The average adult needs a full seven to eight hours of sleep to be fully rested. I don’t know about you, but even if I’m in bed that long, I sometimes wake up sleepy. It turns out that not only do you need those seven hours, you need to be reaching all five sleep stages to completely restore your body.
Why You Need to Reach the Deepest Sleep Stage
While you don’t spend equal amounts of time in each sleep stage, you do need to reach all of them for optimal health. If you suffer from insomnia or frequently wake during the night, you might not reach the last, deepest, and most important of stage, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. During this sleep stage, eye movement and brain activity are similar to that experienced during the daytime. While you’re in REM sleep, the immune system restores, muscles are repaired, and growth hormone gets released.
The body cycles through all the sleep stages several times each night, but how much time you spend in each stage varies by age. As you get older, you spend less and less time in REM sleep, which leads to less time restoring the body. That’s why sometimes you can spend a full seven hours sleeping but still wake up tired. Those who suffer from insomnia may also get less REM sleep than they need because they can’t stay asleep long enough to reach this deep stage.
If you find yourself not feeling rested in the morning or getting less than seven hours of sleep, mindfulness meditation and yoga can help.
Mindfulness Meditation and Yoga
Stress proves to be a powerful factor in sleeplessness for many people, myself included. Both mindfulness meditation and yoga can help you learn to let go of negative thoughts and focus on the present, which can have a profound impact on stress management.
Meditation changes the size of the emotional and reasoning centers of the brain. As you practice meditation, the emotional center shrinks while the reasoning center gets thicker. At the same time, the connection between the two becomes stronger.
What does that have to do with relieving stress?
Mindfulness teaches you how to focus your thoughts on present sensations. You’ll still have negative, stress-inducing thoughts but you’ll learn how to let them pass through your mind without dwelling on them. This strengthens the reasoning part of the brain and provides better emotional management. As negative thoughts flow out, the body may release less cortisol, a stress-inducing hormone, and your stress levels go down.
Yoga, too, has great physical and mental benefits that help you relax and get better sleep. In a three month trial, cancer patients reported that regularly practicing yoga reduced inflammation, improved mood, and reduced fatigue. Yoga has also been shown to increase the amount of time you spend in slow wave sleep. It returns the quality of your sleep to that experienced when you were younger.
The use of meditation and yoga to improve the quality of sleep can’t be done without the right conditions in your bedroom. Work and laptops should be banished from the area. Consider purchasing a new mattress if yours is more than eight years old. With good physical and mental preparation and a bedroom devoted to sleep, chances are you’ll be waking bright-eyed and ready for the day.