Sleep is the vital component in everyone’s life, but so many of us are sleep-deprived. We work hard in the day and so want to reward ourselves with quality ‘us’ time in the evenings, rather than taking ourselves straight to bed. We know that clicking ‘play next episode’ on Netflix is at the expense of a good night's sleep, but we do it anyway.
Sleep is the first thing we’ll give up when it comes to wanting to get the most out of life, but it's impossible to live a happy and functioning life without enough rest. A Reclaim Your Sleep survey showed that only 14 percent of women say they feel rested when they wake up, and many of us battle with ourselves on how best to balance all that life throws at us.
Luckily, sleep is an important health factor that can be altered, and with the help of apps it is easier than ever to be attuned to your sleeping behaviour. Sleep Cycle is one app that will positively impact your sleep quality is great for monitoring and therefore learning about your own sleeping patterns as well as how long you sleep for, the regularity of your sleep cycles and the degree of your sleep disturbance.
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To find out just how beneficial becoming attuned to your sleeping behaviour is - through the use of apps - we enlisted the expertise of Sleep Expert at Warren Evans bed makers, Dave Gibson.
But firstly, how does Sleep Cycle work?
Sleep Cycle records your movements and breathing while you sleep using motion detection. You can either choose the setting of 'Microphone' to monitor your sleep by placing it on your bedside table, or alternatively the 'Accelerometer' setting will analyse your movement when you place the phone on your mattress nearby.
When you wake up in the morning you will be presented with a graph that will show you at what times you were in your deepest slumber and what times your sleep was disturbed. It will also give you a Sleep Quality percentage and will average how many hours you spend in bed each night.
Premium users of the Sleep Cycle app will also have access to more intricate and detailed graphs and statistics about their sleep, including whether the moon, the weather or drinking hot drinks before bed affects sleep quality.
These graphs from sleepcycle.com demonstrate what a regular night's sleep would look like, compared to an irregular night's sleep, and then a disturbed sleep.
So, Dave, how important is it to get a good night’s sleep and have a solid routine?
'Lack of sleep can affect our mood, our short term memory and our concentration levels. What’s more, it has also been linked to a host of health risks including obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
'To get a healthier sleep routine you should wind down properly before bed: dim the lights, switch off all technology to avoid blue light (for at least an hour before bed), and avoid working late (though we’re all guilty of this one). It is also important to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to maintain a healthy body clock.'
How much sleep does the average person need?
‘Guidelines suggest that adults need between 7 to 9 hours sleep a night – some of us need more, some less - but the main thing is to listen to your body.’
How beneficial is it to be attuned to your sleeping behaviour?
‘Our sleeping behaviour is determined by something called a chronotype. There are two main types of chronotypes: early risers (those who are more alert in the morning) and night owls (those who prefer to go to bed late and wake up late). Most of us are somewhere in-between the two.
‘Theoretically, the ‘optimum’ time to go to sleep is between 10pm and 11pm, as this is when our body temperature tends to drop and tells our body it’s time to sleep. However, our personal chronotype can shift this window by as much as an hour, so being aware of your body's preferances will help you work out when you would naturally need to go to bed.’
Can you tell us about the two stages of sleep: slow-wave and REM sleep?
‘Slow-wave sleep is the deep, physically restorative part of the sleep cycle. During this phase of sleep the body produces Growth hormone, which helps regenerate the body. Rapid Eye Moments (REM) sleep is when we tend to dream and restore our mental faculties, as we’re closer to consciousness.
‘At the end of each cycle, we naturally enter a period of light sleep – often waking up without knowing it before going into another cycle. If you wake up in the middle of a cycle, especially from a stage of deep sleep, you’ll feel groggy, but often we’ll put this feeling down to lack of sleep.'
Can a morning alarm affect mood, and if so what is the best way to wake your body up?
‘A badly timed morning alarm can wake us up feeling groggy. We tend to wake up the most refreshed if we come around at the end of a full 90-minute sleep cycle, rather than in the middle. Waking up naturally is the best thing for your body.’
One of the great features of the Sleep Cycle app is the alarm. Whereas a standard alarm clock will alert you the minute you tell it to, abruptly pulling your body into consciousness without warning, the alarm on the Sleep Cycle app wakes you up gently over period of time. For example, if you wanted to wake up at 6:30am, you could set the Wake Up Phase on the app to 30 minutes so that it would lightly and quietly play the alarm sound on and off from 6:00am, more and more frequently as it gets closer to 6:30am. This way your body is already stirring and you are being gently pulled back to consciousness rather than all at once.
You can also alter Snooze time (always a bonus), and in order to activate the Snooze in the morning all you have to do is tap the bedside table where the phone is laying. You cannot snooze past the allocated time (e.g., the said 6:30am), but by then your body would have been preparing to rise for a while.
Also, the alarm sounds are tranquil and incites feelings of meditation and yoga. Pick from 'Warm Breeze', 'Forest Glade', 'Morning Mist' and 'Sunrise' (and lots more if you go Premium). You'll no longer dread the mornings.
So, can an app like Sleep Cycle improve your quality of sleep?
‘Yes, both as a sleep monitor and as an alarm. Monitoring our sleep can help us gain an understanding as to how we are sleeping both in terms of time and quality. By monitoring our sleep pattern and seeing whether food choices, stress and evening work routines, etc., will improve routine and therefore sleep. Listening to your body in all respects is very important and beneficial, and apps like Sleep Cycle encourage this.'
Even if apps like Sleep Cycle are not 100 percent precise, using them will spark an awareness of your body's sleeping pattern and will encourage a more solid nighttime routine. The body prefers a predictable schedule, so by using the Sleep Cycle app consistently you'll be surprised at how quickly you body will know when to fall to sleep and when to wake up. It's also interesting to learn about your sleep quality when you wake up in the morning; that weird and intense dream you had will amazingly be illustrated on the graph. See for yourself.