People ask me many questions on sleep. Let me answer a few of them here.
What is sleep?
Sleep is a mechanism of the soul. A mechanism to detach from the sense organs & the external environment. The stage that is achieved after the detachment is called sleep.
This cannot be studied. So, scientists have studied the condition and mechanism in the brain to understand sleep.
Cycles in Sleep
You sleep in cycles. Each cycle is about 70 to 100 minutes. In each cycle, you swing between Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase and deep sleep phase.
Why do you dream?
You dream in the REM phase. They play a very important role in sleep.
An experiment was conducted to understand the importance of the REM phase. Participants were allowed to sleep for their required number of hours. However, as soon as their REM phase started they were woken up and asked to sleep again.
After completing their required hours of sleep they did not feel fresh. This was because they did not dream.
Everybody dreams. Many people think they don’t dream. This is because they wake up from deep sleep. As a result, they don’t remember their dreams. Those who wake up after the REM phase remember their dreams.
Dreams are important. Suppose someone is poor and has a desire to be wealthy. He is trying to acquire wealth, have a house, a car but is unsuccessful. He will dream of becoming very rich.
His deep-rooted desire was fulfilled in his dream, even though he may not remember it.
Dreams are a protective mechanism. You wear clothes to protect your body. Similarly, you dream to protect the soul. Many desires, aspirations or conflicts in life can’t be handled or fulfilled in an awake state or with logic. These cause tension. Dreams release you from these tensions.
Can ailments affect sleep?
Many ailments cause intense pain in the body. This pain may not allow you to sleep.
Even if there is body pain eg back pain it will affect sleep.
However, mostly the reason is psychological.
A lot of anxiety or depression disturbs the sleep pattern.
Depression patients are either unable to sleep after a particular time or feel like sleeping all the time.
In bipolar diseases, patients may not feel the need to sleep. They are very energetic and can work a lot without sleeping.
A person with schizophrenia might not be able to sleep.
Other conditions which affect sleep
Sometimes excess happiness or excitement can also lead to loss of sleep.
Suppose your best friend is visiting you. You are very excited. You may not sleep for the whole night. You spend the next day with your friend and sleep late. You might feel fresh with just 3 to 4 hours.
This is not a problem as you were not able to sleep due to the excitement.
The problem arises is when you lose sleep due to any disease. In such cases, I tell patients to at least rest.
What are the harmful effects of not sleeping?
Deep sleep and sufficient sleep, both are important.
Today people do not get sufficient sleep. This leads to sleep deprivation.
The need for sleep is not only psychological but also physiological.
Insufficient sleep may lead to headaches, stomach problems, digestion problems or even diabetics. You can get irritated & impulsive on small issues. Creativity also reduces. These lead to poor decision making, obesity, irregular hunger patterns, etc. The brain functioning also slows down.
The conflicts which were to get resolved through dreams remain in your consciousness.
The sleep phase is for the brain and body to set its activities.
The brain should get rest. The body needs to rejuvenate. The necessary hormones need to develop.
If the brain gets proper rest, the rejuvenation process is completed. For example, you need an hour to clean a room. However, you give it just half an hour. What will happen? Cleaning will not happen completely. Similarly, all the mechanisms which the brain and body have to perform will not take place completely if you don’t sleep enough.
How many hours of sleep is needed?
There is no exact answer. You can’t say that you should sleep for 6 hours or 8 hours.
Scientists have found that in general people feel fresh after about 7 to 9 hours of sleep. However, meditation practitioners, people who lead a relaxed life and have a healthy lifestyle can feel fresh even after 5 hours of sleep.
Napoleon used to sleep less. Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi sleeps less.
It all depends on feeling fresh.
How to measure how many hours of sleep is needed?
Once you wake up you should feel fresh, rejuvenated and work for 10 to 12 hours. These are the number of hours of sleep you need.
What is the best time to sleep?
Early to bed and early to rise makes a man, healthy wealthy and wise.
The sooner you sleep the better it is. Try to sleep by 10 or 10:30 PM if possible. If not earlier.
It’s found that those who sleep early sleep better. Suppose you need 7 hours of sleep. It is better to sleep between 10 pm – 5 am rather than 11 pm – 6 am. The sleep quality will be better. It will also give you more time for your morning activities.
Is waking up early harmful?
There are researches that show stress and tension levels increase when some people wake up early. But it is important to understand this a little more. The research was done on a common man who does not sleep before 11:30 PM. If they wake up at 4:30 or 5 AM they have definitely not slept enough. 5-hour sleep is not sufficient. It is not enough to see when they woke up. It is equally important to check the duration of the sleep.
Also, if they are stressed in life they are anyway not getting deep sleep. This lack of deep sleep or delta sleep can more likely lead to diseases.
Are there harmful effects of sleeping more?
Everybody’s sleep requirements are different. It is harmful if you sleep more than what is required. You feel tired.
If you are lying on the bed though it is not required you might be feeling lazy or tensed. And if you choose to lie down when you are tensed it harms you further.
Many people sleep only for 4 to 5 hours, why?
This is because there deep/delta sleep is very good. But they are just 5% or maybe 10%.
Hypomania is a state where people sleep less. They are very energetic and full of zeal and enthusiasm.
You need to look at two things throughout the day.
- As soon as you finish any task get detached from it.
- while doing the task enjoy.
Practice this throughout the day. Then meditate before sleeping. You will find that you will feel fresh with 5 to 5.5 hours of sleep. This is normal.
Sleep in the afternoon
Get a little sleep in the afternoon if possible. It is called a power nap.
The Brahma Kumaris culture is to wake up very early but we do take a power nap of 20 minutes to an hour in the afternoon. This keeps us refresh. Just 1 power nap. Not frequently. 20 minutes of rest is enough. Even if you sleep for a minute or two.
What if you wake up after falling asleep?
Many people find it easy to fall asleep but after a while, they wake up. Some people wake up suddenly at night.
The main reason is anxiety. Anxiety due to any problem or loss. Many times anxiety is because of no reason. This is because they are not satisfied with their lives. There is some fear or worry and are stressed.
If you wake up at night and are not able to sleep leave the bed. Read some spiritual book. Don’t just toss on the bed.
I give this example often: What you did during your 24 hours will determine the quality of your 20 minutes meditation.
Similarly what you do the entire day will determine the quality of your sleep. Work on reducing your anxiety and stress levels by practicing detachment which I will discuss in detail in my subsequent articles and you will notice a change in your sleep.