A There are reasons you feel so good when you wake up from a long, restful sleep, but for many people getting enough sleep can be difficult. So what is happening when you sleep? Why is it important? And what can you do to ensure you get enough?
B There are five stages of sleep: when you fall asleep, you go into stage 1, which is light sleep and quite easy to be woken up from, then you move into stage 2, 3, and then 4, with each stage getting progressively deeper. After about 1.5 hours you go into another stage called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is when most dreaming happens. This cycle happens around 5 times per night.
C If we take eight hours per night as the average amount of sleep, it means most people will spend a third of their lives sleeping. And it’s not just people; almost all animals sleep and have been doing so for over half a billion years. And considering that evolution has preserved it during this time, sleep must have an important function.
D The main purpose of sleep seems to be to restore energy. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it regulates your immune system, your temperature and your hormone levels, and gives you more energy for the next day. Sleep scientist Matthew Walker adds that sleep is also very important for learning: we need sleep before learning to prepare our brains to learn, and sleep after learning is essential for storing new memories. One of the reasons memory tends to get worse with age might be because people sleep less as they get older, Walker says.
E In his book, Why We Sleep, Walker also says that night owls and early birds may have evolved to be this way. He explains that many years ago when we lived in hunter-gatherer tribes, having a mix of night owls and early birds meant that more people would have been awake more of the time to protect the group, and therefore the tribe would have been more likely to survive. Our sleep cycles do change with age, however. The natural cycle of teenagers is to go to bed later and wake up later, and then, as we get older, this cycle gets earlier and earlier. Given how important sleep is, Walker suggests that perhaps schools and employers should consider these facts when designing schedules.
F Most people need 7-9 hours’ sleep per night, according to Walker, yet two thirds of us get less than this, and there is a price to pay for this sleep deprivation: if you don’t get enough sleep, you will be more forgetful and have problems learning new things, and a constant lack of sleep increases the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Walker considers sleep to be so important that he has started requesting that doctors prescribe it to patients.
G So how do you ensure that you get a good night’s sleep? Walker is against the use of sleeping tablets or alcohol, but at the back of his book he offers 12 tips for sleeping better. These include going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, sleeping in a cool room, doing regular exercise (but not before bed), spending some time outside in natural sunlight each day, and avoiding caffeine in the afternoon or evening – it can take up to 8 hours for the effects of that cup of coffee to wear off.
H There are other techniques out there that claim to help you to fall asleep, but I’m not sure about the efficacy of these (I’ve tried both of the following, and sometimes I fell asleep straight away, sometimes I didn’t). The 4-7-8 breathing technique is one that is quite popular and simple: inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds, and repeat 4 times. According to Medical Daily, if you practise this for 2 months, you will be able to fall asleep within a minute.
I Another technique, shared in a TED talk by drummer Jim Donovan, uses musical rhythm to reduce mental activity and help you fall asleep. Donovan calls it Brain Tapping and claims it can help you fall asleep in 30 seconds. The technique is simply tapping your hands on your thighs in rhythm at the speed of a ticking watch while breathing slowly, and then gradually slowing the tapping down. He says it works because your brain likes to follow repeating rhythmic patterns, so when you slow the tapping down, your brain slows down as well.
IELTS Reading Questions for Sleep:
Matching Information & Summary Completion.
Sources and links
– Article by The National Sleep Foundation about the purpose and benefits of sleep.
– Matthew Walker’s website. The information in this article came from his book Why We Sleep.
– Matthew Walker’s TED talk about sleep.
– Medical Daily article about the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
– TED talk by Jim Donovan about the Brain Tapping technique.
– Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay