The importance of regular, high-quality sleep and some methods people can use to attain it was the topic of the monthly presentation of the Infinite Mindcare Talk Series on Dec. 16.
The talks are presented by Lili Wagner and Sutton Burke of Infinite Mindcare, a multi-speciality counselling centre offering treatment for children, adolescents and adults. Because of the busy shopping just before Christmas, the talk was held in Cafe del Sol instead of Books & Books, where it is usually held.
The talk started with Wagner explaining the five stages of human sleep, which starts when people are asleep and somewhat alert at the same time.
The second stage of sleep is a light sleep, which lasts about 20 minutes. During this stage of sleep, brain waves change significantly and various metabolic functions slow down. Wagner said that people who take “power naps” are mostly in this stage of sleep.
The third and fourth stages of sleep are deep sleep, the period where most people are “dead to the world,” Wagner said. “This is the restorative type of sleep that helps the body repair muscles and tissues and boosts the immune system.”
The first four stages of sleep are called NREM, or non-rapid eye movement, sleep. The final stage is REM, the stage where the brain becomes very active and most dreaming occurs.
It takes about 90 minutes to go through the five stages of sleep, Wagner said.
“The best sleep is when you go through all of these stages several times a night.” The best naps go through one entire cycle of stages, she said, adding that the worst kinds of naps are the ones in which a person wakes up during deep sleep because they will likely be groggy when they awaken.
Not getting enough sleep can negatively affect memory, thinking and judgment, Wagner said, adding that people have a higher chance of getting into an accident when they don’t get enough sleep. It can also cause weight gain, compromise the immune system and reduce sex drive.
“Not getting enough sleep also ages the skin,” she said. “That’s why they call it ‘beauty sleep.'”
If people are deprived of proper sleep long enough, they can suffer from depression, agitation and even hallucinations, Wagner said, noting that sleep is a necessary restorative nutrient for the body.
Burke then spoke about ways people can improve their sleep. She said studies have shown that the thinking around sleep — like worrying about it — often contributes largely to the problem. A protocol called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia, or CBT-I, has been developed to help people change their thinking about sleeping.
She said that stimulus control around bed is one aspect of the CBT-I protocol.
“You want to associate your bed with sleep,” she said. “So you should only sleep and have sex in your bed.”
Everything else — like reading, writing, eating, watching television, talking on the telephone — should be done somewhere else other than bed.
Many people have trouble falling asleep because they replay parts of the day or think about the worries of the next day. Burke said that instead, they could write these thoughts down in a journal before bed to “get them out of your head.”
For those who have insomnia, Burke suggested that instead of lying in bed awake, they should not go to bed until they are tired, even if it means going to bed very late. The next day they might feel tired, but they shouldn’t take any naps. As a result, the following night they will likely go to bed at a normal hour because they’re tired. This approach will help them get into a normal sleep rhythm.
If people wake up in the middle of the night, she said they should get up and read on the couch or listen to soft music and then go back to bed when they feel tired instead of lying in bed awake.
Everyone should have a bedtime routine, Burke said.
“With my kids, it’s the same routine every night,” she said. “They eat, take a bath, change into their bedclothes, then it’s bedtime stories and off to sleep. Adults need something similar.”
Wagner said people should try to make their bedroom their sanctuary and that at least a half hour before bed, people should eliminate using electronic devices like cell phones and computers. They can try listening to soothing sounds, especially nature sounds like running streams or rain. Soft music can also help calm the mind.
“Music counteracts the body’s stress response,” Wagner said. “Although I wouldn’t recommend listening to heavy metal.”
Some other steps Wagner said people can take to help them relax and sleep include introducing aromas like lavender; keeping the bedroom very cool; keeping the bedroom quiet and using “white noise” to help counter ambient external noises; and keeping the bedroom dark when going to sleep. Wagner said she uses special stickers to cover up LED lights on electronic devices in her bedroom.
Having good pillows that are right for the type of bed you’re sleeping on is also important, as is having comfortable bedding. With regard to sleeping medications, even natural ones like melatonin, Wagner said people shouldn’t get to the point that they depend on them to sleep.
“If you use any kind of sleeping aid, you want to give it a rest,” she said. Burke agreed. “Sleeping medication is meant to be temporary.”