I have always kept a reasonably good eye on my sleep habits and tracked them fairly well, so I thought. During the last two weeks, I spent more time relatively than usual tracking and analyzing my sleep and dreams trying to find any type of pattern between how my psychological and physical health is connected. I do wear a smart watch during the day and also to bed which I use to track my sleep patterns, which include total time asleep (wakefulness/restlessness), light sleep, deep-sleep, heart rate, overall quality of sleep and sleep rating. In addition to tracking my sleep, I also track my daily physical exertion which includes workouts, total calories burned and standing/moving time and distance.
With all the data I have collected it was time to then cross-reference it with my daily diet and emotions to see how they were connected. The first thing that I noticed right off the bat was the nights that I had any alcohol I tended to fall asleep faster but I would wake more frequently throughout the night. Strangely enough, it wasn’t for my first thought of having to use the restroom. The National Sleep Foundation stated, ‘While you may fall asleep quickly after drinking, it’s also common to wake up in the middle of the night. One explanation is that alcohol may affect the normal production of chemicals in the body that trigger sleepiness when you’ve been awake for a long time, and subside once you’ve had enough sleep.”
The second most noticeable piece of data was for the days that I had an above-average workout and burned more than my normal goal of calories. On those specific days, I would sleep deeper and longer. Meaning that I would hit REM (rapid eye movement) sleep more often throughout the night and for longer periods of time. I not only notice this every single morning when I reviewed my sleep tracker but I also physically felt fully rested and refreshed. I believe it’s safe to say that my physical exercise directly affected how I slept that night regardless of my day at work. There were times that I would have a stressful day, but would still hit my deep sleep cycle that night. This was usually only after I had a great workout earlier that morning. I believe it has to do with how physically tired I was from burning so much energy throughout the day.
I did note that when I stuck to my healthy eating habits and stayed away from processed foods I tended to not feel so sluggish and was in an overall better mood. We had a military retirement party for a fellow Soldier, where I actually needed up eating more than I normally would, and foods that I normally wouldn’t. That night I kept to my normal sleeping routine and the next morning my sleep tracker reported that I hit all my sleeping goals for total time spent asleep, deep sleep and an overall sleep rating. My diet doesn’t really change from day to day, but when I didn’t stick to my diet these past two weeks I wasn’t really able to see how it directly impacted my overall quality of sleep but more so my physical health.
The biggest pattern that I did notice was how my mental and physical health worked together more effectively when I exercised regularly, spent more time playing with my kids, and made time to enjoy myself and family. When I was mentally overworked, ran out of time in the day or just felt lazy I would typically not sleep well and would just feel restless all night. In other words, I noticed that when I was in a positive mood, had low stress and exercised that I tended to sleep better. This all circles backs to my overall psychological well-being. It was interesting to learn how my mental and physical health works hand in hand more than I thought. Also, these nights are typically after I woke up early, went to the gym and worked out fairly intensely.
Now when it comes to dreams, I cannot pinpoint them to any specific event from that day. In general, I don’t usually remember specific events from my dreams, unless I wake up during the middle of the dream. During this exercise was no different, as much as I tried to recall or replay dreams I just wasn’t able to. I was only able to remember bits and pieces, but nothing ever seemed to stick out of importance. The small amount that I could remember, had nothing to do with any events from the prior day. There were a few nights however were my kids tended to wake up more often, which did directly affect my sleep and me. The nights where my kids woke me tended to be during my REM sleep cycle. The American Sleep Association said, ‘The reason why some dreamers are able to recall their dreams is because they have been woken up whilst in the REM phase of sleep’.
From this research and my sleep tracker, I was able to connect some interesting facts. One was that I was in fact in my REM sleep cycle when my boys woke me. And second I was in fact woken during a dream that I could vividly remember at that time. After getting my boys back to sleep I would write down what I could remember before falling back to sleep myself. After falling back to sleep and waking again for the day I couldn’t remember any part of any dreams from earlier that night. I only knew I had a dream, but didn’t know any details until reading what I was able to capture. In addition, I did notice that the mornings that I woke up feeling fully rested and with more energy I was more likely to recall if I happen to have a dream or not.
I believe that with all the data I have collected and studied will help me to concentrate more on my psychological health and not just on my physical health. I now that I am physically healthy and put a lot of time and effort into eating healthy and exercising regularly. But I don’t give an equal amount of time and effort to my psychological health. I was able to understand that psychological and physical health go hand in hand, and if we neglect one it has a direct impact on the other.
One goal I now have after completing this reflection is to increase my psychological health by not only continuing to get good sleep and exercising frequently but to try and focus more on activities that will stimulate and strengthen my overall mental health. Some new methods that I would like to try include meditation, decreasing my alcohol intake and possibly picking up a new hobby. These new approaches along other various activities will hopefully improve my overall psychological health.
- National Sleep Foundation (2019) How Alcohol Affects the Quality—And Quantity—Of Sleep.
- Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-alcohol-affects-quality-and-quantity-sleep
- American Sleep Association (2019) Dreams: What They Mean & Psychology Behind Them.
- Retrieved from https://www.sleepassociation.org/about-sleep/dreams/