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Pressure, Pressure, Need Some Pressure: Understanding and Harnessing Sleep Pressure for Quality Sleep

In the quest for a restful night’s sleep, the concept of “sleep pressure” emerges as a powerful force that must be evaluated and broken down. Let’s dive into the science of sleep pressure and discuss what it is, how does it work, and more importantly how to build it.  

What is sleep pressure: 

Sleep pressure is the body’s natural drive to sleep, influenced by the duration of wakefulness and the need for restorative rest. The longer we stay awake, the higher our sleep pressure builds, creating a biological urge to seek sleep. Basically, this is that moment when you are trying your hardest to stay awake, but nothing is working. Your eyelids feel like a thousand pounds, and you can barely keep them open. Your head is bobbing and no matter how many smacks to the face you deliver, you keep “riding the roller coaster”. This is when your sleep pressure is at an all-time high and your body is demanding your attention to sleep to recover. That state can be recreated daily, however today, it has become more difficult.  

The importance of sleep pressure:  

The importance of building your daily “sleep pressure” is simply the drive towards sleep that accumulates during the day. This is one of those things that sounds simple enough, yet still gets “slept on”. The more physical activity and stimulation one receives during the day, the more sleep pressure you build for bedtime. This has become more of an issue because folks are “less tired” around the time to go to sleep due to much more of a sedentary lifestyle. We as humans always take an easier route and due to that, our daily lives require less physicality. We have more means of transportation, more careers performed in a seated position in front of a computer or steering wheel, and more activities that do not require the individual to be on their feet. All of this is directly affecting our ability to build a vast amount of sleep pressure.  

The Role of Circadian Rhythms:  

Our internal body clock, or circadian rhythm, interacts with sleep pressure to regulate our sleep-wake cycle. Understanding this intricate combination allows us to strategically build sleep pressure at the correct times, optimizing our chances for a smooth transition into a restful sleep.  

What helps build sleep pressure: 

  • Exercise 
  • Sunlight 
  • Fresh air 
  • Walks (upping your daily steps) 
  • Problem solving and socializing  
  • Sightseeing  

What prevents sleep pressure: 

  • Napping longer than 30-45 minutes  
  • Too much caffeine (over 300 mg per day) 
  • Caffeine intake too close to bedtime  
  • Too much screen time/blue light within an hour of bedtime 

Mindful Wakefulness:  

Mindfulness and engagement during wakefulness contribute to the gradual buildup of sleep pressure. Staying active, both mentally and physically, ensures that when bedtime approaches, your body is ready to embrace the rest it needs. The more activities you can fit into the day, the more likely your body is going to be begging for rest. Too many times people struggle with falling asleep simply because we did not do much in our day that warrants sleep. We didn’t walk much. We didn’t exercise. We sucked down coffee or energy drinks all day. We didn’t interact with many people. We didn’t experience any situations that required critical thinking or problem solving. We got home and immediately sat down and streamed Netflix or Hulu. We finally head to bed just to lay down aimlessly scrolling on our phones completely feeding the wrong neurons our brains need to rest. It is a recipe for disaster, and we are all so curious why we are so groggy day in and day out.  

For example: Some of the best sleep people tend to have is after a long day of sight-seeing on a trip. That is purely due to the fact of: tons of soaking up fresh air/sunlight, stimulation from taking in new views, socializing and navigating a new place, and a massive increase in steps. Most agree that after a long day of sightseeing on a trip/vacation, the second they hit their pillow...they are KNOCKED OUT! That is due to the massive amount of sleep pressure they have built. SO, we can recreate that in our normal day-to-day life, and we will have much more of a chance to fall fast asleep. Try to cram so much activity during your day so you are literally crawling into bed begging for the sandman to take you off to dreamland! SWEET DREAMS!  

In conclusion: Move MORE, SLEEP more!   

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