Better sleep. Better health.

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Picture of Robin Tharle-Oluk

Robin Tharle-Oluk

I graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Physical Education and from Mount Royal University with an Advanced Certificate in Athletic Therapy. I certified with the Canadian Athletic Therapists Association in 2005.

I have predominantly worked with youth athletes working with a variety of sports including hockey, dance and junior high athletics as well as working events at the national and provincial level. Currently I am the Head Athletic Therapist at Concordia University of Edmonton and the owner of Elite Injury Management based in Edmonton.

Getting a solid eight hours of sleep is seen as the gold standard of what is considered getting a good night’s rest. What is so magical about eight hours and what truly happens while we are asleep?

What are the stages of sleep?

Our sleep cycle can be categorized into two phases rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM). Ensuring that all stages are reached during a sleep period is important as during each stage the body has specific processes that are important for health and function. Typically, a sleep cycle lasts between 70 – 120 minutes and on average you go through 4-6 cycles a night.

  • NREM stage 1 – this is also called light sleep and is the first stage. During this time your body relaxes, and the brain slows down cognitive activity.
  • NREM stage 2 – brain activity continues to slow down, eye movement stops, body temperature and heart rate lowers.
  • NREM stage 3 and 4 – are known as deep sleep. Brain and any muscle activity have decreased significantly. During these stages many restorative processes occur in the body.
  • REM – brain activity during this time mimics that of being awake, this is the stage in which we dream.

The time from when you turn your lights off till you fall asleep is called sleep latency, sleep efficiency is the time spent sleeping compared to the time in bed. Sleep duration is the time spent sleeping while sleep maintenance is the ability to stay asleep for the planned amount of desired time. These all impact sleep quality, which is the satisfaction one has regarding their sleep.

What happens to our bodies when we sleep?

When we sleep our body undergoes a variety of protein syntheses which aid in recovery from exercise as well as from daily body functions. Certain hormones are released during sleep such as human growth hormone, while hormones such as cortisol should have lower levels during sleep. Long-term effects of sleep deprivation can include elevated levels of blood glucose and high blood pressure. Our mood, cognitive abilities, pain perception and immunity are all affected by poor sleep quality and duration.

Those who get less than eight hours of sleep a night will notice:  

  • Decreased reaction time
  • Increase in muscle fatigue and tension
  • Decreased muscle force
  • Increased muscle and joint pain
  • Have a 30 per cent decrease in time to fatigue
  • Are 1.7 times more likely to get injured

Age influences the amount of sleep you should be trying to obtain each night. While the go-to is 8 hours, it’s important to know there is a range for each age group and there will always be individual variances. Pre-schoolers are recommended to get 10 – 13 hours of sleep, while children from 6 – 13 should get 9 – 11 hours. It is recommended that teenagers get 8 – 10 hours a night, not just on weekends. Those 18 – 64 are recommended to get 7 – 9 hours of sleep and anything under 6 is not recommended. Seniors should be aiming for 7 – 8 hours of slumber.

How can I get better sleep?

Getting that recommended amount of sleep is not always easy but there are a few ways that you can set yourself up for a better night’s sleep.

  • Create a set sleep schedule where bedtime and awake time stay consistent and use a consistent routine prior to bed to let your body know it is time to prepare for sleep.
  • Try to avoid the use of stimulants, caffeine, alcohol, and narcotics as these disrupt normal body functions.
  • Make your sleeping space cool, quiet, and dark. Use a sleep mask if you do not have black-out binds or need to sleep during the day.
  • Use your sleeping space for sleep-related activities only. Studying, working, or using your bed for entertainment purposes gives the body mixed messages when it is time to go to sleep.
  • Stop using light-emitting devices prior to going to bed, this includes TVs, tablets, and phones.
  • Use relaxation techniques such as controlled breathing, visualization and muscle relaxation to help prepare your body for rest.

Whether you are an athlete, someone who is active or just trying to find something to help you feel better, look at your sleep. It is the ultimate recovery tool, performance enhancer, preventer of injuries and mood adjuster you can have in your arsenal.

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