Many people think that sleep is a passive activity, a period of rest when our bodies shut down to conserve energy or to recover from the previous day’s work. For most organs in the body, that’s true. But the brain is actually active when we’re sleeping — and it’s doing critically important work.
Your heart and lungs get a break as your breathing and heart rate slow down and your blood pressure drops.
Your muscles repair themselves and become even bigger/stronger.
Your glands pump out growth hormones to promote a healthy immune system and proper development. This
is especially crucial during childhood/adolescence.
Your hunger hormones
are regulated, leading to a healthier weight.
Forming new pathways and reinforcing connections between cells.
Cleansing away toxins that your brain cells produce
Preserving and consolidating new memories and info, including transferring your memories from short-term to long-term memory.
Learning and remembering how to perform physical tasks.
Stage 1: Drowsy Sleep
The transition period from wakefulness to sleep where you drift in and out of sleep and can be easily awakened. Your eyes move and muscle activity slows. You begin to lose conscious awareness of the external environment. You may occasionally experience a sudden jerk or twitches, as if from the sensation of falling or striking (don’t worry, these are normal).
Stage 2: Light Sleep
In this stage your body is relaxed and prepares to enter deep sleep. Stage 2 typically lasts longer than the other stages — you spend 45% to 50% of your sleep in stage 2.
Stage 3: Deep Sleep
Characterized by maximum brain and muscle relaxation. Stage 3 is when you may experience night terrors, sleepwalking, and talking in your sleep. People who wake during deep sleep often feel groggy and disoriented for several minutes. In deep sleep, there is no eye movement or muscle activity and the body is still. You usually go less deep each cycle, so that most of your deep, stage 3 sleep occurs in the ﬁrst half of the night.
Stage 4: REM Sleep
REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement. This stage is very different from all other stages because in REM sleep, brainwave activity is similar to an awakened state. At this stage, the body experiences periodic eyelid ﬂuttering, muscle paralysis, and irregular breathing. Intense dreaming can occur. The end of REM stage is an ideal time for waking up.
Light at night can negatively impact the body’s natural circadian rhythm. Blue light wavelengths, which positively impact attention, reaction time, and mood during the day, are disruptive at night.
Research shows exposure to blue-light wavelengths in the evening suppresses your body’s melatonin production. Melatonin is the sleepy-time hormone that indicates to your brain and body that it’s bedtime. When you use electronics with back-lit screens, like your phone, tablet, TV, or computer, you are exposed to blue light.
• Dim your lights in the evening hours.
• Red-light wavelengths have the least impact on your circadian rhythm, so try adjusting your phone to night mode (which uses red light instead of blue) in the evening.
• Avoid bright screens/electronics at least 2 hours before to bed.
The Biggest Sleep No-Nos
It’s important to identify habits that could be compromising your ability to rest well. If you don’t make an effort to eliminate the sleep-robbing practices in your daily routine, whatever new and better habits you introduce to your daytime and nighttime rituals won’t be as effective. So really, the first tip for a better night’s sleep is to kick your bad sleep habits to the curb.
Most Common Habits That Sabotage Sleep:
1. Eating too late or too large of a meal. Ideally, your last meal of the day should be 3-4 hours before you plan to sleep.
2. Short-selling your caffeine intake. Caffeine can linger in your system for up to 12 hours, so caffeine should be avoided after lunch.
3. Frequent social media use. Spending more than 1 hour per day on social media can lead to a high level of sleep disturbance.
4. Engaging in “screen time” less than 2 hours before bed. The blue light emitted by laptops, TVs, cell phones, and tablets has been proven to suppress your body’s melatonin production.
5. Checking the clock frequently while you are lying awake. If you can’t sleep, one of the worst things you can do is continue to check your alarm clock to see how many hours remain until you have to wake up.
Top Foods Thought to Increase Melatonin and Improve Sleep:
Exercising for a minimum of 150 minutes a week may help you sleep better and feel more alert during the day.
Avoid Long Naps
If you have insomnia, avoid naps. Daytime sleeping will make it more difficult to fall asleep/stay asleep at night.
Limit Use of Electronics for at Least 2 Hours Before Bed
The blue light emitted from these devices can reduce your production of melatonin, a hormone needed for sleep.
Use the Bedroom for Sleep
Make it your sleep sanctuary. That means removing the TV and avoiding eating, exercising, or working in your bedroom.
Keep the Same Sleep Routine
Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is important — this includes the weekend.
Monitor Your Diet
Too much caffeine during the day, eating spicy foods, or having a large meal right before bedtime are diet-related habits that could negatively impact sleep. Some medications also can cause insomnia.
Don’t Toss and Turn
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, don’t lie in bed watching the clock. Instead, get up and engage in a quiet activity like reading. Then go back to bed when you feel sleepy.
Sleep Until Sunlight
If you can, wake up with the sun or use a biolight in the morning to help reset your body’s internal clock.
Stick to a cool color palette for bedding and walls. Warm colors affect you physically by increasing your heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.
• Set your thermostat closer to 65 degrees. Cool temperatures are best for melatonin production.
• Keep your bedroom dark with room-darkening blinds or drapes and minimize the light given off by your alarm clock. Light is a major cue to your brain to wake up, so the darker, the better.
• Make sure you have a good, quality mattress. The typical maximum life expectancy for a mattress is 9-10 years. At this point, the mattress may not necessarily feel uncomfortable, but a natural breakdown of materials occurs. It could be filled with allergens or sleep-disruptive chemicals from years of wear and sweat.
• Don’t make a habit out of doing awake-time activities in your bedroom, such as watching TV, reading, or working. If you aren’t tired, go to another room to do these things.
• If you are the type of person who thinks too much before sleep, keep a pad of paper on a bedside table. The act of writing down your worries or thoughts as soon as you get in bed can help program your brain to put your troubles aside before slumber, and drift away more easily over time.
• Keep it quiet. Avoid music or leaving the TV on to fall asleep. If you must have noise to sleep or to drown out traffic and other street sounds, use a white noise machine, or consider a dehumidifier or a bedroom fan.
The Risks of Not Sleeping Enough
Your Bedtime Supports Long-term Health
It’s not uncommon in our culture to feel the need to squeeze every last bit of life from each day. We live in a world that values performance, experiences, and constant connection to work and technology, but sacrificing precious ZZZs for a few more hours of productivity can be costly. Years and years of sleep deprivation, and of not allowing your crucial organs to recover the way they need to, can lead to some pretty serious implications for your health.
High Health Risks Frequent sleep deprivation has been linked to a high risk of:
• Weight gain
• Heart disease, heart attack, and heart failure
• Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
The idea that you can “catch up on sleep during the weekend” is a common myth. It might be possible if your accumulated sleep debt is just a couple of hours — say, for example, you get 7 hours of sleep instead of 8 two nights a week. Then sleeping for an extra hour on Saturday and Sunday isn’t inconceivable.
But if you get just 5 hours of sleep two or more days a week, you’re looking at a minimum sleep debt of 6 hours. Making that up on the weekend would bring your sleep total for both Saturday and Sunday to 11 hours. More than 9 hours of sleep per night has recently been reported to have its own set of negative health effects — not to mention, the detriment to your heart, lungs, and brain have already been done after multiple nights of fewer than 6 hours of sleep.