We all lose out on a good night's sleep from time to time, but for those who regularly have a poor night's rest, there are noticeably adverse effects on health and lifestyle.
One study by researchers in the US National Sleep Foundation found that sleep requirements vary across a lifespan and from person to person. However, young adults need seven to nine hours, and older adults need seven to eight hours of sleep in general. Deviating too much from this guideline could be a sign or a cause of ill health.
Despite this, the various pressures of life can cause people to miss out on huge chunks of valuable rest. So what happens if you can only get a short nap?
Sleep is divided into four types: NREM stages 1, 2, 3, and REM. These types of sleep have different stages with unique purposes for our health.
The first type of sleep is NREM 1 (N1). This is very light sleep. We experience this when first lying in bed and we may not experience it again very much throughout the night. In light sleep, our muscles relax and may twitch. Our breathing and heart rate slow down. If you are woken up at this stage of sleep, you may feel that you were not asleep at all.
Next, we have N2. This is a more subdued state, where the heart rate and breathing slow further. The muscles relax and eye movement stops. Brain activity slows but has short bursts of intermittent activity.
The third stage, N3, is deep sleep. This stage of sleep is where the body focuses on growth and repair. Blood pressure drops and blood flow increases to muscles. Growth hormone is released so that body tissue grows and cells repair. The brain flushes out waste and produces long, slow brain waves. In this stage of sleep, waking is more difficult and will result in a groggy feeling.
The other stage we experience is REM, or rapid eye movement. This part of sleep activates the brain, causing vivid dreams. To protect the body in this stage, we become immobile, so that we don't walk around the house acting out our dreams. Our body temperature regulation is switched off too, but heart rate and respiration increase. This part of sleep is beneficial for cognitive processes, such as learning and emotional regulation.
Over the course of a night, people tend to cycle through 3-5 sleep cycles. Overall, we spend about half of that in light sleep, dipping into other sleep stages periodically. A full sleep cycle of all four stages is documented to take around 90 minutes. For this reason, when scheduling an hour-long nap, we will cut the first sleep cycle short. This can make a person feel extremely groggy and experience poor cognitive performance.
If it is not possible to sleep for a full 90 minutes, the next-best option may be to cut the sleep short and have a 15-20 minute power nap instead. This may seem counter-intuitive, but during this period of time, we will likely only enter into N2 sleep. We will still get some time for mental processing and rest, but it will be much easier to awaken as we didn't enter deep sleep. We are more likely to feel as though we got enough sleep if we take into account the effects of waking from different stages in the natural sleep schedule.
As we tend to get most of our N3 deep rest in the first few hours of sleep, this makes us much more likely to be waking during deep sleep if we set the alarm clock for just an hour. When we naturally wake up after a full night's rest, the brain goes through physical processes to gradually regain its daily function. This includes gradually increasing blood flow from the more primitive regions of the brain to the parts we use for more complex cognitive tasks.
If we wake up in the middle of deeper sleep, the brain is immediately thrown back into daily life without the necessary preparation. Sleeping irregular hours like this makes it difficult for the brain to function properly and carries health risks. So, how can we wake ourselves up after very little sleep?
Getting out into fresh air first thing in the morning is a great way to increase blood flow to the brain and wake up the nervous system.
Exercise, particularly regular, low-intensity activities such as walking, yoga, or Tai Chi, can boost energy levels. Researchers at the University of Georgia studied the effects of low-intensity exercise on people who experience fatigue. They found that energy was increased by 20% and fatigue levels dropped by 65% when the exercise was regular. This means that by taking short walks or doing stretches several times a day, we can push through despite having a lack of sleep.
Spices such as chillis, cumin, cinnamon, and paprika boost our metabolism and wake up the body faster. Try adding cinnamon to coffee or on top of breakfast cereal. You could also add chilli flakes or paprika to a savoury breakfast. It is important to be mindful of your tolerance to spice as the gut is more sensitive in the morning.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, certain scents are shown to improve alertness, heart rate, and memory in the morning. The most effective scents are coffee, rosemary oil, peppermint oil, and sage. Rosemary oil, in particular, has been found to be a stimulant when used aromatically.
The strong scent of citrus has a similarly energizing effect on the body, as does the tangy taste. Citrus fruits are packed with sugar, too, which can give a much-needed boost when you've done an all-nighter. 2-4 sentences describing the recommendation.
Our sleep cycle is largely responsive to the time of day. This is because daylight affects our circadian rhythm, letting us know that it's time to be alert and active. Darkness has the opposite effect. For this reason, it is great to get outside first thing if it's light or to let as much daylight into your home as possible.
If it is still dark when you need to wake up, you could utilise the wakening effects of artificial light. Try switching on an LED light or take your phone off any nighttime filters so it gives off blue light - similar to daytime. However, be mindful of your eye health - don't turn the brightness too high before your eyes can adjust and try to avoid staring for too long at a screen.
We all have favourite songs to get us in the mood to move, clean, relax, or focus. Music is highly effective at changing our mood. One study found that by changing an alarm tone to a melody, participants had increased alertness when they woke up, compared with non-melodic alarm sounds. If possible, try adding your favourite song to your alarm app or choose a melodic tone so you can feel energised after a power nap.
Try engaging with something interesting or enjoyable to you, that makes you think. For example, listen to an enthralling podcast about something important to you.
You could also try out an app with short, fun brain training activities. By focusing on something compelling or challenging for a short period, you will wake up the parts of your brain that are useful for problem solving and communication. This can combat the brain fog caused by sleep inertia.
One very effective way to stay awake after a disrupted sleep cycle is to take a cold shower. If you're terrified of standing under cold water first thing in the morning, try splashing cold water on your face and neck. This helps to boost circulation and dilate your blood vessels, which brings you out of the daze if you woke up from a deep sleep. It can also boost the immune system, countering some of the negative effects of sleep deprivation.
For many people, their first thought in the morning is "find....coffee...", but there are plenty of other ways to keep your brain functioning despite not having a restful sleep. Coffee is wonderful for giving you that first kick into consciousness if you've had a disturbed sleep cycle. However, by early afternoon you will be back down to low function. This is because the intense caffeine spike of coffee only lasts a few hours and then you crash.
In order to maintain performance throughout the day, try something with more of a slow release after your first coffee. You could top up with green tea or ginseng. And remember, always take into account your normal caffeine tolerance and try not to exceed it.
We know that after just one hour of sleep the rest of the day can seem like a huge chore. Our brains refuse to work properly and we can't help but wishfully daydream about falling asleep throughout the day. So, let's think about some do's and don'ts for a day in the toil of sleep deprivation:
Try not to push yourself too hard and allow time for resting in between tasks. Your body hasn't had the time to repair itself during deep sleep so you will be low on energy and have a lower immune system. Rest is key!
Staying hydrated keeps our muscles energised. If you only managed to sleep for an hour or had an all-nighter, your body will need plenty of fluids to flush out waste. It will also help to maintain mental clarity throughout the day.
Your immune system will be impacted by not getting enough sleep. Make sure to get plenty of nourishing food or a vitamin supplement to counteract the strain on your body. Don't:
Don't over-compensate for less sleep with energy drinks. The high amount of caffeine and artificial additives can have serious health implications. Often, they can cause anxiety, headaches, nausea, palpitations, and tremors. They can also make it difficult to fall asleep when you get the chance!
Driving is critically dangerous when you have had very little sleep, due to impaired thinking and perception. The US Centre for Disease Control reports that in 2017, drowsy driving was responsible for 91,000 crashes. Drivers with sleep disorders or those who did not get enough sleep the night before are much more likely to fall asleep at the wheel.
Especially when consumed close to bedtime, caffeine is well-documented to disturb sleep cycles. one study by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine noted that, even when consumed 6 hours before bed, caffeine reduced the overall hours of sleep and disrupted how the sleep cycles work.
We all miss out on a few hours of sleep from time to time. Often, we can recover by getting a little extra sleep at the weekend. However, if we do an all-nighter or only sleep for an hour regularly, there are serious health implications to be aware of. Lack of sleep impairs memory and alertness, and it increases the stress hormone, cortisol. This can elevate stress levels and heart rate.
If a person regularly misses out on enough hours of sleep, this can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack/failure, diabetes, or stroke. Not getting enough deep sleep puts a person at risk for Alzheimer's disease and cancer.
When taking into account that an average sleep cycle takes 90 minutes, it is far better to allow for that amount of time than to wake up after an hour. After an hour you will likely be in a stage of deep sleep, which will leave you feeling sluggish and disconnected from reality. You can cut the nap down to 15 or 20 minutes to make the most of the time you have.
Whether you're taking care of a newborn, battling a busy work schedule, or just like to party hard, there are several ways you can increase alertness during the day.
Remember the importance of self-care on sleepless days, and try to be cautious of taking on extra responsibilities.
Try to ensure that you get enough rest on other days where possible. Regular sleeplessness causes a variety of health issues and can do serious harm to your health.
Finally, be sure to consult a health professional if sleeplessness is a common theme in your life. You may be experiencing another health condition or a sleep disorder, such as insomnia or sleep apnoea.