It’s 4:30 am and I’m laying bed, thinking about my day. I’m not quite ready to get up but, I’m getting there. I know what you’re thinking; just bear with me.
A few years ago I was prepping for Gastric Bypass Surgery and had to go do a sleep study to see if I suffered from Sleep Apnea. What I learned about myself was well worth the torment of being strapped to medical machines and monitored as I slept.
The sleep study room was altered to look like a bedroom, it had a tv on a dresser instead of mounted to the wall. It also had an old quilt on the bed instead of the typical woven hospital blanket. There were books on a shelf and carpeted floor instead of tile. The “interior decorator” was trying to make me feel as comfortable as possible, which was ironic.
The guy doing the sleep study wasn’t a nurse or a doctor, I forget his official title, and name, so let’s just call him Dave. Anyways, Dave was preparing me for what was going to be the worst night of sleep I’ve ever had. “You’re going to be very uncomfortable, and you’re probably not going to sleep all that well.” My first thought was, “great so this was all going to be nothing”, but what was I thinking, I sleep like a pro. If sleeping was an olympic sport, I would win more Gold Medals than Michael Phelps, while in Russia, during a blizzard.
My whole life I’ve been able to fall asleep at the drop of a hat, and stay asleep. Yet, I’d wake up feeling tired and ready to break the alarm clock over the nightstand. The sleep study began with sensors literally getting glued to my scalp, about a dozen of them. There were also sensors stuck to my chest and back. I felt like the predator, with dreads coming off my head and down my back.
Soon the lights were off (there was an infrared camera pointed at me), and despite the warnings of a night of tossing and turning, I was out in mins. About 6 hours later I awoke (its now 4am), and Dave speaks to me through an intercom. “Want to wake up and get out of here?”
You mean get these straps off of me, go home, and get some sleep in my bed? “Hell Yes!”.
Dave told me two things that stuck with me, even now, 3 years later. First, “You didn’t move all night. If you weren’t hooked up to the machines, I would have, had to come in here and keep checking your heart rate to make sure you were alive.” Second, “You are on 6 hour sleep cycle, remember that!”.
“6 hour sleep cycle?”. My whole life I was told that a REM cycle lasts 4 hours, and that’s why we all need that coveted 8 hours of sleep, each night.
After a lot of research, testing, and a few at-home-experiments, I realized something really important.
You hate your alarm clock when it goes off, and you only let it go off, if you’re in a deep sleep.
Seems weird right? How many times have you woken up a few min before your alarm clock goes off, and you decide to wait in bed, or quickly get back to sleep and enjoy that last 8 mins? On those days, you don’t feel the need to crush your alarm clock with a sledge hammer right?
What about days when you wake up earlier than you planned? You might get up, go to the bathroom, and you even say “I could get up right now”, but you go back to sleep since you’re up 90 min earlier than you had to be. Who in their right mind would give up 90 min of free bed time?
Then, when your alarm clock goes off at 6:30am, you feel like hanging your alarm clock from it’s wire and strapping on some boxing gloves. Why did that happen? How could you be more awake at 5am and exhausted at 6:30? You got 90 min more sleep, right?
It’s because you’ve been interrupted in a deep sleep stage. It’s not always about getting the most amount of sleep, its about getting the right amount of cycles and emerging at the right time. It’s far better for your mind, body, and the slow driver infront of you on your morning commute, for you to get 2 complete dips into your 3rd and 4th stages of sleep.
You see the curves in the graph above? The graph (and corresponding article from http://holisticprimarycare.net/) show a parabolic curve, directly related to your level of consciousness or conversely, the deepness of your sleep.
I learned from my sleep study, I can complete this entire cycle in 6 hours. Other might need 8, some people can do it in 5.
If you take one thing away from this article, understand that you want to wake up, as close to the top of that parabolic curve as possible, even if your whole cycle isn’t done yet. Why? Because you don’t want to be erupted from a deep sleep cycle. You’ll carry that need to get back to bed with you all day. You can try to fight it with exercise and caffeine but you’ll be looking forward to getting back to bed all day.
Not all of us can do a sleep study. You can however, start tracking what time you go to sleep, and what times you naturally wake up through out the night and morning. Do this enough, and you’ll find a pattern. It might be 2, 3, 3 1/2 or 4 hours, but once you know how often you’re waking, you’ll know your cycle and you can double that for a good night sleep. Mine is 3 so I double that for a full 6 hour sleep cycle.
Which means, I’ll set my alarm clock for exactly 6 hours from when I got to bed. This allows me to wake up refreshed and ready, even if it’s 4:30am.
Try it, and if you need help check out these gadgets that help you track sleep.
*No affiliate links in this article, as I have not tried any of these products.