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Sleep: A definitive answer

Sleeping is despised upon in many circles of work. If you are caught sleeping over your workstation, heck that's the end of life for you as an employee. Good night good promotions.

This school of thought has come up with a philosophy that work or buying that new pair of shoes on Amazon is now prioritized more than attending to nature's direction of getting a good short nap. In fact, it always frightens me when everyone I advise to take a short 15 minute nap in the afternoon replies back,

                           "Are you kidding me? Who is going to do all that work in my place? You?"

Let's stop and settle down at this word; SLEEP. What is it exactly that we do when we sleep? Apparently nothing, at lease at the surface. And unfortunately, this is what lends sleep all the guilt and self-criticism at the thought of taking a much needed nap even during office hours.

Here are a host of life-supporting biological processes which get accelerated while we are taking that comforting shut eye in the afternoon or the snoring good night's sleep:

1. Better respiration
2. Optimized digestion
3. De-stressing of the mind.
4. Psychological and physiological recovery from physical stresses(including exercise)
5. Re-gaining of mental focus.
6. Enhance Human-Growth-Hormone release.
7. Increased productivity in the times following the sleep.

On the other hand, here's what you tend to experience once you start falling down the avalanche of lost sleeps:
  • Lowered glucose tolerance (GT)
  • Increased sympathovagal balance
  • Increased evening and nocturnal cortisol levels
  • Lowered leptin
  • Insufficient thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH)
So, as you can see, there is more to a sleeping body than what meets the eye. Stated other ways, a good quality deep sleep can render more benefits than almost anything else available free of any financial costs.

I can see most of you still not convinced on why you should sacrifice your office social image while you doze off for fifteen minutes at the desk. Right?

Here's something more.

One of the best and foremost ways to get out of a hopeless stretch of stressed office hours is to get disconnected from the ongoing work as soon as possible. But what most of us miss here is how we are still somehow mentally engaged with the work. In other words, we carry our work everywhere we go, in our minds. Such a hyper-mindful-workaholism is what a brief deep sleep session can help break.

Here's a cool experiment you can try out on your next heavy duty office day, when almost no amount of self-persuasion seems to be taking you out of the work-related-burnout. It's called a coffee nap.

And don't you worry about steve-smartypants sitting in the cubicle next to you overtaking you in terms of the amount of work done and deliverables completed while you were having a healthy siesta. There's a reason why big enterprises focus on Quality before Quantity. It's really up to us to decide which one we need to adhere to as a mission while we work. And it becomes all the more clear looking at individuals who always find ways to keep themselves fresh and energized, who also tend to be the most productive and quality delivering team members in an office.

Anyway, back to our experiment.

Here's what you do:

Next time you encounter that sleepy like a sloth hour following your lunch(which research shows to be probably about 3:00 PM give or take a few minutes), head on to the nearby coffee vending machine. Make sure there is a sofa lounge nearby. Get a strong dose of caffeinated coffee brewing in your cup and delightfully sip it, forgetting for a moment all the worries surrounding your work. Sip and enjoy the awesomeness and right after that, shut your eyes and go in for a silent nap on the couch.

The magic begins after the 10 to 15 minutes that pass after the caffeine enters your system and triggers the neurotransmitters that give you such a kick-off feel. You know it, the one which makes us all reborn again and ready to take over the world. That's yours there.

If you look at it from an efficiency standpoint,I find two things achieved:
1. You were able to deload from the baggage of stress through the sweet nap.
2. You were able to gain an even higher level of altertness and focus by the stimuilating action of caffeine.

...and you were able to do both these things at the same time.

Accumulated fatigue

I have always found the effects of sleep debt to accumulate them over a week. Let's say I wasn't able to sleep on time due to a late meeting on Monday. The scenario somehow repeated itself on Tuesday and even though I could sleep on time on Wednesday, the levels of focus and alertness I had during my training in the gym on Thursday still remained lackluster.

By the time we miss sleep for the third time in a week, that's how we end up looking.

On the other hand, fulfilled sleep on a consistent basis also had the opposite effect of enriching my training sessions where I witnessed unparalleled levels of focus and strength in my lifts.

The Pre-Midnight Window

Here's another interesting observation I have made over the last one year. On days when I sleep somewhat before midnight(those nights when I somehow drag myself to the bed minutes before the clock strikes 12), I do seem to feel better than the days I cross 12:00 AM.

Moreover, on some occasions, where I manage to wind up all my tasks, dinner, Facebook, TV, News etc by about 11:00 PM, things are even more magical the other day. I am more awake and aware in the gym and my mood in the office stays relatively calmer, even in the middle of heated up issues.

On those lucky days when I can enjoy the luxury of getting under the sheets by the 9:00 PM to 10:00 Pm mark, boy do I have a nirvanic day the next day. Everything seems to get easier. My mood stays an all time good on such occasions and seldom do I lose my temper on any hot problems as well.

Your sleep is only as good as the time at which you wake up

On some strange days, you may notice that after having slept for over 8 hours, you may still experience a very drained and sleepless feeling upon waking up. What went wrong here? The answer may most probably come from the concept of polyphasic sleep.

The idea of polyphasic sleep proposes that our entire sleep consists of multiple sleep-wake cycles. In other words, we do not continuously sleep for all the eight hours at night, but pass through multiple phases of sleep. Most prominent ones are these five stages:
Stage 1: Light sleep. Waking up during this sleep always screws up the quality of sleep during the rest of the night.
Stage 2: This is where we start transitioning into a deeper sleep. Heart rate drops and physiological processes begin to slow down.
Stage 3: A deep sleep phase begins.
Stage 4: Very deep sleep begins here
Stage 5: Rapid Eye Movement(REM) sleep. Basically, where all the magic happens.

A cycle consisting of these five stages roughly occurs every ninety minutes. Stages 4 and 5 are where the release of Human Growth Hormone is accentuated to the maximum. It thus becomes imperative that we complete these phases and not wake up in between them.

Sometimes however a sudden abrupt jerk or a push(in some rare cases, certain sounds) wakes us out of our sleep schedules and we then have a tough time getting back to sleep. Incidentally, these are also the times when we feel like a truck run over us, the next day.

On the other hand, let's say you just completed the fourth of such sleep cycles, and once again, the abrupt jerk or sound woke you up. You may have just slept six out of your usual menu of eight hours, but the right timing of waking up still made you feel fully replenished.

By the same token, the concept of sleeping lesser and still being able to attain a fulfilled effect is taken to the next level by practitioners of Polyphasic sleep schedules. And the concept isn't a very novel one as well. Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon, or Nikola Tesla have been said to follow abbreviated sleep schedules during their heyday.

Honey, will you stop snoring or do I send you permanently on the drawing room couch?

Obstructive sleep apnea(OSA), or the disorder which causes you to snore heavily while you are asleep is a big obstruction in the way of a deep, undisturbed sleep. Basically, it the blockage of your nasal breathing pathway due to a soft tissue collapse.  OSA can be a real deal breaker since it contributes to both missed sleep and growing amount of body fat accumulation. Although surgical intervention does exist as a cure, the effectiveness of the results can be argued with.

Good-Sleep Rx at home

So what do you do if you need a health enriching and satisfying sleep at home? Here are some time tested remedies you can follow to improve your sleep quality to unbelievable limits:

1. Switch Off: The simple yet overlooked act of switching off all electronic devices before you sleep can do wonders to the quality of your shuteye Most devices such as electronic clocks, TVs, music players, Laptops etc have an LED which either stays lit, or worse, keeps blinking disrupting your focus while you sleep and occasionally resulting in diversion from a sound sleep.

2. Don't stare at the mobile phone screen: Try making it a strict ritual to avoid looking at a mobile phone screen at least fifteen minutes before you lie on your bed. Even worse is the habit of obsessive compulsively picking up your iPhone in the middle of the night just to check if the office hottie from a neighboring team, Laura replied to your 21st whatsapp message in a row or not. Looking at bright tablet, laptop or mobile screens at a time your body is begging for more sleep can destabilize your vision; remember all the times your eyes were so sore after a night long mobile phone message chat? 

3. Optimize your room's temperature: In most warm weathered countries such as ours, a cool and breezy room presents a very soothing temperament conducive to a very good sleep. If however, you are in colder climates, there can be nothing better than using the right set of sheets and blankets. The bottomline is to never let extreme weather conditions rob you of a few hours by waking you u amid sleep and taking you by surprise.

4. Have a shower: A shower, especially a warm/hot one really relaxes your mind and body to the levels necessary to disconnect you from all the day's worries and prepare you for a deep ride through dreamland. Do try it for a few weeks and notice the difference in the quality of sleep that immediately follows.

5. Seep Early: This should come as a no brainer, although looking at our life-demands and lifestyles today, most individuals find it a tough pill to swallow. Disengaging in our social networking(mostly online) activities earlier, dining on time and ending our chats before they turn into a night long marathon may require a lot of social intelligence and understanding, bot on our part and your friends' or families', but is really well worth the effort looking at such highly rewarding

 Sleep better, Live better

The bottomline is that the hallmark of a fit, in shape and better functioning life shall always remain how much dividend we can put upon extracting superior quality sleep from our mind-numbing schedules and stress-loving lifestyles. Do not hesitate to taking naps wherever you can and going the extra mile to ensure your household ergonomics are conducive to good sleep-hygiene is not a bad move at all. Let me know your thoughts and ideas on what all works for you to get you the sleep-mojo which kicks off your day like a boss!