Sleep. It’s one of the most underrated parts of our well-being. We all know that feeling of trying to get through a workday when you’ve had a sleepless night - you feel brain fog all day and can’t get enough coffee. But outside of work how can sleep affect our performance and overall health? We’ve got some answers from some sleep experts in the PepTalk network. 

How to hack your sleep 

We’ve all heard the standard advice of getting 7-9 hours of sleep, but that’s only half of the story. NHS data lead Dr Raphael Oliya highlights how the sleep process works. During sleep, you’ll go through four to six sleep cycles. Each cycle lasts 90 minutes on average and is composed of 4 stages. The split between each stage and duration of cycles is called your sleep architecture.  

So let’s look at each stage and the different functions they have for your mind and body. The first three stages (NREM sleep) progressively put your body into a deeper sleep. The final stage, REM sleep is when the brain is most active but the body is the most inactive. 

  1. Stage 1 (N1): Dozing off, easy to wake up the sleeper and usually lasts 1-5 minutes 
  2. Stage 2 (N2): Temperature, heart rate and brain activity drop. Short bursts of brain activity. Initially lasts 10-25 minutes but lengthens throughout your sleep. Generally spend up to ½ of your sleeping time in this state. 
  3. Stage 3 (N3): Deep sleep where the body relaxes even further. Crucial for physical recovery, immunity and key brain functions. At the beginning of sleep, this lasts for 20-40 minutes per cycle but reduces with every cycle as the sleeper will spend more time in REM as the night goes on. 
  4. Stage 4 (REM): Brain activity increases but the body slips into temporary paralysis of the muscles apart from those which help you breathe and eye movements. Often associated with dreaming and is essential for brain functions such as memory, creativity and insight. This type of sleep makes up for more of your cycle as the night goes on. 

Laying out these key stages, you can see how just a few hours of insomnia or restlessness can prevent you from reaching that all-important N3 and REM stages. The body moves into REM sleep only when you’ve had at least one cycle so even a couple of hours can really make all the difference to your brain functioning the next day. Yep, that’s where the brain fog comes from.

Preventing a restless night 

Consistent and regular sleep isn’t as simple as turning off blue light before bed and avoiding coffee at all costs (although they both help). Kathryn Pinkham, sleep coach and insomnia specialist notes how good sleep is about rewiring your brain. Sleep is closely linked to stress (both physical and mental) and the types of thoughts we have about ourselves. If you're struggling with sleep Kathryn recommends taking to time to notice negative thought patterns. Once you have an awareness of them, try to create counterarguments to them. This technique will allow you to process any negativity throughout your day, rather than it lodging itself in your mind and becoming a barrier to your sleep. 

Finally, she recommends repositioning your beliefs about your sleep. For example, we all know that sinking feeling when we look at the clock and only have a few hours until our alarm. Come armed to this situation with statements such as ‘Whatever sleep I get, I know I’ll cope tomorrow’. This takes the stress and blame out of the situation, giving you back a sense of power and control over your sleep. Self-kindness goes a long way when you’re struggling with sleep or have sleep deprivation. Accept your position and ask yourself what you really need to get to sleep or through the day. 

Want to make changes to your physical and emotional wellbeing? Check out the rest of our journal articles. Or, if your business is looking for a personalised expert talk on how to hack your sleep, get in touch with our team.