Jan 102012

Rapid Eye Movement Means Better Sleep

An important part of leadership development is the ability to maintain a healthy body and mind.  Leaders who stay physically and mentally healthy can avoid burnout and maintain physical and mental well-being.  Just as exercise and proper nutrition are essential for optimal health, so is sleep. A good night’s sleep is often the best way to cope with stress, solve problems or recover from an illness. Yet many individuals try to sleep as little as possible, even bragging about how little sleep they can get by on.

While preparing to teach the topics of the Vitality aspect of The Fit Leader’s Program™, I came across some interesting articles on sleep, including on authored by: Melinda Smith, M.A.; Lawrence Robinson, and Robert Segal, M. A.

If you think your body is at total rest and restoring its energy levels while you sleep, think again.  While we sleep our brain stays busy by overseeing a wide variety of biological maintenance tasks the keep us in top condition and prepare us for the day ahead.  Think of it like our car’s oil change.  If we avoid giving our car regular oil changes it will not run at its optimal level and can even have a major breakdown sooner than if we had regularly maintained it.  It’s the same with our body. Without sufficient restorative sleep, we won’t be able to function at a level even close to our potential.

Sleep is prompted by natural cycles of activity in the brain and consists of two basic states: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and not-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which consists of stages 1 through 4.  Our body cycles through these, alternating from REM sleep to NREM sleep throughout the night.  When we dream, we are in the REM stage of sleep.

Non Rem Sleep occurs in four stages:

Stage 1:  Light sleep, in which we can be easily awakened.  This may last for five to 10 minutes.

Stage 2:  A period of light sleep in which we experience periods of muscle tone and muscle relaxation.  The heart rate slows and body temperature increases.

Stage 3 and 4: Deep sleep stages, with stage 4 being more intense.  If we are awakened during these stages we may feel disoriented for a few minutes.  During this stage brain waves are extremely slow and blood flow is directed away from the brain and towards the muscles, restoring physical energy.

It is during these NREM stages that our body repairs itself, regenerating tissues, building bone and muscle and strengthening the immune system.  As we get older we sleep lighter and get less deep sleep.

Sleep follows a predictable pattern, moving back and forth between deep restorative sleep and more alert stages and dreaming (REM sleep). REM sleep occurs about 90 minutes after sleep onset.  The first period lasts about 10 minutes with each stage lengthening, and the final one lasting about an hour.  Dreaming occurs when you are in REM sleep.  Your eyes actually move rapidly during this stage, which is why it is called the Rapid Eye Movement sleep.  Breathing is shallow, heart and blood pressure increase and arm and leg muscles are paralyzed.

Deep sleep renews the body, REM sleep renews the mind.  REM sleep is key to learning and memory.  This is the time our brain consolidates and processes information we have learned during the day, when it forms neural connections that strengthen our memory and replenishes its supply of neurotransmitters.  These are chemicals that can boost our mood during the day.  I guess that’s why people can be grouchy during the day if they are not getting enough quality sleep.

The amount of sleep we need is different for each of us, depending on various factors, one of which is age.  Below are some average sleep needs:

New borns (0-2months) 12 – 18 hours

Infants (3 months to 1 year) 14 – 15 hours

Toddlers (1 to 3 years) 12 – 14 hours

Preschoolers (3 – 5 years) 11 – 13 hours

School-aged children (5 – 12 years) 10 – 11 hours

Teens and preteens (12 – 18 years) 8.5 – 10 hours

Adults (18+) 7.5 – 9 hours

About 3% of the population has a gene that enables them to do well on 6 hours sleep a night.  For the rest of us, six hours doesn’t come close to meeting our needs.  If we are getting less than eight hours sleep a night we are probably sleep deprived.  We may think it’s normal to get sleepy in a boring meeting, struggle through an afternoon slump or doze off at dinner.  In reality this is only normal if we are sleep deprived.  Drinking those sugar-filled energy drinks or stimulants only help you temporarily overcome the effects of sleep deprivation, but that can’t be sustained for any extended period of time.

Thus, all sleep is not created equal.  We sleep in recurring stages that are very different from one another and affect what is happening to our body, beneath the surface.  Each step is vital to our mind and body, each preparing a different part of us for the day ahead.

Sleep is vital for a leader to maintain a healthy body and mind.  Get into a regular sleep pattern and make sure you get a restful night’s sleep.  Since we typically can’t sleep later in the day, this can be best accomplished by going to bed earlier.

I trust individuals participating in my next leadership workshop will get plenty of sleep so they won’t nod off in class.  They might miss this vital piece of information.

Good night and sweet dreams.


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