Understanding Sleep

As a culture in Hong Kong, we’re finally appreciating sleep.  We usual pride ourselves in being busy, having a full schedule, for social and work requirements each evening.  But research has shown how sleep can impact our life for the better.

We learn valuing sleep the hard way, trading more sleep with more caffeine, drugs, treatments and getting grumpy at the people most important to us.  But everything you do, you do better with a good night’s sleep.

How do we get better sleep?  How do we solve sleep problems?

Any type of sleeper can benefit –  whether you knock out as soon as your head hits the pillow or if you’re struggling with insomnia.  The world would be a better place if we had no sleep disorders and everyone can get a good night’s sleep.

What’s the science behind sleep?

There are 2 systems in your brain: sleep drive and sleep rhythm.

Drive is like hunger, where your hunger can go away with sleep.  We get sleepier over time, usually, and with caffeine, we can satiate the receptors that call for sleep.  But we also have a circadian rhythm.  Just like intermittent hunger during the day, we also have a rhythm for sleep.  If your drive is high and your rhythm is in sync, then you sleep.  But if you have too much of one, then sleep disorders occur.  So, if you are super sleepy, and its noon, you probably aren’t going to get a good rest.  You might even be physically exhausted but lie uselessly awake.  Or if you wake up from a nap at 9pm, then you try to sleep again at midnight, you might not have enough drive to sleep.

Thus, we want a good balance between drive and rhythm.

There are also sleep stages and the infamous REM. Your brain goes into cycles, changing between different stages in 1.5 hours before going to REM.  The 90-minute cycle repeats about 4 to 5 times a night.

  1. Light sleep: is approximately 2% of your sleep when your eyes roll back and you don’t even know you’re asleep.
  2. Falling asleep: you might have a muscular jump when your body is letting go of muscular tension.  This is 50% of your sleep
  3. Deep sleep: this is delta stage, and the best sleep you get. Blood pressure drops, growth hormones are released and you get to recover. This is the physical rest, and frontloaded in the first third of the night.  We will jump between Stage 2 and 3 in an evening.  Beauty Sleep is real.
  4. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep: this is your dreaming stage with mental restoration. Your muscles are so relaxed you’re probably paralyzed.  That ensures we don’t sleep walk and enact our dreams.  Sleep walking and talking is different from acting our our dreams.  In REM, we’ll take the short-term member from stage 3 to long term memory.  Like putting it into a filing cabinet, similar to how a computer works.  This all happens electrically, so we file information at this time.  If you’re not capable of remembering a bunch of tasks, then you might not be enjoying enough REM

So how do we use this information in Hong Kong life?

  1. Find out what your optimum bedtime is. Take your wake up time for work, kids or your general life requirement.  From there, with the knowledge that your sleep cycles are approximately 90 minutes long, work backwards to make sure you wake up at the cycle
  2. 8 hours of sleep is a myth. So find your own time cycle

In your DNA, you have a time that you like to wake up and sleep.  You’re a night owl or an early bird based on your DNA.  Not based on preference.  Some people like to wake up at 5am.  Some people like to sleep at 2am.  Everyone has a different optimum method of operating.  After you know what time is right for you to sleep, and you know how many hours you need, you can set a great schedule.

So what if you go against advice?  Bad sleep leads to a lot of bad choices.  Poor quality and quantity sleep means that blood pressure rises, immunity drops, you probably will catch a disease faster, lower threshold of pain, and the faster cancer cells multiplyPoor sleep means weight gain, lower testosterone, lower libido, higher sexual dysfunction, poorer life choices and slower reaction times.

If you change your sleep patterns, what you find is many problems are resolved. All are reversible.  Examples are below:

  1. Weight Gain: When you’re sleep deprived, your metabolism slows to make sure you use less fuel in your body.  This is stored in fat.  Cortisol rises and appetite goes up so your body tells you to eat more.  Plus your metabolism drops so it’s a vicious cycle of weight gain.  If weight loss or maintenance is a goal
  2. Beauty Sleep: The stage 3 is restorative sleep, peeling off 3 years on the way you look. Sleep deprivation increases blood pressure, fluid retention, puffier eyes, dark cycles and lifeless skin color.  With poor circulation


Sleep affects everything you do – and everything you do can be improved with a good night’s rest.  Pay attention to your sleep admist the hustle of Hong Kong to optimize your productivity, how much love and patience you have for others and so you can live better!