Sleep: Why It Is So Important, How Much Sleep You Need And How To Do It Right

Sleep: why it is so important and how to do it right

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Most of us spend one-third of our lives asleep. If you live for 90 years, 30 of them you will be sleeping. A lot, right? This is the subject of research by many scientists around the world (neurologists, psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists). Does everyone wonder how much to sleep? How does sleep affect productivity? What to do if you can’t fall asleep?

What is sleep?

Sleep is a special state of consciousness, as well as a natural physiological process, characterized by a reduced reaction to the surrounding world and specific brain activity.

The structure of human sleep includes two phases: slow sleep (Non-REM) and fast sleep (REM – “rapid eye movement”).

Slow sleep

It comes immediately after falling asleep. It consists of four stages. The total duration of the Non-REM phase is about 90 minutes. The breathing is calm, even, the pressure decreases, the eyes make slow movements from the beginning, and then they are immobile, the brain is inactive, the body is relaxed. You relaxing and restoring physical strength.

Fast sleep

It follows a slow sleep and lasts from 10 to 20 minutes. Temperature and pressure increase, the heart beats more often. The body is immobilized, with the exception of the muscles responsible for heartbeat and breathing. Under closed eyelids, there are fast movements of the eyeballs. The brain is actively working. You are dreaming.

The non-REM and REM phases alternate with each other. First, you sink into a slow sleep and go through all its stages. It takes about 90 minutes. Then comes the phase of REM sleep. For the first time, it is short, no more than 5 minutes.

This circle is called the sleep cycle. The cycles are repeated. This reduces the proportion of slow sleep and increases (up to 1 hour) the duration of fast. A healthy person usually goes through five sleep cycles at a time.

Value of sleep

Full sleep contributes to success in professional and personal life. But most importantly, sleep is a guarantee of health. During sleep, a number of important hormones are produced, the tissue is regenerated, and physical strength is replenished. The brain is also not idle: some of its areas become even more active than during the period of wakefulness.

Have you noticed that when you want to sleep, some tasks seem to be too difficult, but if you sleep, the solution comes by itself? The fact is that during sleep there is a selective erasure of memory. The brain analyzes the information received in a day: the unnecessary is sent to the “trash”, and the important information in the short-term memory is “archived” into the long-term one. This is how our memories are shaped. Improves perception, concentration and learning ability.

Lack of sleep affects the performance of certain areas of the brain. For example, inhibition of neural processes in the parietal lobe is observed, which may cause problems with the reaction rate. And while slowing down the work of the prefrontal cortex, it is difficult for a person to formulate thoughts, there may be vision problems. Fatigue of the brain results in a whole bunch of negative effects.

The consequences of lack of sleep

The Consequences Of Lack Of Sleep

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  • The deterioration of cognitive functions (memory, attention, thinking), coordination, speech, orientation, control, and others. Often this leads to emergency situations at work and on the road. According to statistics, every fifth accident occurs due to the fact that the driver fell asleep at the wheel.
  • Vulnerability immunity. Studies show that people who sleep less have a 3 times greater chance to get sick. During the sleep, the immune system synthesizes cytokine proteins. The more infections around, the more they are required. But if a person doesn’t sleep much, cytokines simply have no time to produce. No wonder they say that sleep heals.
  • Overeating and overweight. Lack of sleep stimulates the production of ghrelin – the hunger hormone. As a result, the person overeats. A tired brain needs more and tastier food.
  • Decreased productivity. When a person wants to sleep, he does everything slowly and poorly. What usually takes an hour can take two, three or more. And most likely have to redo it. The efficiency of time stolen from sleep tends to zero.
  • Low motivation. Constant lack of sleep destroys motivation as groundwater erodes the foundation. Every day, you are less and less willing to move towards your goals.
  • Bad habits and bad mood. Lack of sleep – a serious obstacle to the formation of healthy habits. But an excellent catalyst for harmful habits: with a lack of sleep, a person is looking for external stimulants (nicotine, caffeine, and so on). A sleepy person is quick-tempered, irritable, and offended by the whole world.
  • Bad appearance. Lack of sleep is literally imprinted on the face in the form of bruises and bags under the eyes. Prolonged lack of sleep provokes premature aging of the skin.

The situation is getting worse by the fact that a person does not realize or does not recognize the decline in his mental and physical abilities: “Sleep is for wimps! I’m fine!”.

Long-term deprivation of sleep can cause serious health problems: the risk of developing heart and vascular diseases, diabetes mellitus. However, there are people who consider sleep a waste of time and deliberately reduce its duration to a minimum.

But if you’re not that type of person and you just had a sleepless night for whatever reason, there are 8 ways to survive the day after bad sleep.

Polyphasic sleep

Polyphasic sleep is a sleep pattern in which the sleep time is divided into several short periods instead of a long rest once a day. In this case, the total duration of sleep is significantly reduced, and wakefulness increases to 20–22 hours.

Time is the most valuable and irreplaceable resource. Spending it on a dream is a crime.

This is the philosophy of polyphasic sleepers.

Main modes of Polyphase sleep:

  • Dymaxion – four times for 30 minutes every 6 hours. Total – 2 hours.
  • Uberman – six times for 20 minutes every 4 hours. Total – 2 hours.
  • Everyman – 1.5–3 hours at night and three times for 20 minutes during the day. Total – 2.5–4 hours.
  • Tesla – 2 hours at night and 20 minutes during the day. Total – 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Sleep duration is reduced by skipping Non-REM phases. According to supporters of the polyphase pattern, the main energy recharge occurs during REM sleep, which means that you need to immediately “dive” into it, without wasting time on a slow sleep.

Of course, we need training. If you do not know how to quickly fall asleep and do not like to sleep during the day, it will be difficult. But gradually the body will get used, and the brain will tune in to the desired wave.

Many prominent personalities practiced polyphasic sleep: Leonardo da Vinci, Salvador Dali, Nikola Tesla, Bucky Fuller. Of our contemporaries, Yahoo’s President Marissa Mayer, businessman and billionaire Donald Trump, basketball player Kobe Bryant and others.

Adherents of polyphasic sleep claim that they feel great: not only they get enough sleep, but they are also full of physical and creative powers.

However, in multiphase sleep, there are many critics who say that sooner or later this ragged schedule will come around due to problems with the cardiovascular system. Opponents of polyphasic sleep believe that you can not force the body, you need to listen to their biological clock.

Sleep and circadian rhythms

In ancient times, people lived according to the laws of nature – everything depended on the change of time of day. After all, there were only two “lamps”: during the day – the sun, at night – the moon. It formed the human circadian rhythms.

Circadian rhythms – are the internal clock of the body, determining the intensity of various biological processes (thermoregulation, digestion, hormone production, and so on).

The circadian frequency of sleep and wakefulness depends on the light. Visual receptors respond to the level of illumination and send a signal to the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the brain. This gives rise to the development of two important hormones responsible for sleep and arousal: melatonin and cortisol.

Melatonin is a sleep hormone. It is produced in the pineal gland when it gets dark. He reduces the pressure and temperature, soothes the body and gives him the command “It’s time to sleep!” In the morning, melatonin synthesis stops. The more light, the more cortisol is released into the blood. This hormone wakes us up, gives vigor and energy for the accomplishments of a new day.

This determines the 24-hour circadian rhythm of sleep and wakefulness: darker – melatonin gives us the opportunity to relax, the sun rises – cortisol wakes us up. But how long does it take to sleep to be healthy and positive? After all, for example, in summer nights are shorter than in winter, and artificial lighting allows adjusting the natural schedule.

How much to sleep

The absolute majority of studies have proven: a healthy adult needs 8 hours of sleep.

This follows from the very nature of sleep. Remember, under normal conditions, we go through five sleep cycles of about 100 minutes each: if you multiply 100 by 5 and divide by 60, it will be about 8 hours.

Duration of sleep depends on age

The younger the person, the more sleep he needs. The National Sleep Foundation, an American non-profit organization with 25 years of experience in this field, gives the following recommendations:

  • 0 – 3 months – 14-17 hours;
  • 4 – 11 months – 12-15 hours;
  • 1 – 2 years – 11–14 hours;
  • 3 – 5 years – 10–13 hours;
  • 6 – 15 years – 9–11 hours;
  • 14 – 17 years old – 8–10 hours;
  • 18 – 64 years old – 7–9 hours;
  • 65 years and more – 7-8 hours.

Duration of sleep directly affects physical and mental activity. Maybe in order to become the best in your business, it is enough to sleep as long as outstanding scientists, writers, and politicians slept? This question has no definite answer.

Einstein and Schopenhauer slept 10-12 hours a day. Honore de Balzac, Leo Tolstoy, and Charles Darwin – 8 hours each. Six-hour sleep adhered to Sigmund Freud and Vladimir Nabokov. Mozart and Margaret Thatcher rested slightly less (5 hours each), Napoleon Bonaparte and Voltaire (4 hours each). Record for wakefulness – Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, practicing polyphasic sleep.

There is no universal recipe. Sleep duration as a shoe size. The majority is suitable for 8 hours, but for some, this is not enough, but for some, it is a lot. You can understand how much you need to sleep, experimentally.

Larks against owls

Circadian rhythms also affect the psychological state of a person. Depending on the peaks of mental activity, people are divided into two chronotypes: morning (larks) and evening (owls).

Larks Against Owls


They get up early and go to bed early. Getting up at 5-8 in the morning. Go to sleep is usually no later than 10 pm. The most productive and efficient until noon. In the afternoon can not solve problems effectively. By evening, absolutely exhausted.


They get up late and go to bed late. Getting up at 9 am and later. Going to sleep usually after midnight. The peak of productivity comes in the afternoon and evening. Early awakening knocks out of a rut.

This classification was invented in the West in the 1970s. Who is better: larks or owls?

Larks are associated with diligence and success. The world seems to be made for early birds. Government agencies, clinics, shops, organizations – if you want to keep up everywhere, get up earlier. But, according to scientific research and examples from life, owls are also efficient and prosperous. For example, for a trader on the stock exchange or IT freelancer, the generally accepted work schedule is not so important: they have their own.

Sometimes discussions get too funny: ostensibly owls are more sociable and more romantic, and larks are more responsible and friendlier. In fact, such subjective qualities depend not on the chronotype, but on the character of the individual. In addition, there is a sleep mode, whose adherents are difficult to categorize unequivocally as larks or owls.

Biphasic sleep

The theory of two-phase, or segmented, sleep was developed by the historian, teacher of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute Roger Ekirch. The result of his 16-year-old scientific work, he outlined in the book “At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past“.

Ekirch studied hundreds of historical documents and came to the following conclusion.

Until the XIX century, until artificial lighting spread to homes, people spent in the dark up to 14 hours a day. Especially long and tedious were the winter evenings. The so-called two-phase sleep has become the defense mechanism here.

People went to bed almost immediately after sunset. We slept for about 4 hours and then woke up and stayed awake for a couple of hours. What they were doing? It depends. The aristocracy and the intelligentsia, who could afford candles were read or prayed. In the 15th century, there were even special prayers for the night vigil. Simple and poor people – hard workers and peasants, indulged in carnal pleasures. By this, Ekirch explains the high birth rate in these social groups. After midnight activity, the people again went to bed and slept until the first roosters.

Modern experiments have shown that biphasic sleep can really add your points in creativity. The fact is that people wake up immediately after REM sleep when the electrical activity of the brain is similar to the waking state. The memory is cleared of unnecessary information, the mind is bright, the attention is clear, you are full of creative energy.

Two-phase sleep from ancient times practiced by some tribes and is becoming more popular in pop culture. While the adherents of this system can not be attributed either to the larks (they go to bed early and get up early) or to owls (they work at night).

This is another argument in favor of the statement that we can change our own chronotype. If desired, the owl can be a lark and vice versa.

How to wake up early

How To Wake Up Early

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Getting up at 6 o’clock in the morning! Can you imagine how difficult it will be to tear your head from the pillow and how bad it will be during the day? But this will be only if the duration of sleep is disturbed. Waking up early does not mean less sleep. Waking up early means sticking with the regime. For example, if you need to wake up at 7:00, then you need to go to bed no later than 22:00.

Why do you want to get up early? Find your motivation. The word “must” does not work. If you force yourself, you will inevitably disrupt the regime. Perhaps you want to lose weight and improve your health? Start running in the morning or sign up for the pool. Many of them open early so that people can swim before work. Not enough time for self-development? Early morning is ideal for this. Everyone is still asleep, no one will prevent you from writing a note on your blog, reading your favorite book or drawing.

Right morning rituals

  • 1st minute: open your eyes, think about the people you love, smile.
  • 2nd minute: take a few deep breaths so that the body is saturated with oxygen, stretch sweetly.
  • 3rd minute: slightly massage the back of the head, temples, eyebrows, and earlobes, rub your hands on one another – this will improve blood circulation.
  • 4th minute: Sit down slowly and drink a glass of water stored in the evening – this will restore the body’s water balance and activate metabolism.
  • 5th minute: get out of bed, open the curtains and, filling the room with light, say to yourself: “Good morning!”

Now take a shower, do your exercises, meditate and have breakfast. In any sequence. Physical activity and a contrast shower will increase the level of adrenaline, a nutritious breakfast will finally awaken the metabolism, and meditation will help you tune in for a new day.

A few more tips that will help make the morning really good:

  • Fill the morning with bright colors and vigorous smells. For example, eat oatmeal from an orange plate and hang citrus pomanders around the house.
  • Take care of everything from the evening. Iron the clothes, collect the lunchbox, make a plan and so on. Often you do not want to get up, because you know how many boring things you should do in the morning.
  • Do not turn on the radio and TV. News and advertising only spoil the mood. Better is to get ready to go to work with your favorite music.

Having created the correct morning rituals, you will feel how waking up with the first rays of the sunsets you up to the creative mood, and you will notice that you no longer need an alarm clock.


Insomnia, also known as sleeplessness, is a sleep disorder in which people have trouble sleeping. They may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep as long as desired.

Insomnia is typically followed by daytime sleepiness, low energy, irritability, and a depressed mood. It may result in an increased risk of motor vehicle collisions, as well as problems focusing and learning. Insomnia can be short term, lasting for days or weeks, or long term, lasting more than a month.


  • You can not fall asleep.
  • Constantly wake up.
  • It infuriates you that you are not sleeping well.
  • Everything falls out of your hands, you do not want to communicate with anyone.

Possible reasons:

  • Stress, problems at work and in personal life, depression.
  • Sleep regime problems. Deciding to stay in bed a little longer on the weekend, you can earn insomnia.
  • Changeable work schedule, and as a result – a violation of circadian rhythms.
  • Medication. See if you have any insomnia among the side effects of the drug you are taking.
  • Violation of sleep hygiene (indoor air, too hot, noisy or light).

In addition, insomnia can be a companion of somatic and neurological diseases. Here you need to consult a doctor. But in most cases, you can get rid of insomnia by yourself.

Insomnia infographics

How to fall asleep easily

Most often, our own thoughts prevent us from falling asleep. And sometimes they are not pleasant.

There are various techniques to stop thinking and fall asleep.


Imagine yourself dormant on the beach under the splash of waves. The more detailed the picture, the faster you will find yourself sleeping. Another method is auto-training: “My eyelids are getting heavy, I fall asleep …”. You can also get rid of the events of the passing day in the reverse order or dream up and tell yourself a bedtime story.

Focus on breathing

Also, try to focus on your own breathing: take a deep breath through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds and slowly exhale with your mouth for 8 seconds. Thanks to this exercise, you will calm down, and while counting seconds you will have no time to think about something else.


Be grateful to passing day. Who or what are you grateful today? From the point of view of positive psychology, the expression of gratitude strengthens interpersonal relations and perfectly motivates. Falling asleep with good thoughts, you are setting yourself up to continue the chain of good tomorrow.

Comfortable position

Sometimes we cannot fall asleep because of some trifle, such as an uncomfortable posture or a “chemotic” smell from bed linen. But in the science of sleep, there are no trifles. Pay attention to the position of the body in which you usually wake up. Lie down in this position next time you can’t fall asleep. Use special candles or a lamp with essential oils to fill the bedroom with the lulling scent of lavender.

But the most important thing is to develop and observe evening rituals that tune the body to sleep.

Correct evening rituals

  • Keep a diary. There you can record the events of the passing day, your thoughts and experiences. Choose a pen and paper notebook over electronic devices.
  • Read. Better – a regular book or an e-book with an e-screen. And no horror films, action movies, and dramas. Choose light positive works.
  • Planning. Prepare your plan in the evening so you will save time in the morning and be ready for action.
  • Communication. The evening is a time for family and friends. It is not necessary to engage in intellectual labor at night. Just have some lively conversation, not social networks or chat rooms.

In addition, proper nutrition, meditation, and walks will help to normalize sleep.

Physical activity before bedtime

Many people believe that you need to get tired to sleep well. Physical activity really has a positive effect on the quality and duration of sleep. But it’s better if you finish intensive training at least 4-6 hours before bedtime.

1–2 hours before bedtime, you can do light aerobic exercises, practice yoga, or just meditate.

One of the best yoga postures for relaxation is Shavasana. Lie on your back. Arrange hands along the body with palms up, but do not touch the body. Legs stretch and spread apart a little. Close your eyes. Alternately relax all the muscles of the body, starting with the toes. Gradually move up: buttocks, waist, abdomen, back, chest and so on. Complete relaxation with the muscles of the neck, face, and eyes. Usually, at this point a person is disconnected.

But the best option for evening physical activity is a walk. You will enrich the body with oxygen, literally step over the worries and anxieties of the day, and possibly increase your appetite.

Food and drinks before bedtime

Eating at night is bad. But to go to bed, when in the stomach rumbling from hunger, is wrong. The last meal should be 2-3 hours before bedtime. At the same time, you need to eat products conducive to rest.

You should eat products rich in:

  • melatonin – a sleep hormone;
  • tryptophan – an amino acid from which melatonin can be synthesized;
  • calcium, which contributes to the absorption of tryptophan;
  • magnesium – a natural muscle relaxant that helps to relax;
  • protein, which lowers the acidity of the stomach, causes drowsiness.

Snacks that improve sleep

  • Cherry juice or fresh cherry. This berry has a lot of melatonin. Regular consumption of cherry juice significantly increases the duration of sleep.
  • Bananas. They are rich in magnesium and also contain tryptophan.
  • Yogurt or low-fat cottage cheese. Dairy products contain a lot of calcium and protein.
  • Turkey, beans, eggs. These are low-calorie nutritious foods that help lower the pH of the stomach and cause drowsiness due to tryptophan.
  • Spinach and other dark greens, pumpkin seeds, almonds. Rich in magnesium, which provides muscle relaxation and makes it easier to fall asleep.

It’s better not to eat fatty foods, coffee, and caffeinated foods, as well as alcohol before bedtime. The first can cause indigestion and adversely affect the figure. Coffee, black tea, energy drinks, and other caffeinated products will not let you sleep for a long time. The last cup of espresso should be drunk no later than 14:00. At night, it is better to drink herbal teas with chamomile, oregano, lemon balm or hawthorn. They will help calm down and relax.

Especially insidious alcohol. It helps to turn off, but it has a bad effect on the phase of fast sleep, and because of the dehydration and decay of ethanol, we wake up without having time to rest. So a jar of beer or a glass of wine before bedtime is not the best sleeping pill.

It is better to drink a cup of warm milk with honey. Milk contains tryptophan, protein, and calcium. Such a drink has a warming-lulling effect. Just like in childhood.

Daytime sleep

Churchill never missed an afternoon nap, even during the war. The politician believed that an afternoon nap, like nothing else, increases efficiency. And he was right. Daytime sleep is really helpful. Especially if you get enough sleep at night.

You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no half-way
measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That’s what I always do. Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That’s a foolish notion held by people who have no imagination. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one-well, at least one and a half, I’m sure. When the war started, I had to sleep during the day because that was the only way I could cope with my responsibilities.

Winston Churchill

A short nap improves memory and other cognitive functions. It helps to transfer accumulated information from short-term to long-term memory.

Such nap stimulates creativity and increases the ability to learn. It also helps to resist stress and improves mood.

How long do you need to nap

  • 10–20 minutes. This is the ideal duration of daytime sleep. You will go through the first two stages of slow sleep and wake up easily, having time to relax your mind and body.
  • 30 minutes. After half an hour of sleep, there may be a state of inertia, similar to a hangover. It will last another 30 minutes.
  • 60 minutes After such a nap break, it is easy to remember facts, faces, and numbers. But for some time you will act by inertia.
  • 90 minutes Complete a full sleep cycle. It is easy to wake up, there is a surge of strength.

When, how and where to take a nap

The best time for a siesta is from 13:00 to 16:00. But specific hours depend on your routine and biorhythm. For example, if you wake up at 10:00, you hardly want to take a nap in just 3 hours.

You need to get used to daytime sleep. Practice it for several days at the same time. Try to sleep the same number of minutes. Consider the time required to fall asleep. If you disconnect in 10 minutes, then for a full 20-minute nap, the alarm should be started half an hour ahead.

You can take a nap everywhere: in the car, at the table, on the sofa. Sleep is short, which means you hardly risk getting up with pain in your back or neck. Ideally, find a quiet place with dim lights. If the office does not have this, use a sleep mask and earplugs.

The golden rules of good sleep

  • Stick to a bedtime routine. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time according to your internal biological clock. Use special application trackers to learn the features of your sleep.
  • Create a comfortable sleep environment. The optimum temperature in the bedroom is 18–21 ºС. Air the room before sleep. Cover the windows so that the light from outdoor advertising, street lamps and passing cars does not interfere with you. If you do not sleep alone, discuss with your partner what factors affect your sleep, and create comfortable conditions for both.
  • Buy a comfortable mattress, pillow, and clothes for sleeping. Change bedding as often as possible. Do not let pets in bed.
  • Walk and meditate before bedtime.
  • Do not go to sleep on an empty stomach, but do not overeat. No coffee and alcohol at night.
  • Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex. Do not watch TV in bed, do not use a laptop, tablet, and smartphone. The light from the screens suppresses melatonin production – the quality of sleep decreases.
  • Avoid digital noise at least 2-3 hours before bedtime. Instead of scrolling social network tapes, viewing mail and videos, do your evening rituals.
  • Do not hold the phone and watch under the pillow. If you don’t wake up yourself – the alarm will wake you up. No need to control how much you have already slept and how much sleep is left.
Sleep: Why It Is So Important And How To Do It Right

Cover photo by Kate Stone Matheson on Unsplash

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