Sleep it’s underrated and also misunderstood.

Scientific discoveries and an old school grandma.

Photo by Alexander Possingham on Unsplash

Just like most smartphones, our battery gets drained after a long exhausting day. The thing is that these phones now have a fast charger while we don’t.

Science can’t say for sure how sleep works, why do we need it, and how to solve most of its problems.

I will try to make a summary of everything that I've learned about sleep, how to achieve it faster, how to improve its quality, how to maintain the habit, and most importantly, not to get mad when sleep just won’t show up.

Things that science knows so far

Hours/ night you need

The sleep hours a human needs changes as the body goes older: “The appropriate sleep duration for newborns is between 14 and 17 hours, infants between 12 and 15 hours, toddlers between 11 and 14 hours, preschoolers between 10 and 13 hours, and school-aged children between 9 and 11 hours. For teenagers, 8 to 10 hours was considered appropriate, 7 to 9 hours for young adults and adults, and 7 to 8 hours of sleep for older adults.”

As you can see, from the moment your body reaches maturity, the differences are not that big. Also, keep in mind that’s the rest you need after a normal day. The harder the activities on a specific day, the more sleep you might need.

Light and blue light

It’s already a known fact that the blue light from every screen (even in eye comfort mode) disturbed your Circadian Rhythm. You need to stop watching any screen 30min before going to bed.

Well, that’s easy to say, right? But what about those people that fall asleep while watching TV? They don’t seem to have a problem with it. As I said already, science doesn't hold all the answers yet. That is why you need to find and shape your own habits.

Blue light affects your sleep because the light is the most powerful measurement of our Circadian Rythm. The human race lived for thousands of years in a strong relationship with the sun. We might not notice it, but our eye for sure knows how to read every last shade of light and instantly approximate time. Sunrise, from 5–7 A.M, sun in the center of the sky, 12–13P.M, sunset, 16–21 P.M. (depending on the season and climate)

So far, natural light it’s the most important thing to have in mind when trying to reset your sleep habits.

Eating before going to bed

Food is energy. The problem is the process that transforms food into energy.

Once food hits your tongue, the digestive process begins. The shortest process takes about two hours, and the longest goes over 6. Now, this difference is caused by the type of food you eat.

Plant-based products (no fats, no candies, no chips) are the best solutions if you really feel the need of one last snack before going to bed. Science says it takes 2 hours for them to be fully digested, but out of my own experience after 1 hour you will, probably, feel ready to go to sleep.

Whatever you do, don’t eat meat too late. Don’t drink coffee late in the day and also don’t drink alcohol. The true fact is that it helps you fall asleep faster, but it ruins the quality of deep sleep and also its length.

Photo by mrjn Photography on Unsplash

Uncertainties about water

Here there are 2 different opinions:

1. If you drink water before going to bed, you will go to the bathroom the entire night.
2. You need to drink water before going to bed because it will keep you hydrated for the night and will help your muscles relax.

I tried them both. I drink a sip of water before going to bed. Even if I wake up during the night, I fall back asleep without any problem. To be honest, sometimes I feel like I am still sleeping while peeing.

The media about Sleep

All those myths about success destroyed the value of a full night sleep.

Almost every successful person said sooner or later that you need to work more hours and sleep less. I don’t like giving names, but I can not help bringing up the clip where Arnold Schwarzenegger screamed: Sleep Faster!

The reality of the XXI century, capitalism, and globalization put every human in a rush. Our parents advise us to work more hours, our own friends tell us the same. We party too many nights in a row enjoying ourselves then we end up feeling guilty for not giving us time to rest before returning to our 9 to 5.

Technology evolved providing us more free time but somehow we waste it. We keep wanting to achieve more, do more, and never truly stop.

For that might be true or not, no one publicly addressed the question: Is it worth it? And how can it be our fault when nobody around us teaches us about the importance of sleep?

Well, till some recent years we didn’t even study sleep, and now it just takes time to fight the old social common-sense about sleeping habits.

How I found my sleep balance.

First, I got to admit: I’m kind of a millennial and I don’t always go to bed at 2200 sharp. I am also a dancer, so my body is exhausted after daily practice sessions, that’s why now, at 24 years old, I can say that I sleep like a baby.

But the problems begun in highschool. I start falling asleep really hard. It took me from 15 minutes to almost 2 hours to fall asleep. Then my exams came and I had to study harder and sleep less.

The same schedule continued in college and after the first year, I start asking myself why I never wake up as happy and filled with energy as I did when I was a kid. All my friends felt the same, so they believed that's just normal.

Deep down I knew it was not. Even my parents, when I went to see them, had way more energy than I did.

My first discovery: I had Chronic fatigue syndrome and I had overestimated my youth.

Complete healing took a while, but here is what started working after 1 week.

  • Rebalanced my sleep schedule- One day I woke up early(around 7 A.M) with the intention of not taking any power naps during the day so I can fall asleep early, at 22:00 P.M. I kept doing that for 1 week, it got easier and my body started to wake up naturally.

Remember your body will adapt to any change in 1–2 weeks. Becomes a habit after 21 days.

  • My last meal was, at worst, at 20:00 P.M
  • 30 minutes after waking up and 30 minutes before going to bed I would only do things that are easy both mentally and physically. In the morning I would chill in bed or calmly prepared my breakfast. At night, I would clean a bit my room, brush my teeth, prepare my stuff for the next day and then went straight to bed. (well, I do actually check my alarm 100 times just to be sure)
  • Start and finish my day with a sip of room temperature water
  • On free days I don't just sit in bed. I know these are the days when I have to do active rest. So that’s pretty much a day for my fun habits only.

Few but effective habits. Once they will settle in, they will find a way to manifest themself on a daily basis.

Now there are still days when even all these do not work. It’s normal. As doctors can’t explain sleep, I accepted the fact that neither should I.

The body is a very complicated mechanism. If you can’t fall asleep, just do something else and don’t get mad. Every rule has an exception.

So don’t aim for perfection, aim for health and peace.

My grandma: the only person I know that kept her sleeping habits.

We live in Romania. My grandma is 81 now. She grew up during WWII with 6 brothers, got married during the communist era, had 9 kids of her own, and as a consequence, she could not afford to lose time.

For as much she can remember, she had always gone to bed at 22.00 P.M and always woke up at 5 or 6 A.M without any alarm. If she wakes up at 7 or 8 A.M. she had most probably partied late at night.

She never had trouble sleeping, until recently. Her husband died, she lives on her pension and this COVID locked her inside the house. I visited her and asked her what’s the problem. She looked at me and she only said this:

How can I sleep if I’m not tired at all?

Maybe we don’t need to complicate things that much. Maybe we just need to be active enough during the day so when night falls, sleep is the only thing we need.

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