There’s a wonderfully fascinating science behind sleep. When we sleep at night, it’s not just a simple matter of dreaming or recharging. In theory, we cycle through several different stages of sleep, each of which helps our mind and body accomplish various things. Aside from the Awake stage (which can sometimes happen multiple times throughout the night but for such short periods of time we don’t actually remember it), our sleep consists of the REM (rapid eye movement) stage, Light Sleep, and Deep Sleep (which typically happens at the start of the night).
What sleep actually does for your body
According to the research done by Fitness tracker brand Fitbit for instance, REM sleep is when most of your dreaming occurs, and is a stage that is crucial for mental recovery and memory formation. Light Sleep lets your body recover from the day and helps your mind with memory and learning, while Deep Sleep is something we need for a healthier immune system, muscle growth and repair.
Fitbit has actually worked with sleep scientists from top institutions like Stanford University and Johns Hopkins to create a new feature in its existing app that tracks these stages of sleep with the telltale aid of your heart rate readings, so you have a better idea of the quality of sleep you’re getting.
As it stands, us Singaporeans are a constantly stressed and sleep-deprived bunch. We try to get by on the bare minimum amount of sleep in order to cram more activities or work into our day, and in doing so we end up compromising on our overall health.
If you’re feeling overworked, constantly tired, or find yourself sleeping the weekend away, then you’re definitely not getting enough sleep during the week, and it’s time to make a change.
Perhaps it’s not that you’re too busy to sleep, but simply haven’t been able to. If that’s the case, then we’ve got some helpful tips to help boost the quality of your sleep.
How to ensure you sleep well every night
We had the privilege of meeting Doctor Michael Chee, a professor at Duke-NUS Medical School and Principal Investigator of the Cognitive Neuroscience Lab during Fitbit’s recent Alta HR launch. He shared with us some handy tips for getting better sleep at night, and all you need to remember these tips, is the acronym SELAMAT.
S is about your substance intake. He recommends avoiding things like alcohol or caffeine before bed. So if you think alcohol is something that’s going to help you sleep well, the opposite is true. While some booze before bed might help you knock out quicker, your sleep is likely to end up being more restless, with less time spent in Deep Sleep.
E is in regard to your emotional state. Some people may find that exercising before bed helps them sleep better, while others might have a tougher time sleeping. The primary difference between the two is your emotional state right before you sleep. A more intense workout that activates a very competitive side of your mind will result in a degree of hyperactivity in your mind that impedes your sleep. The same can be said for activities like video games or watching certain TV shows before bed. Try to wind your mind down an hour or two before bed and avoid anything too engaging.
L is for light. This one is something of a no-brainer. We sleep better in darkness because our bodies are sensitive to light. When we’re exposed to light, our bodies are wired to wake us up more, which is why it’s a lot easier for us to wake up when the sun’s come up. So if you’re exposed to light while trying to sleep, your body will struggle harder with getting rest.
A refers to the auditory aspect of your environment. In other words, keep your room quiet for a good night’s sleep. While some people are more sensitive to noise than others while trying to sleep, a quiet room is a universally acknowledged requirement for sleeping well. This can be an issue if you live on a quiet road, have noisy neighbours, or even if your partner has a tendency to snore at night. If you need quiet and your partner snores, try as far as possible to be the one that gets to sleep first.
M represents mental activity. It’s similar to the point made about your emotional state, but it’s less about engaging in activities before bed and more about letting your thoughts stress you out before bed. This can involve anything from work stress to relationship problems or even a hyperactive mind. Resolving arguments before bed benefits your mind, and finding ways to relax can help put work stresses out of your head. Consider some aromatherapy, a warm shower, listening to music, or meditating before bed to clear your mind.
A considers your age. According to Dr. Chee, sleep gets more elusive the older you get. Not only do you have a harder time falling asleep over time, but you also experience less Deep Sleep (which helps with your memory) as you age. So in order to benefit as much as possible from the different levels of sleep, Dr. Chee recommends starting good sleep habits when you’re young. He also suggests light exercising before bed which is more beneficial for your body from your 30s or 40s.
T is the final factor, temperature. There’s a reason a warm cup of milk or a warm bath are popular practices. A warm bath drops your body temperature to help you sleep better. It’s this drop in temperature that induces sleep. While some of us need air-conditioning to feel comfortable in Singapore, it shouldn’t be too cold that you feel uncomfortable. Figuring out the most comfortable temperature for your room also improves the quality of your sleep throughout the night.
One other thing to consider is being more consistent with your sleep and waking times, because as your body settles into a regular rhythm your sleep quality goes up and you have a much easier time waking up in the mornings. Fitbit’s new Sleep Stages feature not only lets you set an ideal sleeping and waking time to follow, it also shows you how many days a week you meet that goal, and on occasion can draw correlations between your exercise logs and your sleep (like telling you that you sleep better on the days you get some exercise in).
Image: My sleep stages across two different nights
The app itself is free, though you will need one of the heart rate devices to use the Sleep Stages feature. The brand recently launched its new tracker, the Alta HR ($248), which is now the slimmest continuous heart rate tracker ever, and it comes with a more comfortable, flexible and secure strap than the regular Alta model. It also has a seven-day battery life compared to the version without the heart rate monitor, which is downright impressive and perfect for those of us who forget to charge things or just somehow never get around to doing so.
Having used the tracker for the last week, it’s become abundantly clear why I get worse sleep on certain nights, and feel better or worse on different mornings.
If you’ve been struggling with your sleep or trying to improve how well you sleep each night, then this is an ingenious way to do so while encouraging yourself to get healthier in the long run.