself, recover from wounds, and even lead to premature aging. The bottom line is that sleep is necessary for the body and mind to function properly.
What Happens While You’re Sleeping?
We all know that the body needs sleep. The sleep cycle is important time for your body to restore and recover what’s lost during the day. Young children, especially, require large amounts of sleep because that’s the time when the growth hormone is released in the body. Cellular damage from the sun is also repaired while you’re sleeping. This includes things like wrinkle reduction and collagen production—which is why it’s sleep is commonly referred to as “beauty rest”.
Get ready for a shocking statistic: a full one third of American adults suffer from chronic pain. That’s more than all the people who have diabetes, cancer, and heart disease combined. So why don’t we hear more about this population? Diabetes is national news on a weekly basis. There’s information for diabetics on food labels at the grocery store, running nonstop on commercials, and in just about every information packet you’ll ever get at your doctor’s office. But when it comes to chronic pain there is a deafening silence. I think there are several reasons for this dearth of information and attention. First, chronic pain can refer to a wide range of conditions, from migraine headaches to nerve pain to backaches. And in each case, treatments are often lacking.
Shift work is a reality of our modern economy. Services don’t stop running when the sun goes down. Without night workers—nurses and doctors, toll booth workers, security guards, policemen and women, truck drivers, pilots, and more—our world would grind to a halt. One of my closest friends works nights at a home for children. Most of his time is spent reading, but when the kids wake up or there’s an emergency, he is the first person on the scene. Without him, those kids wouldn’t be safe. But he pays a high price. Like many late shift workers, he suffers from terrible sleep-wake disruption, and is always either strung out or exhausted. After years of this strange schedule, he suffers from a host of physical problems. He has high blood pressure, struggles with his weight, and was just diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. He also has a lot of trouble with his relationship.
I once stayed in a hotel/art installation called the Propeller City Island Lodge in Berlin. Its whole purpose is to experiment with sensory distortion—to use furniture and space to confuse, befuddle and delight with floating beds, strange mirrors, and optical tricks to create a warped sense of space. The way I felt in those spaces was strangely akin to the way I feel after an all-nighter: disoriented, amused, slightly afraid, and more than slightly uncomfortable.
When I was a kid, I read a book about African explorers. I was living in Africa at the time, so the story was especially alluring. Africa: home to heartbreakingly beautiful sunsets, the most delicious orange Fanta I’ve ever had, one of the best zip lines in the world, and the greatest number of diseases of any country on earth. The book was about these two men journeying alone into the jungles of what was, at the time, the nation of Zaire (today it is the Democratic People’s Republic of Congo). They had a compass, sleeping bags, enough fresh water for a week, and their wits. Of course, like many adventure stories, the two men didn’t have a peaceful time frolicking amongst the epiphytes. No, they met angry local people, had a run in with a cheetah, ran out of water, and had to build a shelter out of monkey bones. Then, one of them got bitten by a tsetse fly and fell into a strange dreamlike trance. The story was fiction but, as I would soon learn from my dad (a medical student at the time), sleeping sickness is very real, and very frightening. I spent the rest of our year in Kenya scouring my surroundings for tsetse flies so that I might escape the fantasy explorer’s dreaded fate.
I’ve written a lot about sleep apnea. It’s one of the most common sleep disorders, and one of the most dangerous. Just a quick recap: sleep apnea is a potentially fatal condition that causes pauses in breathing during sleep, sometimes hundreds of times throughout the night. These periods of oxygen deprivation can raise a person’s risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and obesity. The precipitous and repeated drops in blood oxygen are what damage the body’s delicate tissues. Sleep apnea also results in a diminished quality of sleep. Poor sleep is related to a whole host of conditions, from anxiety and depression, to poor intellectual performance, to collapsing relationships. One of the things that’s so upsetting about sleep apnea is that it can be successfully treated, eliminating all of these frightening side effects. And yet, few sufferers even know they are suffering. If you live alone or your partner is a heavy sleeper, you may have sleep apnea and be entirely unaware. Even more frightening: new research shows that women are at particularly high risk.
Ever since I was a kid I loved the idea of sleep learning: that you could put on headphones when you went to sleep and have conversational French when you woke up. I even tried it in college when, depressed by my mounting student loan debt, I decided I was going to go for a 4.0. All I got for my trouble was a few restless nights and a headache. Today, science can’t promise you passive language learning, but there may be some hope for the lazy learners among us. A new study published in Nature demonstrates a fascinating phenomenon: sleep conditioning, a la Pavlov. Here’s how it works.
Kids these days! I never thought I’d say those words, but here I am worried about how much time kids spend on the computer and watching television. Screens have infiltrated our homes and they’re not going anywhere soon. They’ve become a ubiquitous part of our work lives, social lives, and home lives. And kids are not immune. An increasing number of children have televisions, computers, cell phones, and tablets in their bedrooms. I’ve written before about how light from phones, computers, and televisions can affect sleep. The blue light from theses devices simulates daylight, confusing the brain into thinking its time to wake up. This is bad news if it’s time to go to bed. New research shows this type of light has an even more deleterious effect on children.