Attaining Better Quality Sleep
Stages of Sleep
The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) was identified in the 1970s as the location of the internal clock. This is the brain’s pacemaker, its “traffic cop” regulating the sleep/wake cycle. This cell cluster is part of the hypothalamus, the brain center that regulates appetite and other biological states. Melatonin, the sleep hormone is produced by the pineal gland deep inside the brain in a daily rhythm controlled by light.
Melatonin levels increase after dark and fall
off after dawn. Melatonin induces drowsiness as its light-sensitive cycles help keep our circadian rhythms operating normally. Activity in the brain stem and the chemical messengers they produce help to coordinate the timing of wakefulness, arousal, and the stages of sleep.
Sleep is a highly complex activity. During the night we go through several 90-minute sleep cycles. Sleep can be categorized into two major types: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep or dreaming sleep, and non-REM or quiet sleep, which consists of three distinct phases.
Stage I: Drowsiness
This stage lasts for about five minutes once your head hits the pillow and is that stage between wakefulness and sleep. Brainwaves slow down into the theta range of 4-7Hz. During this phase, body temperature begins to drop and muscles begin to relax. It is easy to be brought back to full waking awareness while in this phase.
Stage II: Light Sleep
We spend about half our sleeping hours in Stage II light sleep. After passing through the first stage, brainwaves settle into an alpha brainwave 10Hz rhythmic pattern. Large, slow wave brainwave activity intermingles with short second-long bursts of activity called sleep spindles, when brain waves speed up.
It is during the lighter sleep phase when beta activity can “spike” or suddenly rise, causing us to wake up. So instead of remaining in alpha wave or low intensity beta dreaming state, we are so anxious it knocks us right out of the sleep cycle and we awaken. This increases our anxiety and stress. It becomes a damaging, repetitive cycle of negativity. When this condition becomes chronic, it can lead to serious and debilitating health and psychological issues. Stress can cause our mind to shift into a combination of fast, high intensity brainwaves. In this state, we are not so much solving problems as just thinking about them.
REM Sleep: Dreaming
We normally experience 3-5 stages of REM sleep during the night with every 90-minute cycle. These stages increase in length as the night progresses. REM sleep restores mental functioning and is important for absorption of learned material or event of the day for learning, memory and overall mental functioning. This is the stage where the body is paralyzed while the brain is active. It is thought that this paralysis is a nature defense mechanism to avoid harming or waking ourselves while dreaming.
Our sympathetic nervous system creates the fight-or-flight response and is twice as active as when awake. It is the stage when the eyes move rapidly back and forth so we are asleep but actually mentally quite active. During this stage, body temperature rises along with blood pressure and heart rate. Breathing patterns match daytime levels.
Stage III: Deep, Delta Sleep
This is known as large, slow-wave sleep with brainwave patterns in the .05 – 3Hz delta range. This stage allows us restorative sleep for healing and growth. This is deep sleep that is difficult to wake up from. This stage is critical for physical functioning.
When we are young, about 1/5th of our time is spent in the Stage. However, as we grow older, this stage significantly reduces in length to the point that by the age of 65 it is nearly absent in most people, though vigorous aerobic exercise with age will generally increase the time spent in deep sleep.
Other physiological responses taking place during this slow-wave stage include reduced blood flow to the brain, cooling the brain. Also, breathing becomes more regular, pulse slows considerably along with blood pressure. The immune system is activated during this phase helping the body defend against infection.
Correcting for Disturbed Sleep
It is often in Stage II that sleep is interrupted by an over-active mind. These are known as mental loops where sources of stress and frustration come to the surface. MindSpa’s programs help to disrupt these mental loops by helping to drive the brain back toward natural alpha state relaxation rhythms, allowing the mind and body to relax. An added alpha state benefit is it allows us to tap into the creative, problem-solving part of our brain while sleeping.
With regular use, the mind will naturally attune to these alpha waves quieting and slowing down our internal dialog. When relaxed, we can fall asleep and stay asleep more easily. The quality of your sleep will improve ultimately resulting in a better quality of life.
About Our CalmBlue™ LED Glasses and Best Time for Use
Our CalmBlue glasses and combination White/Blue 24 led glasses are both able to help overcome common jet lag issues and assist in overcoming SADS, or Seasonal Affective Disorder and winter depression.
If your issue is not staying asleep but falling asleep too early in the evening, particularly for the older person, or not being able to fall asleep until late at night, blue light can help resolve this issue. In the simplest terms, if you are falling asleep too early you need to reset your body clock. Use the blue leds late in the afternoon or early evening for about 40-60 minutes with eyes closed or open.
If you are falling asleep too late and want to go to sleep earlier, use the blue led glasses early in the morning for 40-60 minutes preferably with eyes open, though eyes closed is effective as well.
You can even put them on and go back to sleep as the melonopsin photoreceptors in your retina are effected by blue light and are affected whether we are awake or asleep. Get lots of natural light in the morning and avoid sunglasses.
Read our section on Light and its Value as this can help you substantially improve sleep quality. Also, read our section on Brainwave Stimulation to have a better understanding of the principles behind MindSpa.
Below is more detailed information on sleep, stress and circadian rhythms and the role they play in our lives.
High stress levels and lack of adequate natural light are two of the major causes of sleep disruption. MindSpa is helping tens of thousands of people obtain high quality sleep by addressing these issues.
Good quality sleep is essential to our mental health and physical well being. A lack of deep sleep can lead to reduced concentration and memory functions, mood alterations, depression and fatigue. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that sleeping less than seven and a half hours a day may be associated with a greater risk for heart disease, hypertension and other serious health-related issues.
Stress & Anxiety
Many sleep issues are stress related. When stressed, we tend to create mental loops. This is most noticeable in the quiet of the night when our inner dialog takes over. It is during these quiet periods our mind tends to get stuck on problems commonly related to finances, work, health, or relationships making quality sleep difficult to attain.
We have all experienced these high-intensity “mental loops” at different times. In the morning we wake up feeling exhausted, anxious and agitated. Stress-caused sleep disruption can result on seriously impacting our decision making abilities and our physical functioning.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports people with chronic stress report shorter sleep duration, worse sleep quality, and more daytime functioning impairments, according to new research. Conversely, daytime functioning impairments and shorter sleep duration demonstrated a predictive relationship with habitual stress complaints.
Think of brainwaves like ocean waves. They are measured on two scales; height and frequency of the waves. Normal beta brainwave activity is associated with the regular, active thinking process. When we are stressed, mental loops will cause our mind to shift to a high “beta” activity state.
As we explain on our Brainwave States section, high amplitude, fast beta brainwave activity generally reflects a state of heightened anxiety or stress accompanied by feelings of agitation and discomfort due to mental over-activity. This is associated with what is commonly known as the fight or flight state. When the high amplitude beta state is maintained for extended periods it leaves us feeling drained of energy and over time can erode our physical and emotional
well-being resulting in a variety health issues.
Using MindSpa’s relaxation programs can significantly help to reduce certain undesirable high amplitude activity in just a few weeks. Many report experiencing immediate effectiveness. When you encounter common stress producing situations you will be better able to maintain an inner calmness with enhanced control of your life. Conversely, when you feel like you need a quick pick up, or when you just do not feel as mentally sharp as you would like to feel, MindSpa can help here as well.
Steps you can take to de-stress in stressful times
In our Reduce Stress and Five Elements sections we cover a series of small, simple steps you can take in addition to using MindSpa that will help you. To show you how it works, right now pay attention to your facial muscles. Find any tension spots and relax those areas. Now notice your breathing. Take a nice deep breath, and let it out.
While doing these simple body awareness exercises, you are actually generating more alpha brainwave activity. These exercises can be practiced virtually anywhere at any time to help reduce stress. The effect is magnified when used in conjunction with MindSpa on a regular basis. We want to help you incorporate these and other relaxation techniques into your daily life. You will experience a positive difference!
MindSpa for Late at Night Use
Another common question is how to use MindSpa at night. While a number of our customers are reporting success getting to sleep or falling back to sleep using MindSpa at night, in general, we suggest avoiding use at night as the lights can disrupt circadian rhythms.
As some find the lights too stimulating for use in the middle of the night the question comes up, ''Then how do I use MindSpa for sleep if not at night?' Think of its use in the long-term. We are helping you reduce the root cause for insomnia by helping you train your mind to be quieter and calmer over time and by helping you get proper levels of light when your body needs them most.
Optionally, if you wish to use MindSpa at night, you can effectively use the sound alone without the lights to help you fall back asleep. Just set it to any one of the relaxation sessions and allow it to run. Keep the volume low. If you fall asleep in the meantime, MindSpa will automatically switch off at the end of the session.
The Power Nap Process
Another common use for MindSpa is power napping. There is a rapidly growing body of scientific evidence demonstrating daily naps are a highly productive use of time promoting better health, mental alertness, creativity and problem solving, better memory and concentration, increases in worker and student efficiency, accuracy and output and helps older people lead more active lives. One recent Japanese study demonstrated student test scores markedly increased with daily naps.
In addition to various health benefits, naps have an overall positive performance impact. We highly suggest making naps, using MindSpa, an integral part of your daily regimen. You will experience a definite improvement in performance, energy levels, and how you feel both emotionally and physically day-to-day.
Sleeping and Napping
The process of taking a nap while using MindSpa is distinct from sleep. Sleeping is primarily a regenerative process following a regular, 90 minute cyclic pattern of deep, dreamless sleep to light (REM) sleep. Napping is primarily a performance-based process where you remain at the edge of consciousness in a sleep-like state for a relatively short period of time. Sleeping and napping both help to enhance information processing and learning.
A “Power Nap” is as little as 10 minutes but typically 20 – 40 minute period of revitalization resulting in increased energy and productivity, and provides reduction in feelings of stress and anxiety. The effect is cumulative when practiced on a regular basis for providing both short and long-term benefits. A study by NASA’s Fatigue Countermeasures Program found that pilots who took a short nap improved their performance by 34% and their alertness by 54%.
Among the best times for power napping are when you feel a general lowering of your energy level as commonly experienced in early or mid-afternoon. Generally, one power nap during the day or early evening is quite sufficient.
Imbalances in circadian rhythms are another major cause of sleep disruption. We are light-regulated beings. A lack of proper daily light will disrupt our internal body clock. MindSpa can assist by providing the correct does of blue light for resetting rhythms when natural light in sufficient quantities is not available.
A major issue is not receiving enough beneficial light in the morning and late afternoon when it is most needed. Too many wear sunglasses as protection or for comfort. But in the morning, this effectively blocks beneficial blue sky light. It is very important to get at least 45 minutes of unfiltered natural morning light. Keep in mind that many car windows and building windows block much of this light.
Chronic overuse of sunglasses can for some create symptoms very similar to season affective disordered depression (SADS). According to research at Stanford University, MIT and Harvard, late morning and afternoon light has little or no effect on melatonin production. However, late afternoon/ early evening light is important to balance your sleep/wake cycle. Bottom line: zig you are suffering from insomnia, get as much natural light as you can in the morning especially. You will find with time an improvement in your overall sleep patterns.
Our Internal Body Clock
Light is a powerful regulator of the human circadian system, our biological clock, the “body clock.” The circadian rhythm is the internal 24 hour clock controlling physiological changes that occur with the natural light-dark cycle of the day.
The SCN or suprachiasmatic nucleus acts as the central processing system for our biological clock. It is located in a part of the brain, the hypothalamus, just above the point where the optic nerves cross. Light reaches photoreceptors in the back of the eye, the retina, generating signals that travel along the optic nerve to several areas of the brain including the SCN, which is a non-visual part of the brain. In addition to sleep/wake cycle regulation, the SCN also plays a primary role in hormone secretion, body temperature and blood pressure regulation, among other daily functions.
In the presence of light, or the lack thereof, signals from the SCN travel to various parts of the brain, including the pineal gland. Among its responsibilities, the pineal gland controls production of the hormone melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Melatonin levels normally increase in the absence of light. Exposure to specific light frequencies suppresses melatonin production for several hours. Melatonin makes us feel drowsy and plays a role in mood change. However, this only begins to describe the critical role Melatonin plays in regulating body function. We suggest further independent reading on its role. Click here (University of Maryland Medical Center) for one of many useful links on Melatonin and circadian rhythms.
The Retina and our Body Clock
The retina contains three types of specialized photoreceptors that respond to the visible light spectrum. Visible light ranges from approximately 370 nm to 730 nm, indigo to red. These photoreceptors consist of the rods, cones and the recently discovered light/dark receptors also referred to as the melanopsin photo receptor cells.
The rods are the most numerous photoreceptors, and the most sensitive to light, but are not sensitive to color. The retina contains approximately 110 – 125,000,000 rods. They are primarily responsible for dim light vision. The rods peak in the blue range and have almost no response to red light. Known as the scotopic photoreceptor system, the peak wavelength sensitivity is 507 nm, the green/blue-green color range.
The cones are color sensitive and divided primarily into red and green cones with a small percentage of blue cones. There are approximately 6.5 million cones in the retina divided into approximately 64% red sensitive cones, 32% green cones, and 2% blue cones. The blue cones are more sensitive to light than the red or green cones. The cones are responsible for high resolution vision known as photopic photoreceptor system. The cones have a peak wavelength sensitivity of 555 nm, the green spectrum.
The Melatonin Action Spectrum
This is where it becomes interesting. In 1998 scientists discovered a specialized set of cells in the retina that respond specifically to short wavelength blue light in the 446-483 nanometer (nm) range. This is also the wavelength of the clear, blue sky. Called the action spectrum, this blue light wavelength band plays a major role in aligning and resetting the body clock through the control of release of the sleep hormone, melatonin.
The melanopsin receptors are independent of the classic rod and cone photoreceptors used for vision, and are not part of the visual system. They are active even with eyes closed and while asleep. It is theorized that blue sky exposure is how these ganglion cell photoreceptors evolved their specialized purpose.
These photoreceptors regulate circadian rhythms primarily via melatonin secretion. When exposed to this specific band, melatonin production is suppressed for several hours. The MindSpa CalmBlue glasses are tuned within a few nanometers of the peak frequency range making them very effective for resetting the body clock.
Circadian Rhythm Disorders
Circadian rhythm disorders are typically related to sudden and/or extreme changes in the relationship between exposure to environmental light and activity. For example, circadian rhythm disorders are known to be associated with change in geographical location (jet lag), aging, and night activity (night time shift workers).
Another common type of circadian rhythm disorder is seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is characterized by symptoms such as lethargy and depression during the winter seasons when the duration of daylight is reduced. Due to decreased light exposure melatonin production continues during the waking hours.
Symptoms much like jet lag are common in people who work nights or who perform shift work. Because shift work schedules are at odds with powerful sleep-regulating cues like sunlight, they often become uncontrollably drowsy during work, and they may suffer insomnia or other problems when they try to sleep.
Shift workers have an increased risk of heart problems, digestive disturbances, and emotional and mental problems, all of which may be related to their sleeping problems. The number and severity of workplace accidents also tend to increase during the night shift. Recent evidence suggests it may be possible to reduce shift-related fatigue by exposure to specific frequencies of blue light in the workplace, minimizing shift changes, and taking scheduled naps.
A John Hopkins study found that chronic exposure to bright light at night, even light normally experienced in a typical living room, can elevate certain stress related hormones in the body, which results in depression and lowers cognitive functioning.
Sunlight also causes other changes in the body, such as increases in serotonin production. Serotonin neurotransmitter production increases when a person is exposed to sunlight. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and mood swings. Along with using MindSpa, it is important to get as much light as possible every day for health, balance and general well-being. This becomes even more necessary in the winter when light levels are low.
Other Common Causes for Sleep Disruption
Recent published research is reinforcing the fact that there is a direct link between exercise and diet at the root cause of sleep disruption in many cases. Exercise is among the best stress reduction methods known to man. Published research also establishes a link between stress reduction and how it affects an individual's ability to maintain a healthy weight.
Read our Five Elements Program where you will learn more about what you can do to improve sleep and your have a long-term, positive impact on your quality of life.