• Felipe Martins & Renata Sander

Do you want to change your life? Go sleep!


It does not matter what occupation you are engaged in... After reading this article you will know precious information that can be used to improve your sleep quality and consequentially your well being though your days!

On the past years, sleep physiology has gained even more attention among scientists and health professionals. Knowing how sleep mechanisms work can seize many popular beliefs and ancient ideas that are lost on the common sense.


The Athlete' Science authors have read up on dozens of studies just to write this quick and easy article for you. Before knowing what is like a good night of sleep, let's first understand how sleeping really works...


Let's begin...


First fact to understand is that you are always in one of the following phases (even though it seems a little obvious):

Vigil: when the body is awake

Sleep: when the body is paralyzed or it moves involuntarily, having little reaction to external stimuli, eyes closed and no interaction with the environment.


Interesting Fact #1: Studies about sleep began to get more attention on the 30's in Germany, and now it is highly correlated with quality of life.


The two main types of sleep are:

-Rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, and

-Non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep.


REM sleep is characterized by is eye movements for which it is named, while NREM for absence of eye movements. Very simple, right?


The five stages of sleep:


Stages 1, 2, 3 and 4 are NREM stages. In these stages, a progressive muscular relaxation occurs, reducing body movement, but breathing pattern stays normal and there is no eye movement. Body spasms are very likely to occur, and they gradually decrease as the sleep stages progress...


Stage 5 is REM sleep, having very specific characteristics:

-Muscular hipotonia (body muscles become totally relaxed)

-Facial movement and weird noises. If you have heard someone teeth grinding during the night, know that is a sleep disorder called sleep bruxism

-Involuntary eye movement in a disorderly and rapid way

-Irregular breathing pattern, that can lead to sleep apnea (we will discuss that later)

-Dreams and nightmares, that can be often extremely vivid and bizarre!


How long does each stage of sleep last?

Before we fall asleep there is the sleep onset latency (SOL), the length of time that it takes for us to get to the first stage of sleep.

Very often when we are anxious and stressed, it takes us longer to fall asleep. That is when sleeping pills take place, shortening the SOL, however they do not guarantee an efficient and good quality sleep!


Stage 1: lasts only a few minutes

Stage 2: 30 to 60 minutes

Stage 3 and 4: approximately 90 minutes

Stage 5: 5 to 10 minutes


Why are the stages of sleep so important?


Sleeping is very important for our health and well being, we all know that. Let's discuss the most relevant facts why it is so important!


The stage 3 and 4 are responsible for hormone production: testosterone, growth hormone and others. They are produced on these stages, not during the deep sleep (stage 5) as many believe. Moreover, muscular recovery mechanisms are activated in these stages. Insufficiency of both stages 3 and 4 of sleep is significantly responsible for decrease in hormone production and consequentially a process of quick musculoskeletal aging.


Stage 5, as known as deep sleep, is the stage we dream, and it is responsible fundamentally for the central nervous system recovery. On other words, it is the time our brain rests, processing our experiences, learning, etc. Insufficiency of this stage can lead to cognitive problems, bad mood, attention and communication problems and memory loss. Do you have any of these symptoms? Be aware of your sleep quality!


After the last stage the sleep cycle begins again, and it restarts about five to six times every night of sleep! Usually we wake up for a brief moment at the end of each cycle... Sometimes we remember being awake, sometimes we do not.


Do we have the same needs when it comes to sleep?


Of course not! Children need about 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night for a healthy development! Are the kids of nowadays really getting enough sleep? Is it healthy for them to wake up so early to go to school? We should think about it...


Adolescents need 8 to 10h per night,

Adults 5 to 8h.

It is uncertain how much athletes need to sleep, but many successful athletes have slept up to 12h per night!


Do you wake up with an alarm?


I am afraid to inform you but you are being woken up before the ideal time for you! It is healthier to let the body wake up naturally... (I know it seams impossible in these times!)


Interesting Fact #2: Ayrton Senna was a Brazilian racing driver who won three Formula One world championships and is regarded as one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time. He used to wake up without any alarm by orders of his conditioning coach, Nuno Cobra, with the intention of having the best physical and mental recovery. Besides that, he would absorb the most of that day's learning, since Senna used to memorize every detail of the tracks he would race.


Even worse than waking up with an alarm is to stay awake all night! We know that happens very often when partying or studying for an important exam, but it can be extremely harmful to your body! Even though you catch up your sleep on the next days, the following two nights will have the sleep stages messed up and they will not be as efficient, impairing mainly hormone production!




By now you know quite a few facts about sleep... So let's answer one more question:


How does the body know when it is time to sleep or to wake up?


The body recognizes the circadian cycle (vigil and sleep) through several factors, being light the main one. For this reason, keeping lights on and using cellphone or watching TV when in bed can mislead the brain to believe it is day still, delaying the desire for sleep.


When the body understands it is time to sleep, melatonin is produced, an important sleep inducing hormone. Melanin levels remain high for most of the night and then drop in the morning. Melanin is sold world wide as supplement to help treating jet lag or insomnia.


Another way the body knows the time of the day or the night is through noises. For example, a cock crowing, birds singing, cars passing by the street... They hint that is already time to wake up! Over time our brain learns those clues to relate with its circadian cycle.




Today we have learnt a bit about sleep physiology, stages of sleep, how each of them work and help on our health, as well as about the circadian cycle. On the next article you will learn more interesting facts about sleep, and more importantly: HOW TO HAVE A SLEEP OF QUALITY to IMPROVE YOUR PERFORMANCE on sport, work, studies... and for a better life!


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#sleep #recovery #athlete #lifestyle #rest #qualityoflife

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© 2016 by Renata Sander and Felipe Martins.