Rhythms of Sleeping and Waking
Sleep, and its organization of various phases, is indispensable to human life.
However, the rhythmic alternation between waking and sleeping is just as important.
Whereas researchers in the 1960s and 70s were more concerned with understanding the inner structure of sleep, the cyclic change from REM sleep to non-REM sleep, today many sleep researchers are more interested in the relationship between the sleeping-waking cycle and other rhythms.
Twenty-Four Hour Rhythm
It has been recognized that all of our life processes work rhythmically and that the rhythms inside the human organism are connected to the cosmic rhythms.
All body functions are subject to a twenty-four hour rhythm (Sun rhythm). Interestingly, it is not an exact twenty-four hours because in the area of living things there is no exact linearity.
So, in the above instance, one speaks of a circadian rhythm derived from the Latin “circa” meaning “about” and “dies” meaning “day.” One prerequisite for our well-being is met if these rhythms in our human organism run synchronized with our environment, that is, if our microcosmic functions are in harmony with cosmic rhythms such as the rhythm of day and night or the rhythm of the seasons.
If this harmony between inner and outer rhythms is missing, the result can be problems with existential orientation and illness. Originally, human beings were more connected with these cosmic rhythms than they are today. People went to bed in the evening when it became dark and arose in the morning with the Sun.
Today we know that light, which permeates the rhythm between waking and sleeping, is a very significant factor in physiological reactions. Sunlight is an important timer for our body’s thermal system.
Body temperature rises in the morning just before we awaken and sinks again in the evening hours. This is an expression of our human ego or “I.” If this sinking, this letting-go, can not properly take place, then sleep is disturbed.
REM sleep follows a circadian rhythm. That means it is dependent upon the time of day. It reaches its maximum in the late nighttime hours and its minimum occurs in the late afternoon hours. Normally it takes ninety minutes for the first phase of REM sleep to appear. If a person goes to bed late the amount of time is shorter.
In contrast to the REM sleep rhythm, the so-called non-REM sleep is dependent only upon the time of wakefulness and not the time-of-day/light rhythm. The longer the time of wakefulness before sleep, the longer the portion of deep sleep.
Deep sleep always reaches its maximum at the beginning of the sleep period. This means that in the case of shift work, for instance, deep sleep accommodates itself to the situation; physical regeneration is assured for the most part.
In contrast, REM sleep, which is more responsible for mental/emotional regeneration, suffers when one goes to bed too late. From these facts it becomes clear that the old saying is true: “Sleep before midnight is the best.” Individuals can experience a relationship between their abilities and the time of the day.
We can differentiate between a morning person and a night owl. Morning people have a tendency to get ahead of the daytime rhythm. They react quickly, and sometimes even overreact, to the activation that the morning brings.
With night owls this active phase is put off to the nighttime hours. This postponement can even cause variations in rhythms of physiological processes like body temperature, for instance.
In a healthy person, the ideal ratio of respiration to heartbeat is 1:4. During the waking period it constantly changes. Sometimes the nerve/sense pole is more strongly active and respiration is at the forefront; then the metabolism/blood pole takes over and the pulse increases. However, during sleep the ideal ratio of one breath to four heartbeats is restored.
The faster this coupling takes place, the shorter the sleep period can be while remaining restorative. The morning-types tend to have a pulse-to-respiration ratio that is higher than 4:1. In contrast, when respiration is more prominent in relationship to the heartbeat it signifies a stronger nerve/sense impact, i.e. more tearing down.
Naturally, personal habits and professional or personal necessities play a role. A regular rhythm, in accordance with a person’s individual needs, contributes to synchronization with daily rhythm, even if it is forced by the ringing of an alarm clock.
The well-known Monday-morning-tiredness is caused by lost synchronization that can come about due to sleeping later on the weekend, for example.
Lunar rhythms, that is, rhythms derived from the Moon’s orbit, also have an effect upon human life. A woman’s hormonal rhythm, a pronounced lunar rhythm, can affect her sleep.
To the best of my knowledge it has not been scientifically described, but is definitely observable, that there is a connection between dream life and the Moon phases. Steiner pointed out the stimulation of the imagination from the Moon.
Not only do we find such biological rhythms which correspond to the full length of the cosmic-earthly rhythms, but we also find such rhythms based upon cutting the larger rhythms in halves or quarters.
Just as the daily rhythm plays a role in the sleeping-waking rhythm and the rhythm of internal organs, the seasonal rhythm also has significance for human beings. Both rhythms are dependent upon the Sun. Even though the length of sleep periods is shorter in the summer, a high level of physical performance is still possible.
For instance, getting out of bed in the morning is easier in May and June and positive moods occur more often than in November and December when getting up in the morning is more difficult and depressed moods occur more easily due to a lack of light during shorter days and overcast weather.
According to today’s sleep physicians, all of these rhythms make up the objective measuring rod for the quality of sleep. It has also been observed that sleep quality is not the same every day.
Only the same days of the week can be compared; for example, Wednesday can be compared to Wednesday of the following week, but Tuesday can not be compared to Wednesday.
Mental performance is also subject to a daily and weekly rhythm. It decreases during the course of the week so that a pause on the seventh day is sensible and necessary.
A different “weekly” rhythm instituted for practical reason (a ten-day week, for example) lacks a physiological basis and can cause a person to become ill. Modern, natural-scientific research increasingly confirms evidence from spiritual-scientific research.
The ninety-minute rhythm (amount of time before the first REM phase begins) also plays a role during the day. During this time, lack of concentration, fatigue, or even sleepiness can temporarily be experienced.
For instance, there is a four-hour rhythm during the day; after fours have passed, sleepiness becomes noticeable. Scientifically, these are referred to as sleep-window periods which can used to advantage by people who have trouble falling asleep.