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“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.

- Homer

Tired after getting a full nine hours and still feeling exhausted?
You sleep the sleep of the innocent - you nod off quickly, don’t
have nightmares and have no trouble breathing - and still you can
hardly get up in the morning and seldom feel totally awake, no
matter how long you slept the previous night. You are suffering
from a clear-cut case of ineffective sleep.

The good news is that, starting tonight, you can improve the
quality of your sleep. So pull up a pillow and learn how to get
more rest while spending less time on your back.

1. Go deep.

It is possible to sleep too long or at the wrong time. In both cases

you may be getting enough rest, but you still feel weary. That’s because the amount of
time you spend in bed is not as important as maximizing sleeping patterns.

Your sleep consists of five stages, distinguished by different brain activities. Just shortly
after falling asleep, you start sinking gradually into a deep sleep. You soon surface from
this and enter a dreaming period commonly known as REM sleep. After that, it’s back to
several deep-sleep phases, which grow shorter as the night progresses.

To wake up easily, set your alarm to wake you up at the end of a cycle rather than in the
middle of deep sleep. A cycle normally lasts at least 90 min., bearing in mind that the first
one is somewhat shorter, so you will probably be in light sleep after five-and-a-half,
seven, and eight-and-a-half hours in bed (that includes the time it takes for you to fall
asleep). If you’re still deep in dreamland when the alarm goes off, add a few minutes to
your sleeping time the next day.

2. Surrender to your genes.

As I mentioned, there are three optimal lengths of sleep - but that doesn’t mean you can
just choose one. A study completed this spring by Washington State University Spokane
suggests that our sleep patterns are embedded in our bodies - perhaps in our very genes.
Some of us will need five-and-a-half hours of sleep, while others will need at least eight-
and-a-half. Most people will manage comfortably on seven hours. Your genes decide for
you and you can’t just alter it without paying the price.

There is hardly anybody out there who knows what it means to be fully awake. Studies
have found that proper sleeping patterns emerge only after you have caught up with up to
25 hours of missing sleep. To optimize your sleep, crawl into bed half an hour earlier
each evening for a few nights. As long as you have a sleep deficit to catch up on, you
should have no problem falling asleep. After that, allow yourself as much sleep as you
need. If you persistently sleep too little, you run the risk of becoming overweight, absent-
minded and ill; a daily sleep deficit of two hours over a period of 14 days is as damaging
as a night with no sleep.

Sleeping too much is also a rest buster. If you sleep for longer than your personal optimal
period, your sleep will be empty and restless. If you oversleep for many hours, you will
fall into another deep sleep in the morning. This will upset your circadian clock and you
will wake up feeling absolutely whacked. If this is your problem, you can reverse the
situation by keeping your time in bed to the absolute minimum and staying up a bit later
at night to prolong the restful deep sleep at the beginning of the night.

3. Worship the sun.

Most people can get away with some wildness in their routines as long as they soak up
some bright light at the right time. Normal indoor lighting provides 400 lux of
illumination, which doesn’t help much; the sun, however, provides 1 500 to 100 000 lux.
So if you spend one hour outdoors before starting work you will be more alert and
cheerful during the day.

It’s easier to do in summer than winter but if you can’t manage it at all, you could follow
the European trend of substituting your light quota with some artificial sunlight. For a
positive effect, you need at least half an hour at 10 000 lux or two hours at 2 500 lux. You
can also gradually adjust your preferred sleeping times using artificial sunlight - to party
longer into the night, you will have to soak up some light in the evening - artificial light
will bring some relief but your sleep and wellbeing will still suffer.

4. Keep the rhythm.

Your body was designed to sync with the cycles of nature - including daylight and
darkness. Your circadian, or biological clock, regulates aspects of your metabolism,
physiology and behavior. At night, it triggers the supply of the sleep hormone melatolin,
and in the morning the wake-up substance cortisol. It also regulates body temperature so
that lowest point is reached at about 3 a.m.

Biologically speaking, this is the witching hour and the most inappropriate time to be
awake. The prime time for deep sleep occurs in the first five hours of sleep and before 3
a.m. If you’re in the habit of staying up way past midnight, you can forget about quality
sleep, even if you’ll sleep till noon.

And don’t even think about going to bed too early because you have to get up early or
want to squeeze in an extra workout. This only works if you’re already exhausted and fall
asleep instantly; what’s more likely is that you will lie half-awake, start to brood and
finally get to sleep tense and restless.
It’s hardly possible to stock up on sleep, so you should rather go to bed at the usual time
(observe the cycle) and make up for lost sleep by tucking in a bit earlier the following
night. Alternatively, catch a siesta during the day.

5. Watch the time.

To get the most out of your shutdown time, keep regular hours. Go to bed at about the
same time every night and - even more importantly - get up the same time each morning.

Don’t oversleep to make up for a poor night’s sleep. This may sound regimental but the
circadian clock is highly sensitive to unstable life patterns. The inner day for most people
would be 25 hours long if it weren’t for external time indicators such as sunshine, which
keeps the clock ticking over properly. (Depending whether you are a night owl or
morning lark, your sleep-wake rhythm may be up to 27 hours, for owls, or shorter than 25
hours, for larks.) If you live an erratic life, your internal clock will be thrown off kilter.

The result: you may want to be functioning when your body temperature is at the
witching hour, making you feel cold, sapped of energy and irritable, and trying to rest
when your temperature is geared for action. Routine is a simple solution.

Forget about sleeping late at the weekend. The circadian clock reacts immediately to
delays in getting up - doing that for even a couple of days can reset your body clock and
make it hard for you to get to sleep at night. Rather wake up at about the same time and
allow yourself the luxury of a short snooze during the day - or go to bed earlier if you are
really short on sleep.

Overlooking the single most important thing you can do for your health is easy with all
the clamor surrounding various health products in the marketplace. But good-quality
sleep goes far and beyond those products when it comes to restoring your health. And
best of all, sleep is free. So try these proven techniques and get the rest you need.