Tips for great sleep

Your Internal Symphony

August 8th, 2016

What do sleep and a symphonic work have in common?

No, this isn’t the set-up to a bad joke. In terms of structure and function, both are strikingly similar.

  • Both are comprised of several distinct movements
  • Both need a whole group of different instruments
  • Each utilizes a conductor
  • There are different and distinct parts for each and every organ to play throughout

A little night music

In order to play a symphony, you need an orchestra comprised of different instruments, with a different part of music for each type of instrument.

In order to sleep, your internal organs each need to do different things like secrete melatonin, dial down the digestive system, and slow down breathing. On top of that, you need different organs to secrete growth hormones to repair body tissues. You need different neurons to process information and consolidate the important parts into long-term memories during each sleep stage.

But they don’t just do this willy-nilly. Just like in a symphony, there’s a certain rhyme and reason as to why things happen when they do over the course of a night.

The composition of sleep

To correctly play a symphony as written, each instrument needs to play the correct movement at the right time; if Beethoven’s 5th didn’t start off with its signature “Dah-Dah-Dah-Dahhhn”, the audience would know something was wrong. Similarly, sleep has a distinct type of architecture.

A typical night of sleep is front-loaded with deep sleep earlier in the night (the first movement) while saving the REM for the second and third parts of the night. Light sleep shows up throughout, like an overarching theme, while periods of wake are the natural breaks and pauses within each piece.

However, if lots of REM showed up ahead of Deep, or if you just had huge chunks of Wake, then your body would know that something was out of sync, and it would scramble to correct it over the next few nights.

Sleep’s conductor

To help keep it all together, there needs to be some overarching direction and guidance. An orchestra has a conductor with a master score while we have the suprachiasmatic nucleus in our brain’s pineal gland. But even the best conductor can’t be individually conducting each instrumental group–much less each musician.

To compensate, the music score has time indicators as to when each part does their thing. Likewise, our internal organs and cells appear to have their own circadian rhythms that move at different times based on different cues.

Many parts to play

In an orchestra, you can have a violin section divided into three parts, with all of them playing at once or with each group playing at different times. Our own brain divides itself into sections that fire at different times and frequencies during the night, depending upon the sleep stage and other bodily factors. A good example of this happens when we fall asleep and when we wake up. Certain regions of the brain fall asleep before others, making it tricky for trained sleep technicians to sometimes determine when one is asleep or awake.

Of course, the more different parts that a single group is playing at once, the harder it becomes to figure out what each individual line sounds like. Sometimes the first and second violins are playing so frantically that one can’t hear the third–or even notice that the third violins aren’t playing at all. Brain signals work in much the same way, with noisier, higher frequencies sometimes drowning out or suppressing lower ones.

How best to record?

With the potential to miss out on key information, where to put the microphone to get the best recording is always a challenge.

The S+ works by detecting the movement of your upper body while you sleep. The movement it detects consists of the expansion and relaxation of your chest as you breathe in and out, and overall body movements such as positional changes, arm twitches and shrugs. The S+ includes software algorithms that recognise the combination of respiration and body-movement signals, so that the overall sleep state can be reliably assessed.

* ResMed recorded and analysed 2,000,000 nights of sleep in the development of S+

** Users with average sleep scores between 50-60 improved their sleep by an average of 44.71 minutes per night after one week of use.

*** Below average users are those with an average sleep score below 75. Poor sleep is defined as an average sleep score between 50-60. Very poor sleep is defined as an average sleep score between 30-50. Users with average sleep scores between 30-50 improved their sleep by more than 70 minutes per night after one week of use. Aggregate S+ user data as of 03/19/2015. All data is derived from a sample size of [5932] users as of 03/19/2015. Your results may be different.

Note: S+ is not a medical device. If you are seeking information on how to treat a sleep disorder, you should talk to your healthcare provider.