Understanding Sleep Patterns
While the precise number of hours you should spend sleeping each night varies in accordance with factors such as your lifestyle and age, the National Sleep Foundation has recommended guidelines for different age groups. For adults ages 26 through 64 years-old, the foundation advises you get seven to nine hours of sleep daily. For teenagers between 14 and 17 years-old, the National Sleep Foundation recommends eight to 10 hours of sleep every night. These recommendations can vary but are typically suggested based on natural sleep patterns that individuals experience.
Although guidelines like the ones provided by the National Sleep Foundation are helpful, they are merely a starting point when it comes to figuring out how much sleep you need nightly. That’s due, in part, to the fact that people go through several stages as they sleep. Looking at these stages as a whole, they can be considered a sleep cycle that encompasses several key phases.
Light sleep occurs after you initially drift off to sleep when your heart rate slows and your body temperature drops. After about 10 – 15 minutes of light sleep, you fall into deep sleep. It’s in this phase that your body will begin to repair itself from whatever it experienced during the previous day. Most people spend the largest amount of time in light and deep sleep each night.
REM is the sleep stage most people are familiar with because it’s in this phase that they experience dreams. Your brain is more active during REM sleep than it is in the other sleep stages, which causes your heart rate to increase and your eyes to move quickly.
The amount of time you spend in the REM sleep stage generally increases as you go through more complete sleep cycles throughout the night. While your first REM phase may only last 10 minutes or so, later REM stages can last upwards of an hour.
For your body to fully heal itself from the activities of the previous day, it’s vital for you to experience all three stages of sleep over multiple sleep cycles every night. If this doesn’t happen, it can have a negative impact on your health in the short- and long-term.
The Importance of Monitoring Sleep Patterns
With sleep being as essential to your health as regular exercise, monitoring your sleep is crucial to your overall well-being. If you doubt that, consider this – a study of college students conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital revealed that irregular sleep patterns have a direct correlation with a lower grade point average, delayed sleep and wake times and the delayed release of melatonin.
While you may now agree that you should monitor your sleep patterns, you might be wondering how you can go about doing it. While the data they provide isn’t 100 percent accurate, sleep trackers like the ones included in wearables such as Fitbit devices can help.
Here are some of the things you can learn by monitoring your sleep patterns with a wearable device:
- The consequences of not sticking to your normal sleep schedule
- The ideal window of time during which you should sleep each night
- Whether a medical condition such as restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea is interrupting your sleep regularly
- The precise time you should set your alarm clock to go off so you wake during the lightest sleep stage each morning
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