My first blog post was about movement, my second is about sleep. I’ll share with you a big challenge for me: I train hard, I eat healthily most of the time, but I almost never scrape more than 6 hours sleep.
I’d like to know what difference 7 or 8 hours might make to my functioning. As I understand it, extra sleep is pretty much like a free super-power.
I’ve been reading about research into REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the period when most dreams happen, which suggests that REM sleep is a state when the brain carries out programming of instinctive behaviours.
REM sleep begins inside the womb. A researcher called William Dement found that the amount of REM sleep that an animal has depends on how mature it is at birth. Species whose young are born highly developed and capable of living almost independently have little REM sleep at birth – one example being guinea pigs. Newborn rats however are naked, blind and immobile, and at birth 95% of their sleep time is REM. Within a month they have matured significantly, and by then REM sleep accounts for less than a third. Human REM sleep declines with age too.
Interestingly human babies have also been observed displaying emotions during REM sleep which they don’t express when awake until weeks later in their development.
I actually drafted this blog post on holiday, and when it was time to put head to pillow I’d been plagued by fretting about the GDPR, not sure what were half-asleep thoughts and what were half-awake (very boring and nerdy) dreams… Behind my eyelids some probably imagined memory played, that somebody had shared a membership list I had some partial responsibility for on WhatsApp. Far from home, but sadly unable to switch off from ‘work mode’.
My short term solution is often a popular brand of Valerian root pill (works for me), but as I start new shifts at the gym which begin at 5:45am, it’s going to mean a lot of changes to do with bedtime routines. I plan to start trying to track my sleep, including REM as far as simple tech allows, with an app. I’ll keep you posted on if it works, and what I find.
Meanwhile, check out what neuroscientist Russell Foster has to say about the importance of sleep, and his tips for better bedtime habits.
How is your sleep at the moment? Is shift work or parenting an extra challenge for you? What are your sleep strategies? Let me know in the comments.