Benjamin Franklin once said that there is plenty of time to sleep when you are dead. Thomas Edison echoed this when he stated sleeping was a ‘criminal waste of time.’
Genius as both these men were, sleep is anything but a waste of time!!
Finding your Life Purpose and True Essence
Sleep plays such an important part in your finding your Life Purpose and True Essence that it cannot be overstated, and while some people like Thomas Edison may be perfectly fine after 4 hours sleep a night, it’s only approximately 3% of the world population who are……the rest of us need significantly longer, yet we’re getting significantly less than we used to! In the 1950s, most Americans slept on average eight hours a night; today that number is 6.5 hours. And these extra waking hours haven’t made us more productive however!
So, while most people think of sleeping as ‘shutting down’ or ‘shutting off’ for the night, you must begin to see sleep as ‘recharging’ or even ‘logging on’. Here follows an overview of the nightly sleep cycle.
The nightly sleep cycle
Scientists divide sleep into four stages, which upon completion are termed ‘a full sleep cycle’. Each cycle lasts about 90 minutes to 2 hours, but this depends on the person, and varies nightly. Usually in a typical 6 – 8 hour sleep, we therefore cycle through roughly four or five rotations.
The amount of time spent in each of the four stages varies by cycle, for example, there is more REM (stage 4) in the later parts of the night. However first I should outline what these 4 stages are:
Stage one is the earliest stage of sleep and comes after wakefulness. This is when your muscles begin to relax, and sometimes even twitch (called a hypnagogic jerk) and your eyes move back and forth. It is a very light sleep and therefore easy to be awoken from this stage.
Stage two is the next stage and it is sleep that is not too deep, but yet deeper than stage 1. It is also where we spend about half of our nightly sleep. In this stage of sleep, your body temperature drops, your brain waves slow, your heart rate and blood pressure slow, and you lose sense of your surroundings. This slowing of functions means that your heart and the vessels and tissue that carry or circulate fluids such as blood or lymph or sap are getting a well-deserved and much-needed rest.
Stage three is the deepest stage of sleep. Our blood pressure drops, our tissue is repaired by blood flowing to it, our breathing slows down, growth hormones are secreted at this time, and our brain waves become even slower but with high amplitude waves. It is the hardest stage to awaken from and this stage of sleep is the stage that makes you feel well-rested! We spend about 1/5th of the night in deep sleep, and it mostly happens in the earlier half of the night.
REM sleep is the final stage of the sleep cycle and when we get vivid dreams. This is sometimes called “paradoxical sleep” since the body is asleep but the brain acts similarly to how it does when you’re awake! For this reason, our muscles ‘shut down’ during REM sleep to stop you from acting out your dreams. (It’s actually stage 3 when people sleep walk, not the REM stage). Our breath and heart becomes varied and our eyes quickly move back and forth during this stage of sleep – hence the name ‘rapid eye movement’. As mentioned earlier, each cycle of 4 stages varies through the night and the first REM sleep is usually fairly short, but as your sleep cycles continue the REM session gets longer (due to stage three getting shorter). This could be why we seem to remember our dreams more after a long sleep! About 20 percent of our sleep is REM sleep.
The Overall Purpose
The overall purpose, from a neurological viewpoint, of these various stages and cycles is to ensure your mind and body receives the different types of restoration, replenishment and repair it needs, and far from ‘shutting down’ for the night, an array of genes are actually “turned on” only during your sleep — the genes associated with restoration and metabolic pathways! Sleep also allows for brain processing and memory consolidation, by helping to form the pathways in memory, which explains why recent research shows ‘sleeping on it’ actually aids memory recall. There is also recent research that shows the brain’s waste-flushing system (known as the glymphatic system) may be 10 times more active when we sleep compared to when we’re awake.
But sleep also has a Spiritual Purpose, and not just the reality that unless you are properly rested you Mind and Body cannot functional optimally and therefore fulfilling your Essence becomes that much more difficult, but also a deeper, more mysterious Spiritual purpose that I will cover in a later post. But for now, I will leave you with a quote from the writer Jim Butcher: Sleep is God. Go Worship
PS. Poor sleep has several facets: (1) quantity (how long you sleep), (2) quality (how well and deeply you sleep), (3) disruptions (how many times you wake up during the night), (4) sleep latency (how long it takes you to get to sleep), and (5) daytime dysfunction (how tired you are the next day).