Your body works as a highly sophisticated stopwatch. Throughout the day you run to a series of biological rhythms, regulating everything from your body temperature to the chemicals in your brain. Sleep, too, runs on a rhythm. For most, sleep is just the simple exercise of lying down and switching off. For your body, it’s a regimented and multi-stage ritual, and it has been the subject of intensive scientific research over the past century.
THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP
Sleep is broken into several different stages, each with unique biological indicators serving a unique function. As you wind down you’ll first pass into stage 1, the lightest period of sleep, where your eyes move slow and your muscles begin to switch off. If you’re woken up at this stage you’ll often claim that you weren’t asleep at all. It’s also during this stage that you may experience a sudden muscle contraction, resulting in the sensation of falling. Stage 2 is entered as your eyes stop moving, your heart rate slows and your body temperature drops. You’ll spend the majority of your snooze in this stage.
Stage 3 is the deepest stage of sleep, and the most restorative. During this time your brain releases slow delta waves. These waves trigger the release of hormones that repair bone and muscle and strengthen the immune system. Long periods of stage 3 sleep are what help you wake up feeling refreshed and renewed. Babies and young children, naturally, spend long periods in this deep sleep to help with their biological development. However, as we age we typically spend less time in stage 3.
Finally there is REM—Rapid Eye Movement—sleep. These are short sessions where the eyes move in all directions, breathing and heart rate quickens and your brain is at its most active, even though your muscles are totally disengaged. REM is the stage where we dream. You’ll average between 3 and 5 sessions of REM activity a night, which increase in length the more you have. That’s why you tend to dream most vividly and memorably just before waking up.
Throughout your slumber you’ll cycle through these stages many times, but not always in the same order. For example, as you approach the morning, it is common to flit between stage 2 sleep and REM. The key is to make sure you sleep long and soundly enough to get enough benefit from each individual stage.
APPS TO REST EASY
There are a lot of factors to consider when aiming for a good night’s slumber. It’s best to rest uninterrupted to maximise your time in deep sleep, making the most of the restorative delta brain waves. Plus it’s always better to wake up during the lightest stages of sleep to feel fully refreshed. This isn’t easy to accomplish with a standard alarm clock, but fortunately your smartphone is here to help.
For many, a bedtime ritual and wind-down process is the key to a good night’s sleep. That might be an hour set aside for a good book or a strict cutoff time for digital detox. If you still have your phone switched on, you’ll find a selection of apps to help clear your mind. Headspace (iOS, Android) is a much-lauded guided meditation app and a ‘personal trainer for the mind’. It begins with a free trial but switches to a subscription model that lets you use a variety of ‘packs’—guided courses themed around specific goals. These range from sports performance to coping with anxiety. The sleep pack is specifically designed to help you rest better.
Similarly, Digipill (iOS, Android) lets you download a range of ‘digital pills’, 30-minute sessions of specially-crafted audio to help you meet one of several goals. You pay for pills individually, including some designed specifically for sleep. Prefer something less passive? Yoga for Insomnia (iOS, Android) will guide you through poses and meditation to help quiet your mind.
You can also use your phone to set guidelines on when to get to bed and to monitor your sleep activity. For a real in-depth insight into your own snooze, you would need an ECG monitor to gauge your brain activity. However, your phone’s accelerometer can keep track of your movement to predict your depth of sleep.
iPhone users will find the ‘Bedtime’ feature in their pre-installed Clock app. You can set a bedtime and desired sleep length, and your phone will alert you when you should start preparing for sleep and wake you up gently. It’ll record your sleep patterns and import them directly into your Health app. Similar apps, like SleepBot (iOS, Android) achieve similar results, and also use a smart alarm feature to wake you up during the best stage of sleep within a given time window.
A NOCTURNAL SOUNDTRACK
Other apps help encourage a deeper sleep with the use of ambient sound. Not only will they mask other distracting noises that might occur in the night, ambient sound will also ease you into relaxation. Apps like Noisli (iOS, Android) arm you with a soundboard of soothing sounds, from birdsong and rain to white noise and gentle chatter. Create and customise your own soundscape for relaxation, or create a more upbeat soundtrack to help you be productive through the day. Pzizz (iOS, Android) has a similar library of sounds, but also includes soft-spoken words, music and binaural beats. Set your listening duration and it’ll generate a unique soundtrack to your sleep. With over 10 billion combinations, you’ll never hear the same one twice.
THE KEY TO DREAMING
Dreams are an aspect of sleep that scientists can’t seem to agree on. Classic psychoanalysis suggests that our dreams are an outlet to explore suppressed desires and fears. Physiological approaches argue dreams are the firing of random electrical brain impulses, given narrative by our waking mind to make sense of otherwise nonsensical imagery. Some soundscape apps, like Dream:ON (iOS) claim to influence your dreams with certain sounds. Alternatively, why not take control of your dreams yourself? Lucid dreaming is a phenomenon wherein a sleeper realises they are dreaming, and can then use their imagination to take charge of the dream proceedings. Apps like Lucid Dreamer (iOS, Android) and Awoken (iOS, Android) condition you to check your reality in the waking world, then prompt you to make the same checks when you’re asleep. However, proponents of the phenomenon argue that the practice must be trained, and cannot be learned by everyone.
Feel like resting your head on a cloud-soft pillow? However you choose to sleep, at Belmond we’ll make sure you enjoy a peaceful slumber. Picture yourself drifting off to the distant lap of Caribbean waves, or the gentle sway of a vintage train carriage as you meander through the Swiss Alps. Or, perhaps soak-up the mystical energy of nearby Machu Picchu as you rest and recharge. Explore our latest offers and find the perfect excuse for your next getaway.
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