Whenever I deliver training courses on mental toughness, resilience, and productivity, one topic that attracts the most interest is sleep.
I don’t think a week goes by that I don’t end up discussing our sleep cycles, including why we wake up at 3.00 am and how to get a better night’s sleep. So, I can’t imagine why I haven’t written about it previously!
Sleep and Our Biorhythms
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article discussing tapping into your natural biorhythms (circadian rhythms) to increase productivity. If you missed it, you can read/listen here.
Our circadian rhythm, which, amongst other things (e.g. digestion, hormones, and body temperature), is responsible for our sleep-wake cycle.
During both the day and night, we move through 90-minute cycles. In the day, we can tap into our natural ebbs and flows in concentration to be more productive, which I covered in detail in the previous article.
We typically go through five sleep cycles, provided we have the recommended 8/9 hours of sleep.
Each cycle takes approximately 90 minutes and tends to follow the following pattern:
- When we fall asleep, we first move through REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) which is when we dream.
- We then transition through non-REM stages and into deep sleep. Typically, we only enter this stage during the first two or three sleep cycles.
- We then move back up through REM again, bringing us nearer consciousness.
- This cycle repeats until we fully wake up naturally or use an alarm.
(N.B., the period in REM tends to be longer in the latter two sleep cycles.)
Points to Note
- It’s widely accepted that EVERYONE needs at least 8 hours of sleep. You may think you can get away with less, but you will undoubtedly experience issues with impaired cognitive performance, especially if you have significantly less.
- Women need more sleep than men due to the way hormones are produced.
- Being able to make up for lost sleep at the weekend is a myth. Once it’s gone, it’s gone!
- Deep sleep may be compromised if you do strenuous exercise without enough rest.
- We tend to get more REM sleep on nights following intense learning or during highly emotional periods.
- During REM, the brain processes the information from the previous day.
- The stress hormone cortisol is what wakes us up naturally. So we have more of this biochemical in our system first thing in the morning.
- Try to wake up naturally (rather than with a startling alarm). Alarms trigger our flight, fight, freeze stress response. Not a great way to start the day!
- If you wake up in the night and get too much light in the back of your eyes, it can be an entire sleep cycle (90 minutes) before you fall back to sleep again.
Why We Wake Up At 3.00 am
It’s incredibly common to wake up at 3.00 am. In fact, we all do. It’s part of the sleep cycle.
We wake up when we are coming out of the third sleep cycle (before going into the fourth). We may turn over and go back to sleep; however, if there is something on your mind that the subconscious has not been able to process satisfactorily, you will likely wake fully.
If you get overstimulated by getting too much light in the back of your eyes (either from your phone/overhead light or you move around/talk too much), it can be an entire sleep cycle (90 minutes) before you fall back asleep.
To counteract this:
- Avoid Bright Light
If you need to get up for a bathroom break, keep light to an absolute minimum – DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR PHONE or turn on any overhead light!
As soon as light hits the back of our eyes, it immediately stops the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone) as the brain registers the light as daylight triggering the release of serotonin (the daytime hormone).
2. Worrying and Overthinking
If you wake up worrying, and let’s face it, everything always feels far worse in the middle of the night, leave a pad and pen by the side of the bed.
Again, avoid turning on the light/reaching for your phone. Instead, jot down your worries on the pad. It doesn’t matter if you can’t read it. Your subconscious will consider the matter dealt with, and likely you’ll fall back to sleep quickly.
When you use this technique for a couple of nights, you’ll typically find that you don’t wake up the same again. I have taught this technique to thousands of clients and delegates over the years, and it works without fail.
Next week, I’ll discuss more top tips for improving sleep hygiene. I’ll also include what to do if you struggle to fall asleep and how to manage jet lag effectively.
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