A simple experiment to improve your sleep without gadgets
Let’s get something straight. Not sleeping enough or well enough is bad for you and for others. It makes you fat, makes you angry, makes you sick. In his book Sleep Thieves, the neuropsychologist Stanley Coren provides evidence that missing two hours of sleep each day for a week can make you lose thirty IQ points (which turns a highly intelligent person to someone who scores below average). Finally, know that sleep deprivation has been one of the root causes in the Challenger or Chernobyl disasters.
How much time do you need to sleep? Basically, science says: 8 hours a day assuming you’re an adult, since the actual time depends on your age. Your sleep alternates between:
- a long non-REM (also called “not the famous rock band”) sleep phase that has four stages. You only need to know that the higher the stage, the deeper the sleep, and the deeper the sleep, the more motionless you are and the more difficult it is for you to wake up.
- a short REM sleep phase, where your eyes move from left to right and your brain’s activity skyrockets. Note that both REM and non-REM sleep phases are important to your sleep, your memory, and that they both trigger dreams.
- sometimes, a brief awakening. You are usually not conscious during this phase, except if you badly want to pee.
You can see how this works on the hypnogram below.
This hypnogram, however, is slightly misleading. You are led to believe that in general, all sleep cycles have the same average duration, and it is not the case. The first cycle is slightly shorter, lasting 70–100 minutes, while the other ones last 90–120 minutes (source).
To win the sleeping game, you must:
- Sleep between 7 and 9 hours without interruption
- Wake up during an REM phase, which is the phase in which you’re most likely to wake up naturally.
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