Sleep Cycles and the peril of the snooze button…

 

 

I’ve heard through the grapevine that this blogular episode on Sleep Cycles has been eagerly anticipated and I apologise for the delay. Lately I have been suffering from ‘busy doing nothing much’ syndrome which usually entails family commitments, personal ambitions and a whole lot of pointless anxiety and stress. With an ever-changing schedule of a freelancer, it’s almost hopeless trying to set yourself a routine because every day is different, appointments get cancelled, rescheduled or added at the last minute. Worry not, I’m not asking for your sympathies, but my personal plights highlight the hectic nature of life and set the perfect backdrop for this weeks dip into technological wonderland.
I think it’s fair to say that since beginning to write for Breathing Relief™ I’ve become a teensy bit obsessed with the topic of sleep. As my lifestyle is so erratic, it’s nigh on impossible to ensure I practice what I preach with regards to creating a regular sleeping pattern, so my research into gadgets is always motivated by a personal need to aid my own sleep. Every night I pull out my phone and struggle to decide which technological miracle I can rely on to ensure a perfect slumber session.  I have now come to realise that the root to solving all fatigued morning encounters is a strong understanding of how our internal body clocks operate. 
Since the discovery of ‘sleep-cycles’ and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) us non-scientist types have been given the opportunity to delve deeper into the scientific operations of our mind and have learned how a subtle shift in the time we allow ourselves to sleep can in fact enhance the overall sleep experience.
To explain, it has been proven that human beings sleep in perfectly timed cycles ranging from 90-110 minutes, during which your body will process 4 stages of sleep. It is a common misconception that one dreams during their deepest stage of sleep; as dreaming generally occurs in phase 3, with phase 4 being the deepest.
I find all this information negates the concept of “power naps” as a short period of 20-30 minutes is insufficient in allowing you to complete all 4 phases of sleep. What it does confirm though is that snoozing is quite possibly the worst habit to adopt when attempting to wake up refreshed. As tempting as the extra five minutes in bed feels at 6am when it’s dark and cold outside, you are essentially allowing your body to enter a new sleep cycle but then forcing yourself awake without its natural completion. 
How well do you know your own sleep cycle?
Napping is a luxury little of us can afford but it can be very enlightening to unlocking the secrets of our sleeping patterns. I learned in University (when it was socially acceptable to go to sleep in the afternoons) that although I could sleep for Britain, I would always find myself waking up after 90 minutes, rolling over and then possibly going back to sleep for another 90. This then formed the basis of my rather erratic sleeping pattern for three years and somehow allowed me to function in between lectures, epic 8 hour rehearsals, essay writing and of course the inevitable partying. It is ridiculous when I look back over those years and attempt to understand how little students take care of their bodies yet still manage to juggle a number of relatively new experiences.
As we mature and enter the work force priorities change and with the lack of freedom allowed to us as it once was, it becomes even more essential to stay up later, to find time to have fun and this is where I find our sleeping begins to suffer the most. You’ll do anything for an extra 5 minutes in bed, neglecting the truth that if you had actually woken up 15 minutes earlier, when your cycle ended naturally, you would feel a whole lot better.
This finally brings me to the handy little smart phone application which monitors your sleep cycle and wakes you up in your lightest phase of sleep regardless of the exact time you set your alarm to go off.
Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock available for iphone: An alarm clock that analyses your sleep patterns and wakes you in the lightest sleep phase- a natural way to wake up where you feel rested and relaxed.
Sleep as Android available from the android market: Alarm clock with sleep cycle tracker. Wakes you gently in light sleep for pleasant mornings.  
Pretty much everything I have to say (or have said) is explained coherently at the Sleep Cycle Website: http://www.sleepcycle.com/
What’s an accelerometer?
You know that amazing thing your phone does when you rotate it? The screen rotates to accommodate the picture or web page? Well this advance in technology is possible due to an accelerometer.
For a technical explanation of what an accelerometer actually is this website is useful: http://ancillotti.hubpages.com/hub/Smartphones-Accelerometers
Frankly, this app is as amazing as it sounds. When I had an iphone I was astonished at how accurately the app tracked my sleep and I regularly awoke feeling as if I was ready to conquer the world. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about Sleep Cycle, it is a true work of genius. To wake up feeling fulfilled and alert regardless of how little sleep I had made me feel like my life was complete. I found it fascinating to chart my sleeping patterns and would study the graphs in the morning to see how deeply (or not) I had slept. I could then relate my sleep activity to my day-to-day activity and compile scenarios that would allow for a good night’s sleep. On days I had consumed too much caffeine there was a noticeable difference in the amount of time spent in deep sleep, the same could be said for nights where I had gone to bed stressed.
Sadly I cannot say the same thing about the Android version. I still haven’t worked out what it is about the Android phone system that doesn’t allow the app to function as well as its iphone counterpart. It may be due to the programming of the app itself, but I can never seem to get it to do its job. Setting the alarm the night before, you have the option to select how early it can wake you up if you are in a light sleep. However long I click, it just wakes me up that many minutes before the alarm is set to go off, regardless of what stage of sleep I appear to be in. It’s frustrating as I have experienced the apparent same technology on a different phone and it appears to do what it ‘says on the tin’. The Android falls short, certainly disappointing those non iphone users who are reading this. I have experimented greatly with different settings, but I just think that the accelerometer on the Smasung Galaxy (which I use) is not on a par with that of the iphone, or as I mentioned, the app isn’t set up to do quite the same thing.
It’s a shame and I would honestly consider returning to apple products just for the opportunity to have this app be a part of my life once more. That said, this isn’t a technology blog and I’m not about to start a debate as to whether we should all change phones. I’m enjoying what little use I can get from my Android app as it still allows me to analyse and implement information gleaned from my sleep charts, in an attempt to rectify my erratic sleeping schedule. Most of all I am training myself to stay away from that dreaded snooze button. If you’re awake, wake up, get out of bed, do whatever it takes to stop yourself from falling into the interrupted sleep cycle cycle…
Optimising your sleep time is the best present you can give yourself. However, it does require research and dedication. Don’t overlook a bedtime routine. Treat going to sleep as a ritualistic process, but before you do anything, buy an iphone and download Sleep Cycle (joke).
Sweet dreams!
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About Breathe A Sigh of Relief

We want to help you get a good night's sleep and we like to find ways to improve our health and share our findings with you.

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