Leonardo da Vinci once said that “A well-spent day brings happy sleep.” And for some of us, that is true. Most would agree that there is nothing so satisfying as waking up naturally after a good night of restful sleep. But the United States is full of people suffering from sleep deprivation. Whether they don’t sleep enough, suffer from broken sleep, or actual sleep disorders, we are a nation of tired people.
According to the CDC, 33% of adults don’t get enough sleep. Being deprived of sleep can result in a lot more than just being tired. It’s linked to a host of health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and depression. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2017, 91,000 car accidents could be attributed to sleepy drivers, resulting in 50,000 injuries and 800 deaths. As you can see, getting adequate sleep shouldn’t be considered a luxury; it’s vital to our health!
How Sleep Works
Sleep is a bit of a mystery. On the surface of it, settling yourself down to lie still for 8 hours may seem strange. However, all of us have an internal clock known as your Circadian Rhythm. Think of your Circadian Rhythm as the body’s project manager. It regulates everything from how sleepy to how hungry you are. Your circadian clock tends to run in 24-hour cycles and usually takes direction from environmental factors such as sunlight and darkness. It is this clock that tells you when it’s time to sleep.
According to the National Institute of Health, your sleep consists of several different stages that happen during both REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM sleep. People may experience variations regarding the length of each stage. Still, all of them are essential to a good night’s sleep.
Non-REM sleep is made up of three stages:
Stage 1 – Transition
This stage happens as you fall asleep. During the transition to sleep, your breathing and heart rate slow, and the muscles may relax and twitch.
Stage 2 – Light Sleep
This stage is when you have officially fallen asleep. Your body enters a deeper state of relaxation, but your brain may show spikes of electrical activity. You spend most of your night at this stage of sleep.
Stage 3 – Deep Sleep
This stage is also known as restorative sleep. It occurs mostly during the first two cycles of sleep. During this stage, your breathing and heart rate reach very low levels, and the muscles become incredibly relaxed. It is difficult to wake someone in the stage of Deep Sleep.
Rapid Eye Movement is a stage of sleep where the brain wakes up. Brain waves measured during REM sleep look very much like brain waves that occur when we are awake. Breathing speeds up, and your heart rate increases. The eyes race back and forth underneath the eyelids. This stage of sleep is where most dreaming occurs. Because of this increase in bodily function and brain activity, our system undergoes a process called REM atonia. During REM atonia, the body enters a state of almost complete paralysis to protect it from harm.
Throughout the night, your brain cycles between non-REM and REM sleep. These cycles last anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours, and you may have brief periods of wakefulness in between.
How Much Sleep Does a Person Need?
The number of hours one needs to sleep varies significantly from person to person, even among similar age brackets. Infants typically sleep 16 to 18 hours per day to allow for developmental growth. Children and teenagers often need 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night to function at peak performance. As an adult, it’s a good idea to shoot for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. The length of your sleep stages tends to shorten as you age. Those over the age of 60 tend to spend more time in light sleep and may find themselves waking up more during the night.
Benefits of Good Sleep
Your body depends on sleep to maintain its Circadian Rhythm and keep all bodily functions operating correctly. Good sleep lowers our risk for high blood pressure and stroke. Poor sleep can wreak havoc on our metabolism, giving us food cravings and decreasing our motivation for physical activity, causing obesity problems. Your brain also solidifies long-term memories during sleep, and a lack of it can cause trouble with focus and clear thinking the next day. A good night of rest also gives a boost to your immune system. During rest, your immune system takes advantage of that downtime to find viruses and bacteria and destroy them. People that suffer from a lack of sleep tend to get sick more often than those who are well-rested.
Why Are We So Sleep Deprived?
You can see now why sleep should never be considered an indulgence. It’s as crucial to your health as eating right, exercising, and visiting the doctor. So, why are we all walking around like zombies? Unfortunately, modern-day living is not conducive to good sleep hygiene. Before electricity became widely used, families often would wake with the sun and sleep when it got dark. Now, we have a whole host of distractions waiting to keep us awake.
Technology has made it too easy to keep our minds occupied. No one stares meditatively out into space anymore – they have their phones and tablets to keep their brain occupied. Streaming services have coined the term “binge-watching,” and now it’s a part of everyone’s vocabulary. According to Harvard Medical School, the light you get from reading on your phone or tablet, suppresses melatonin production twice as much as other colors of light. How often have you stayed up way past bedtime watching Netflix on your tablet, or reading text messages on your phone? Not only does that eat into the time you have to sleep, but it also increases the length of time it takes for your body to fall asleep. Neither is suitable for your overall health.
We are living in an era where companies expect you to be available 24 hours a day. The pressure to continually produce for your employer at all hours of the day and night never allows you to shift into a state of relaxation. If you can never slow down and turn off, it makes falling asleep and staying asleep that much harder.
There is no doubt that exercise is essential to our health and also can help you sleep better. And most of us try and fit it in whenever we can. Too often, that means right before bed. But if you are working on getting quality rest, jogging for 60 minutes right before bed will not serve you well in that regard.
Pets and Children
Your pets and your children can cause severe disruptions in your sleep patterns. They move around, take up space (and covers!) and may even try and keep you awake on purpose. Who has ever felt rested after having a child run into their room because of a thunderstorm or nightmares?
Ways to Get Better Sleep Naturally
Luckily for us, there are things you can do to increase the quality of your sleep. It may take some work on your part, but the rewards are well worth it. Below you will find the six things you can do to make sure you get a good night’s sleep.
Create the Perfect Bedroom
The room where you sleep should be a haven away from the stress of the world. When you walk into your bedroom, every muscle in your body should relax, and your brain should utter a sigh of relief. Get rid of unnecessary distractions. Leave your television in the living room. If you must keep your phone in the room, charge it face down on the opposite side of the room. Remove excess clutter and add a fan or space heater to achieve a comfortable temperature. Make the lights dimmable so you can turn them down low. Invest in a quality mattress that gives your body the support it needs. Introduce some essential oils to fill the room with a clean, pleasing scent. Anything you can do that relaxes your body and spirit will help move you down the path toward sleep.
Keep Your Sleep Schedule Consistent
Routine, routine, routine! Too often, people neglect sleep during the week and try and catch up on the weekends. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day helps your internal clock prepare your body accordingly. If you like to take naps during the day, be sure not to nap too close to bedtime. The best time to take a nap is early afternoon, and you don’t need to sleep for an hour or more. Twenty minutes should do the trick just fine.
Keep it Dark
When it comes to sleep hygiene, darkness is your friend. Block as much light in your bedroom as possible. Turn your clock to face the wall or find one that emits red light. Charge electronic devices in a different room and cover windows with light-blocking shades. Light from any source can be a big distraction when you’re trying to sleep.
Use Your Bedroom for Sleep and…
If you set up your bedroom to be the perfect oasis for sleep, the last thing you should do is use it to watch TV, browse the internet, or (yikes) work. Use your bedroom for sleep and intimacy only, and you’ll be drifting off to dreamland in no time.
Eating and Exercise
If at all possible, finish eating and exercising at least two to three hours before bedtime. This gives your body a chance to finish the biological processes it needs to recover from both activities.
Sleep Alone or With Your Significant Other
Sleeping is a solitary activity and should be treated as such. Co-sleeping with children or pets is guaranteed to reduce your quality of sleep. Try and comfort a child in their room and provide pets with a bed of their own and make them use it. Both your pets and children will appreciate you being in a good mood when you’ve got a solid eight hours of shuteye.
A Note About Caffeine
You knew it was going to show up at some point. With everything that goes on in our lives, be it work, phones, news, television, kids, chores, many us drink caffeinated beverages to get through it all. And we are lucky to have them because those drinks help us focus, keep us alert, and give us energy. But suppose you ingest too much caffeine too close to bedtime. In that case, you may find yourself unable to wind down and fall asleep, even after incorporating the six tips above. If that happens to you, keep some Daily De-Caffeinate on hand. Taken two hours before bedtime, it will naturally help your body remove excess caffeine from your system, allowing the natural sleep process to take over.
Let’s Wrap it Up
Now you know how important it is to get a decent night of rest, and steps you can take to improve the quality of your sleep. If you do all of this and still find yourself unable to fall asleep, don’t lay there and stare at the clock. It’s best to get out of bed and do something relaxing like reading a book or meditating until you feel tired. The bottom line is that a good night of sleep is absolutely something you can achieve with a little planning on your part. Sweet Dreams!