Sleep is essential for our health and well-being, but many of us struggle to get enough of it. One of the reasons is that we don’t follow our natural sleep cycle, which is influenced by our circadian rhythm and melatonin levels.
Today we’ll cover what these factors are, how they affect our sleep quality, and how we can optimize our sleep cycle by choosing the best times to go to bed and wake up.
What is the circadian rhythm?
The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal clock that regulates our biological processes, such as hormone production, body temperature, and sleep-wake cycles. It is synchronized with the external environment, especially the light-dark cycle. When it gets dark, our brain produces more melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel sleepy. When it gets light, our melatonin levels drop and we feel more alert.
What is the sleep cycle?
The sleep cycle is a series of stages that we go through during a night of sleep. It consists of four stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and one stage of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Each stage has different characteristics and functions for our brain and body. For example, NREM sleep is important for memory consolidation and physical recovery, while REM sleep is associated with dreaming and emotional processing.
A typical sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes, and we usually go through four to six cycles per night. The first cycle has more NREM sleep and less REM sleep, while the last cycle has more REM sleep and less NREM sleep. The quality and quantity of each stage can vary depending on various factors, such as age, lifestyle, and health conditions.
How to optimize your sleep cycle?
One of the most important ways to optimize your sleep cycle is to align it with your circadian rhythm. This means going to bed and waking up at consistent times that match your natural body clock. Try to keep those times constant across week days and weekends for a few weeks and you’ll notice a difference.
Another way to optimize your sleep cycle is to avoid factors that can disrupt it, such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, blue light, noise, and stress. These factors can interfere with your melatonin production, make it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep, or reduce the quality of your sleep stages.
To avoid these effects, you should limit or avoid these factors in the hours before bedtime, create a comfortable and dark sleeping environment, and practice some relaxation techniques before bed. We’ve got several articles in the VRB archive that cover best practices for all of the above!
By following these tips, you can optimize your sleep cycle and enjoy the benefits of a good night’s rest. You will feel more refreshed, energized, focused, and happy throughout the day. You will also improve your physical and mental health in the long term.
Don’t underestimate the power of sleep – it is the #1 thing we can optimize to live the optimal life!