Sleep Your Way to Success

by Stephen Mills on May 12, 2009

Sleeping

Ha ha!  This is not going to be what you were thinking.  Jonathan at Advanced Life Skills published an article called What is Your Brain Doing While You Are Sleeping?.  Please check it out.  I would like to expand on the sleep topic with some other interesting and important information.

I used to think sleep was a waste of time and since I could function on a lot less than most people, I did.  Big mistake.  Please don’t make the same mistake.  Over many years of too little sleep, I have paid a big price and maybe even done permanent damage.

How Much Do You Need?

This varies from person to person but most people need between seven and nine hours.  Teenagers need more than any other age group except babies, typically 9 or more.  People who sleep eight hours score better on mental tests than people who sleep six.  I would go for the longer times if I were you.  Active people and especially those who exercise a lot need more deep sleep to repair their bodies.

Stages of Sleep

Sleep is broken up into REM and Non-REM (NREM) sleep.  NREM sleep consists of four stages:

Stage 1: This is the period between wakefulness and sleep.  Eyes are closed but most people think they are still awake and if woken will insist they hadn’t fallen asleep yet.  This stage lasts five to ten minutes.

Stage 2: This is a period of light sleep where heart rate and temperature slows in preparation for for deep sleep.

Stage 3 and Stage 4: These are the deep stages of sleep.  During these stages the body repairs and regenerates tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system.  It is difficult to wake someone or awaken spontaneously out of these deep sleep stages.

REM: After a complete NREM cycle the body goes in to REM sleep.  The brain is very active in REM sleep and shows patterns similar to an awake brain.  Your major muscle groups are paralyzed during this stage and that is what prevents you from moving and acting out your dreams.  The first REM stage lasts about 10 minutes and each REM cycle through the rest of the night increases in length and the deep sleep stages decrease in length.

Men maintain erections through much of their REM sleep.  It’s not because we are having sex dreams.  Researchers do not fully understand REM sleep and dreaming.  However, they do know it is important to long-term memories and learning.

A complete sleep cycle of stage 1 through REM takes an average of 90 to 110 minutes.   After REM, you start over with stage 1.  This Cycle repeats itself throughout the night.

The decreasing length of deep NREM sleep and the increasing length of REM sleep as the night progresses has very important consequences.  The body emphasizes the most important stages first.  Since the deep stages are when the physical body is repairing itself, you will spend a lot more time in deep sleep early.  That means if you get too little sleep your body will complete the physical repair stages first before it works heavily on the memory and learning aspects of REM sleep.  So when you skimp on your sleep, you are impacting your brain more than your body.  That is why people who sleep longer have better mental performance.

Don’t Set Your Alarm Clock

Forcing yourself awake unnaturally is bad for you.  I know most people are going to say they won’t wake up without an alarm clock but that’s not true.  It is fairly easy to train yourself to wake up about when you want, but there is a very important consideration.  If you are awakened when you are in one of your deeper stages of sleep, you will suffer much of the day as a result.  In fact you will feel better and are better off by getting less sleep and waking up at the appropriate stage.  You want to wake up in the light stages and ideally at the end of a cycle.  This is when you will naturally wake up.

You can determine the length of your natural cycle by noting the time you go to sleep and then waking up naturally several nights.  Do this on the weekend if you must.  Adjust your go to bed and get up times around your cycle and try to get at least seven hours per night.  Eight is better.  I naturally wake up after about 5 hours and 45 minutes or about 7 hours.  I can sometimes sleep over 8 but not often.  I attribute this to a lack of strenuous physical activity.

If you must set an alarm, try to time it according to your natural cycle by using the data you learned during natural awakening experiments.  If you typically wake up after 7 1/2 hours then set your alarm to wake you up after 7 1/2 hours of sleep.  If you have to get up at a certain time, then adjust your going to bed time accordingly.

Waking Up Frequently

Many people who wake up frequently in the night think that they are not sleeping well.  This is not true if you go back to sleep.  During the light stages of sleep there is very little difference between wake and sleep.  There is very little negative impact of waking up during this time and then falling back to sleep.  I sleep very sound the first few hours and then wake up multiple times later in the night.  This is very normal for many people.  Especially middle aged and older men.  LOL!

Light and Dark

Your body’s circadian rhythm is regulated by several factors and one of the most important is light.  Another is activity.   The single best approach for clock setting for your body is to get bright light, preferably sunshine very early in the morning.  You also need to move your body.  If you get very early movement and sunshine you will have a very effectively mechanism to set your clock daily.  Exercise in the early morning sun will give you many other additional health benefits as well.

It is also critical to sleep in total darkness.  Light and darkness trigger the hormone cycle of melatonin which regulates sleep and wakefulness.  Even tiny amounts of light at night, such as nightlight or streetlight will suppress melatonin production and result in a lower quality of sleep.  Seal up the cracks that let light leak into your bedroom.

Body Temperature

As body temperature drops in the late afternoon and evening you will start getting tired.  If you have a problem with wanting to go to bed too early or getting sleepy in the evening, try exercising in the late afternoon or early evening.  This will raise your body temperature and delay the desire to sleep.

Sleep Pressure

The need to sleep is heavily driven by two factors. The amount sleep you got the night before and the length of time since you last slept.   Throughout the day the pressure rises and by late evening it will be high.  If you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, you will get tired earlier than normal.

Power Naps

Power naps work because they reduce sleep pressure.  If you think of sleep pressure as a graph line rising throughout the day, a power nap will create a dip in that in that line.  It buys you more time since it decreases the length of time since you last slept.

You need to wake up after 20 minutes or sleep an entire 90+ minute cycle for your power naps.  If you go past 20 minutes and don’t sleep a full cycle, you will wake up groggy.  You would have been better off to not have taken a nap at all.

The Bedroom and Bed Are For Sleep and Sex Only!

You are a creature of habit.  You need to train your brain that when the light goes out and your head hits the pillow, that it should go to sleep immediately.  This is a wonderful habit that can be learned fairly easily.  I was a terrible insomniac and I had to go through multiple cycles of reading and falling asleep each night.  I created a terrible habit that was very bad for my physical and mental well being.

The absolute worst thing you can do is stimulate your brain with the TV while you are in bed.  You really shouldn’t watch TV for an hour before bedtime (or quite frankly ever).

If you cannot go to sleep then get out of bed and do something to relax like yoga or meditation.  You can even do light reading.  When you feel tired again go back to bed.  Teaching your brain and body that bed is a place to toss and turn in restlessness will only make the problem worse.  If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep, get up and do something that makes you sleepy.  Stay out of bed when you can’t sleep.

Brainwave Entrainment

Brainwave entrainment means stimulating the brain with some kind of periodic beat which causes your brainwaves to synchronize or fall into step with the frequency of the beats.  Your brainwaves have typical frequency patterns associated with various activities, both when you are awake and when you are asleep.  The highest frequencies are associated intense focus and concentration and the the lowest frequencies with deep sleep.

This stuff really works and can be proven scientifically by measuring brainwaves after an entrainment session.  I use this and I believe it has helped me a great deal.  The great thing about brainwave entrainment is that you actually train your brain to more easily slip into these states.  As a result, you usually don’t have to continue the sessions for a long period of time.

As it regards sleep, the various stages of sleep are associated with different brainwave frequencies.  Thus listening to brainwave entrainment audio as you sleep will result in better sleep.  These audios guide your through the various stages.  I first used entrainment techniques for sleep and I believe it made a huge difference.  If you are interested take this survey Optimal Sleep, and sign up for some free information.  You will have the opportunity to purchase a $58 program that was worth 100 times that to me.

There are two different types of beats I have used: binaural beats and isochronic tones.  I think the science is on the side of isochronic tones being more effective, but I have used both with good success.

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Interesting Facts About Sleep
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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills May 12, 2009 at 11:00 am

Stephen, this is quite likely the best and most informative article on sleep I have ever read. I found myself analyzing my own sleep patterns as each new thought was presented. I could instantly identify some areas where beneficial changes could easily be made. I seem to move through the first 2 stages of NREM sleep very rapidly. The standing joke is that I can start snoring before my head hit’s the pillow, seemingly another quirk of middle aged and older men . My wife tends to linger in stage 1, which often results in my being made painfully aware of my audible purring (as I like to think of it). Thanks for this great information.

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Vin | NaturalBias.com May 12, 2009 at 11:54 am

Hi Stephen,

Another great article! Sleep is so important, and it’s free! You covered a lot of the same stuff I wrote about in my article about good sleep habits.

I know people who think they’re missing out on life by sleeping and I try to explain to them that a 16 hour day filled with steady energy and happiness is far better than a 20 hour day filled with fatigue and irritability. Unfortunately, some people are a lost cause and don’t want to listen. :)

For people who must use an alarm, especially those of us still stuck in the rat race, a sunlight alarm is a great way to wake up more naturally, especially if you have blackout curtains to make sure you’re sleeping in complete darkness.

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Marc and Angel Hack Life May 12, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Truly insightful.

Thanks a bunch. ;-)

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Roger | A Content Life May 12, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Stephen,

Wow! You just keep writing useful post after useful post.

I knew some of the things you describe about sleep, but I’d never heard of Brainwave Entrainment. I just took the survey and I’m waiting for an email.

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Dragos Roua May 12, 2009 at 2:03 pm

Stephen,

thanks for this article, I’m very passionate about this topic. I was one of the early readers on StevePavlina.com when he started his polyphasic sleep experiment and I also had dramatic experiences related to sleep. 19 years ago, during the so-called Romanian Revolution, I haven’t sleep for 5 nights and 6 days in a row. That thing had a huge impact on my future development. Even today I can do 24 hours sleep deprivation without much visible problems.

But the underlying structure of my body reacts to this and as you said it’s very important to have plenty of sleep. Oh, and don’t forget jetlag. Because your temperature is going down when you sleep, you can experience some “having cold” patterns in the middle of an extremely hot day! I know I was quite surprised when that happened to me for the first time.

Thanks again for sharing, this is really helpful.

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Steve May 12, 2009 at 6:48 pm

This is a great article. I have also written on this topic, and have come across quite a few of my clients who struggle with sleep challenges. Thanks for providing some helpful tips and strategies in this area.

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Stephen Mills May 12, 2009 at 8:02 pm

@Jonathan, Thanks! I love it – “audible purring”. LOL.

@Vin, Great comment. “a 16 hour day filled with steady energy and happiness is far better than a 20 hour day filled with fatigue and irritability”. Fantastic point and so very true.

@Marc and Angel, thanks!

@Roger, thanks for the comment. I hope it helps. :-)

@Dragos, I’ve read about polyphasic sleep and almost included it, but I think very few people would try it because of social considerations. I’ve read people who have given it up because nobody else is on their schedule then.

@Steve, thanks so much for stopping by. I will check out your site.

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Mike King May 12, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Stephen, you’ve got a ton of great tips here and I’ve studied and do agree with most of them. The one I have a problem with is your points about the alarm clock and learning to wake by just sleeping until you wake up. This doesn’t work over a few days depending on someone’s sleep patterns and sleep deprivation (if they have any). Sleep deprivation can take as much as 3 weeks to naturally recover from (yes, much science and studies are proven this) so it’s a much slower process to learn a natural sleep cycle. Your natural clock for alertness and wakefullness take a couple weeks to fully adjust to drastic changes as well so it highly depends on what you are changing from.

Also, I’m curious what is your story behind how you used to sleep much less and now sleep more all about? What affects did it have (big price)? Did you force less sleep or was it natural for you? I sleep much less than most people but it’s completely natural, I don’t need to use an alarm clock and I suffer no measurable affects of sleep deprivation by any tests / measures I’ve ever heard of or taken? So what’s the story on that?

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Alik Levin | PracticeThis.com May 13, 2009 at 2:15 am

Whoa!
Super informative and well structured.
That actually explains a lot of things that happened to me regarding to my sleep.
Loved power naps.
Good stuff.

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Laurie | Express Yourself to Success May 13, 2009 at 7:28 am

Fortunately, I’ve always been a good sleeper. A good napper too. However, I’ve noticed that the older I get the more interrupted my sleep is. Having read your post today, I think that my sleeping isn’t interrupted, it’s that I’m just waking up at the ‘appropriate’ times and falling back asleep. Thanks for that information; it’s helped me.

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Sudeep May 13, 2009 at 10:04 am

Hello ,
Gr8 article especially i like the part were you have said about adjusting your won body clock and to wake up at a set time and the body just follows it .I have been a morning riser and yes for the past 10 yrs been waking up by around 5.00 am around and yes it is just like how you normally wake up no alarm clock
Regards
Sudeep

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Stephen Mills May 13, 2009 at 8:39 pm

@Mike, thanks for your valuable comment. In regard to the length of time it takes to recover from sleep deprivation, I thought I had read it only takes a few nights. I did some research and according to Scientific American it can take months! Thanks for the info.

What I write is never categorically meant to apply to everyone. There are always exceptions. I have an uncle that slept 3 or 4 hours a night and always seemed perfectly energetic and mentally sharp. I’ve read that Jay Leno sleeps 4 hours a night and he certainly seems to suffer no ill effects. I think I need less than most people but I am not sure. If my wife only sleeps 7 hours one night, she suffers a lot of negative effects that day. She needs more than most people.

I slept 3 to 4 hours a night for years. Sometimes I didn’t go to bed at all. I had to go on sleeping pills to get any real sleep at all many nights. I don’t know what came first, but I was chronically tired, suffered depression, was moody and irritable, super stressed, taking 12 prescriptions, woke up with mind racing constantly, fell asleep during the day (just nodding momentarily), and on and on. I attacked sleep first and starting sleeping almost 6 hours a night within a couple of weeks. I found I was able to make other changes as things improved. I was a mess. I have cognitive problems and I’m not sure what the cause is, but I’m getting better. I’m sure I stressed my body to the point of permanent damage and suffered some significant health problems.

But I have made massive changes and am seeing massive results. I’m committed to a very healthy sleep pattern. I don’t think I’m quite there yet.

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Stephen Mills May 13, 2009 at 8:46 pm

@Alik, thank you!

@Laurie, I’m so glad you sleep well naturally. Thanks for your comment.

@Sudeep, thank you so much for stopping by to contribute!

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Mike King May 13, 2009 at 10:35 pm

@Stephen. Thanks for the response. I was hoping your ill effects where sings of sleep deprivation or worse (in your case) dependencies on sleeping pills or other methods. I totally understand what you mean by that, my mother was labelled insomniac for years by doctors and I was involved with helping her get a sleep doctor who would address her problems naturally and she fully recovered in 1 year from 20 years of insomnia. So, I’m quite sensitive to the sleep quality subject and careful at what I take in from other’s experiences of sleep habits.

I will never let myself suffer sleep deprivation but I certainly do enjoy and will continue to reduce my sleep if I can do it without side effects by getting the best sleep. Again, great article and thanks for the added discussion!

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Karl Staib - Work Happy Now May 14, 2009 at 7:55 am

I’m curious to what permanent damage you may have done to yourself by not getting a full nights sleep. I knew that too little sleep isn’t good, but permanent damage is a scary thing.

I hope that the problems you are having aren’t too serious.

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Robin Easton May 14, 2009 at 10:04 am

This is absolutely fantastic Stephen. I hardly know where to begin. I think I am like you I sleep either 5 1/2 hours and wake or 7 hours (if I get to bed earlier) and wake. But since I started watching the sunrise EVERY single morning and then doing a long barefoot walk across the high desert 4 times a week – the other 3 days I walk around the “hood”.

You mention the body’s circadian rhythm. I am sooooo in tune with the sun’s movement after a year and a half of watching every sunrise (and then doing my walk) that I naturally wake just as the sun is coming up. I have grown to love being so connected with the Universe through the sun. And even though my room is dark, I keep a blanket over the bedroom window and allow in no light (from the street) I still wake with the sun. And you are right about the need for darkness. I can actually feel my brain start to settle, calm and relax from the melatonin.

Also, I don’t sleep well if I don’t get regular exercise, lots of fresh air and movement, contact with the earth (hence barefoot walking which stimulates all the acupressure points on the bottom of the feet). I also do yoga at home every morning after I watch the sunrise and the colors of the sky; I do yoga and then walk.

I too have not had enough sleep in later years due to a variety of reasons, and I was always the sort who needed and like at least 8 hours of sleep. I was never able to sleep in. So I need to go to bed earlier, but find it hard unless I’ve had a 6+ mile walk in the mountains. So I am trying to do power naps. My husband does them all the time. He will lay right down on the floor and be asleep in 20 seconds and wake 20 minutes later. It takes me sometimes as long as an hour to get to sleep and then I will often sleep 3 – 4 hours before I wake uo LOLOLOL!!! Are you laughing my friend?? I am. It’s lovely if I have time to take 4 – 5 hours out of my day, but most days I don’t. But maybe if I did it more often it might become a habit I could get my body used to. What do you think?

Anyway, I really enjoyed this. Maybe I missed it but I went back and tried to find it….in which stage of sleep do we dream? Also, I’ve heard people say that the hours before midnight are when the body gets the most rest? That if you go to sleep after midnight the quality of sleep is not as good. Is this true or not. If so then I need to get to bed a lot earlier. LOL!!! :) ))

Thanks my friend. This was just delightful.
Okay off to take my first power nap of many…hopefully! :0

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Angela May 15, 2009 at 3:06 am

Great article. I’ve noticed some people seem to need more sleep than others and different times of day they are more alert; also, some remember dreams more – or perhaps dream more altogether, not sure. An interesting topic and a necessary one in any investigation of consciousness as a whole.

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