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Sleep Like You Mean It: The Quality of Your Sleep and How to Make it Better

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"
Ernest Hemingway

Of the 24 hours a day everyone on this planet has for the process of life, about 1/3 is dedicated to just lying in bed with your eyes closed, and, as George Carlin put it, “temporarily losing command over everything I know and understand.”This might seem like an extremely unproductive use of your time...but it's not.

Why Do We Sleep

Scientists today are still not 100% clear on the purpose of the body's state known as “sleep,” however, sleeping is largely considered to be a rejuvenating and recovering process for us: cells are being restored, tissues are being restored, and the immune, nervous, skeletal, and muscular systems are all being rejuvenated. Our frontal cortex, hypothalamus, and thalamus start working more intensely, as does our endocrine system: the hormones synthesized by the pituitary gland are secreted during deep sleep only, steroid hormones—during REM sleep only (we will tackle these a bit later).

This is why people who deprive themselves of sleep are not winning anything. The hours you gain by sleeping less are nothing compared to the energy and health you lose—your body is just wearing out faster because your cells, hormones, and brain do not get enough time to recuperate. It's like living in a city with public transportation and buying a car to save on time. All you'll do is waste several hours a day in traffic.

The exact amount of sleep the body needs is up for debate. It's widely accepted that the average adult needs 7-8 hours each day. However, there are plenty of stories about famous and successful folks' sleeping habits, like Napoleon's two-hours-of-sleep-a-day energetic routine or the “two-shift day” practice of Lyndon B. Johnson. These stories might make you believe that the secret to success is sleeping less. It's not. Yes, they were highly productive people; and yes, they seemed to sleep less. But their sleeping patterns did not make them successful.

You have to compensate for a lack of sleep if you want to keep your mind and body healthy. If you don't, the only success you'll achieve is a successful recovery after sleep deprivation-induced heart failure. We recommend sleeping enough, and sleeping well.

How Much is Enough

Everyone requires a different amount of sleep. How well you sleep depends on a few factors, including your age, as well as what and when you ate (you might notice how hard it can be to fall asleep right after you have stuffed yourself with those greasy chicken wings—which are highly fattening, by the way). What you drank, whether you smoke, your level of physical activity, and even your emotional state impact the quality of sleep you get each night. Surprisingly, even the smell, color, temperature, and sounds of your bedroom, and the shape and fabric of your sheets and blankets affect it, too!

The most important factor in determining quality of sleep is your body's sleep cycles. Getting in a lot of hours is not the primary target here, otherwise sleeping for 9+ hours would mean you'll wake up feeling great. Case in point: you might have noticed that when you oversleep, you wake up feeling drowsy, emotionally and physically off, and sometimes with a headache. That is probably because your alarm clock woke you up during your deep sleep phase.

The sleeping process is divided into two major phases: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM). A pair of two (REM and non-REM) makes one full sleep cycle, which lasts roughly 90 minutes. On average, we experience 4 to 6 full cycles per night.

When you drift off, you are entering the first stage of non-REM sleep, which normally takes 1-2% of your total slumber, and is characterized by feeling like you are “swimming away” from reality with spontaneous flinching (called nocturnal myoclonia). This happens because of the steady reduction of muscle activity.

The second non-REM stage takes up to 55% of your total sleeping time, and is characterized by the deceleration of your heart rate, reduction of body temperature, and further reduction of muscle activity. You are harder to wake-up at this stage.

The third non-REM stage takes around 15-23% of the total sleeping time and is known as slow wave sleep, or delta sleep. This is the deepest sleep, during which the body recuperates most actively. Blood flow in the muscles becomes more active, as does growth hormone secretion.

REM sleep accounts for 20-25% of total sleeping time. It is characterized by rapid eye movements, active cerebral blood flow, an increase in arterial blood pressure, high frequency heartbeat and breathing, and increased body activity. This is when you dream. The purposes of REM sleep are yet to be fully discovered, but it has been shown that information arrangement in the brain takes place at this time, and a lack of it damages our ability to perform complex tasks. It is best to wake up right after REM sleep, at the very end of a sleep cycle.

Although sleep cycles repeat during the night, the proportion of stages is not unchangeable. A greater part of deep sleep takes place in the first part of the night (roughly 3-4 hours), while more REM sleep happens during the second part (roughly the last two cycles before awakening). The quality of your sleep largely depends on you waking up after a REM cycle, which happens approximately every 90 minutes (although it has been found that the second and subsequent sleep cycles can last for 100-120 minutes). This is why you can feel tired after 10 hours of sleep, but brisk and awakened after only 4.5 hours.

How to Make the Most of It

Sleep stages (as well as other sleep characteristics) are analyzed using polysomnography in specialized sleep laboratories, where over 40 different body parameters are being monitored, including brain waves, eye movement and skeletal muscle activity. Unless you are ready (and can afford) to spend every night in such a lab, there are quite few ways for you to control your sleeping process.

A simple alarm clock notoriously fails to add to the quality of your sleep since it cannot detect the phase you are in when it wakes you up. The situation has been improved quite recently with the introduction of sensitive alarm clocks that use built-in accelerometers to identify your tumbling and rolling over in a bed. However, most of these alarm clocks have an error rate of 20-30%.

Want more accuracy? The Healbe GoBe Body Manager detects the REM stage using a unique patented algorithm which we have developed alongside a group of somnologists after analyzing a huge selection of polysomnographies. This algorithm pairs accelerometer data with your breathing rate and heart rate, which both significantly increase during REM. This makes the Body Manager 3 times more likely to wake you up at the best-possible time. The estimation error in this case is roughly 10-15 minutes, which equals to only 3 to 5% of your sleep.

But the device is so much more than just a precise “wake-up” companion; it provides you with a pretty accurate quality outline of your night's sleep, which is based on three key factors:

- the length of your night's sleep

- how many times you wake up

- the length of time you stay awake when woken-up

      Using the above-mentioned algorithm, the device detects whether you are currently asleep or awake, and counts the time length of both states. All you will actually have to do is switch on the “Smart Alarm” mode and set the latest acceptable awakening time, which will be the end of the sleep-tracking process.

      This mode can be used from 9pm to 12pm. Length of sleep is counted from your first stage of non-REM sleep until the moment you wake up, or until 12pm the following day.

      Based on the sleep-tracking process, the quality of your sleep is represented through the following percentages:

      • 0-45% — very poor quality of sleep, which can result in a very high level of stress
      • 46-60% — signs of insomnia or other sleep disorders
      • 61-75% — sleep deprivation
      • 76-90% — good quality of sleep; a sufficient amount to rejuvenate the body
      • 91-100% — very good quality of sleep — kudos, sleepmaster!

      The more often you wake up at night, and the longer these awakenings last, the lower percent of sleep quality you are going to get. For example, if you slept from 12am to 8am and woke up twice, once at 2am for 20 minutes and then at 4am for 30 minutes, the quality of your night's sleep will be 90%. If you sleep uninterruptedly, but only from 12am to 6am, the quality will be 84%.

      If the GoBe Body Manager detects you are entering into REM sleep 20 to 30 minutes before your Smart Alarm is set, it will gently wake you so as to not disrupt you during deep sleep. Otherwise, the device will vibrate to wake you up at whatever time you set in the Healbe smartphone app.

      But Wait, There's More

      Apart from tracking your quality of sleep and waking you up at the best time possible, the GoBe Body Manager can also alert you of certain sleep disorders, like brachycardia, heart block and arrhythmia*, using the above-mentioned algorithm. You should also bear in mind that if you sleepwalk, the device will not be able to track your sleep because that type of bodily movement will cause the device to think you are awake.

      *Brachycardia is the resting heart rate of under 60 beats per minute; heart block is a blockage at any level of the electrical conduction system of the heart; arrhythmia is an irregular rhythm of the electrical activity of the heart. All these conditions can be potentially harmful to your health and should be discussed with a physician.

      Please note that Healbe GoBe is not responsible for any content that purports to give medical advice or advice regarding fitness training, exercise, or diet. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and prior to starting a diet or physical fitness program.
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