We have all experienced Netflix asking, “Are you Still Watching?” It pops up more frequently for some while watching a show in constant succession. Binge-watching shows is the new trend in television. Instead of waiting 8 months and watching commercials, you can binge-watch an entire season overnight.
But binge-living does not stop at streaming TV. For many, it occurs because the individual has an unhealthy obsession. It happens in overeating, addiction, and similar lifestyle choices. Relating to sleep, inconsistent patterns develop while trying to finish a REM cycle causing one to catch up on sleep. Before defining binge-sleeping, it is important to define REM sleep.
What is REM Sleep?
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the five stages of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep need to produce at least four or five sleep cycles per night, or 6 to 9 total hours of sleep, for adults.
Stage one sleep is considered light sleep while sleepers drift in and out of sleep, easily awakened. Physically, sleepers eyes and muscle activity slows down, but may experience muscle contractions. Hypnic myoclonia is the proper term for this and is often described as a falling sensation sleepers get when sleeping. When awakened during stage-one sleep, most people are unable to remember simple things.
During stage two, your body drifts deeper into sleep as your eyes stop moving and your brain activity slows. However, your brain will still have occasional bursts of sleep spindles, or small bursts of rapid brain waves.
Deep sleep occurs in stage three while your brain starts producing delta waves almost exclusively, and muscle and eye activity crawl to a stop. Sleepers in stage three are very difficult to wake up, and often experience disorientation when awakened.
Entering stage four, or REM sleep, produces another physical change to the sleeper. Their breathing becomes faster, shallow, and irregular, followed by their eyes moving rapidly in various directions. Our body slips into a short-term paralysis and your heart rate and blood pressure rises. Dreams occur in this stage. This stage is where the most sleepwalking, bed-wetting, and other phenomena occur.
Now that we understand the effects of how the REM cycle promotes healthy sleeping every night, binge-sleeping can be explained from a medical point of view and its dangers.
What Is Binge-Sleeping?
Charles Czeisler, chief of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women's Hospital, calls a break from consistency in sleep cycles a new phenomenon: binge-sleeping. For instance, sleeping in until noon on a weekend when weekdays the alarm sounds at 6 a.m. gives an individual social jet lag or an equivalent of a time zone difference from Boston to Paris.
A lot of people who struggle through the week’s exhaustion of balancing work, family, and exercise try to make up for their lack of sleep through caffeine or binging when really the only prescription is a healthy sleep pattern.
Though it normally can take three weeks to create a normal routine, changing your bedtime routine helps set a healthier lifestyle, including showering, journal writing, reading. Anything that helps establish routine each night prior to the REM cycle. Baths by candlelight with lavender oils may set an interesting precedence. After the three week cycle, it can be a part of a routine; a routine you can be excited about every night.
Avoiding coffee, chocolate, and caffeine that stimulates the brain is a routine in itself. It may take time to break the habit but is an important step to take in establishing a new routine. There are a million different combinations that can go into your routine. You have to try different combinations and find out what works best for you.
There are various ways a person needs wellness: spiritual, emotional, and physical are just a few. Many may discount the act of spiritual wellness to a healthy balance but University of California Davis defines this as a way to “find meaning in life events and define our individual purpose.
Spiritual wellness can be defined through various factors including religious faith, values, ethics and morals.” This does not tie you into a specific religion but helps define how you make decisions and live with those decisions to create balance.
Exercise including yoga, meditation, or running can help unwind your anxiety and release the toxins clogging your mind and body. By pursuing the right mix of physical activity, a short 30 minutes creates the balance needed for a restful night and a clear conscience.
According to the Sleep Foundation, a nationally representative sample of more than 2,600 men and women, ages 18-85, found that 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week “provided a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality.”
Binge-sleeping creates a crash and burn lifestyle that disrupts the normal sleep REM cycle leading people to straight exhaustion. Consistency is key for healthy sleep and Czeisler does not encourage the break from the REM cycle each week to catch up. Energy is sacrificed and an inconsistent REM sleep schedule for an adult can lead to other binging tendencies.
“Previous studies have demonstrated that a week of sleeping four to five hours a night induces a cognitive impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 1 percent. Performance suffers, immunity weakens, stress hormones increase, and our abilities to learn, assess situations, and respond flexibly are reduced.”
Don’t let your own sleep deprivation lead you down a road that is unstoppable. While struggling through normalcy of sleep patterns, a lot of help is available. The best thing you can do is visit your family physician or a local sleep specialist. If you live in Alaska, click on the link below to find a sleep specialist closest to you.