Wake up on life by keeping an eye on your sleep!

Author: Vasco Gaspar

What if something weird starts happening to you and you start sleeping for 24 years in a row. In fact, if you reach 80 years, this will also be the average time that you have passed between the sheets.

There are many theories about sleep but the truth is that nobody knows for sure why do we sleep. We only know that it is of fundamental importance and we all need to do so. However it is not enough just rest in any manner, for example, it is important to sleep a minimum number of hours. While the opinions may be variable, we use 7 hours as a reference number. But don’t many of us “sacrifice”  a few hours of sleep in order to finish a project, to see an episode on TV that ends up late or stay a little longer with friends by night? We all do it from time to time but we must bear in mind that sleep deprivation is cumulative, that is, if you steal an hour of sleep a day, at the end of the week you have a debt to your body of seven hours of sleep! And though sometimes you use “credit cards”, like caffeine and other stimulants to stay awake, let us not forget that our body will recover that debt later on productivity, mood, fatigue, or multiple diseases.

To know if you are sleeping well enough is relatively easy just by asking yourself the following basic questions:

- Do you have difficulty sleeping?
- Do you wake up tired in the morning?
- Do you feel sleepy and it interferes with your performance and your mood?

If you, like most people in modern societies, have answered “yes ” to any of the above questions then you have sleep problems.

Unfortunately a “normal” way in modern societies to solve this issue is by taking sleep pills, that is by “forcing” the body to sleep. In this context, I would like you to reflect with me on something that is related to the use of such pills. Let us first examine the sleep cycle to do so. Our sleep cycle oscillates between periods of deep sleep and that of light sleep. During these cycles, there is also a brief phase where we dream. It turns out that most sleeping pills force us into only the deep sleep period thus not allowing us to have a normal cyclical sleep and as such, “robbing us” our ability to dream. Quite metaphoric, isn’t it? Once a poet said that “The dreams command life” but it seems that more and more people are literally stopping to DREAM!

If you’re on sleeping pills, I advise that you don’t stop taking them abruptly because in some (few) cases they are really needed. What I suggest is that you learn more about the practices that can help you establish good sleep hygiene, such as the creation of rituals at bedtime and on waking up, avoid watching TV in the bedroom, avoid consuming any foods or substances in the hours prior to bedtime, and use of relaxation methods (e.g. yoga, meditation, etc.) that can help in this regard.

Here are some useful tips which can help you develop a good sleep hygiene:

- Get a sleep routine: go to sleep at the same time everyday, even on weekends
- Don’t eat in the previous 2-3 hours before sleep. If you feel hungry, eat something light.
- Avoid substances that stimulate the body/mind before going to sleep like caffeine, nicotine, chocolate, sugar, etc.
-  Avoid using sleep pills because with time, you get addicted to them and in the long run they are no longer effective
- Try to keep your bedroom in the dark
- Try to keep a nice temperature in the bedroom (don’t put it to warm)
- Associate your bedroom only to sleep and make love (e.g. avoid having a TV in your bedroom)
- Avoid watching TV in the 30min before going to bed, specially horror films or advertising ads
- Try to get between 7 to 9 hours of good sleep

For people who suffer from insomnia, here goes a breathing exercise that can be of help:

Lay down on your bed and close your eyes, like you were going to fall asleep.

Pay attention to the gentle movements of your breathing. Focus your attention there for a couple of minutes. Just watch how the air flows to the nostrils, how the chest moves with the air, as well as the abdomen.

Now, imagine that the air is moving from your navel to the part of the vertebral column which is at the same level as the navel. When you breath out, imagine the air going on the opposite direction. Do this breathing in and out for fifteen times.

After this, do the same thing as above but at the level of the heart. Imagine the air entering in the front, near the heart, and going out through the spine. As you breath out, imagine the air in the opposite direction. Also count fifteen times, for each full cycle.

Now repeat again the same thing but at the level of the neck. Imagine that the air enters at the level of the larynx and goes out of the back of the neck. On breathing out, the air enters through the back of the neck and goes out through the front part of the larynx. Count again fifteen times.

Don’t get anxious thinking whether you are going to fall asleep or not. Even if you don’t fall asleep (which is highly unlikely), this exercise is by itself, very beneficial to your health.

(sleeping tips adapted from the book “Reinventing yourself” by Dr. Mario Alonso Puig, a Spanish Medical Doctor).

It has been said by a famous Roman poet called Ovid that “Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” So always remember to wake up for life you must first of all keep an eye on your sleep!

Photo credits: http://morguefile.com/


  1. Pratibha Kujur said on January 11th at 7:16 am:

    Hi Vasco, thank you for this extremely helpful article about sleep. We may be blessed with the best in life but all will seem useless and unenjoyable if we don’t have a restful sleep. But I would also like to know the importance of dreams during sleep as I always had the impression that if we sleep continuously for 7 hours without dreaming, we feel more refreshed when we wake up.

  2. Vasco Gaspar said on January 13th at 1:24 pm:

    Hi Pratibha,

    Great question of yours. I’m not a sleep specialist but the information I have is that “dreaming” is important and normal. It is also normal not to remember our dreams, because the dreaming phases (2/3 per night) have a quick duration of just a few minutes. Only in the days when you wake up near that phases (you are restless, something happens, etc.) you will remember what you were dreaming.
    If it is important to you I can investigate with more depth this question.

  3. Pratibha Kujur said on January 19th at 8:10 am:

    Dear Vasco,

    Thank you for your reponse to my comment. The subject about dreams is very much interesting. It would great to get some more information regarding this. If possible and only if time permits you to investigate further, I would like to know more about it.

  4. Rodrigo Hornbarger said on February 9th at 10:51 pm:

    Very interesting entry, I look forward to the next!

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