Effective sleep: How to get quality shut-eye, with practical easy-to-follow steps for sleeping faster and better.
Why You Should Get Improved Sleep?
Getting adequate sleep is essential to a healthy mind and body. Cultivating good sleep habits will invariably lead to increased productivity and happiness. However, more and more people are finding it difficult to get the right quantity and quality of sleep. We can’t overstate the need for quality sleep. The hurried demands and pace of modern society mean that a lot of people are sleep deprived. Poor sleep hygiene negatively affects energy levels, emotional balance, and causes a host of physical health problems. The consequences of inadequate sleep also extend beyond the individual. The US National Center for Biotechnology Information reports that about 20% of all car crash accidents and injuries are associated with sleepiness. Sleep deprivation also has a negative economic impact. A 2016 report by Fortune magazine showed that lack of sleep among the US working class costs the country over 400 billion dollars yearly, with an estimated 1.2 million working days lost per year. Thus, general sleep quality and quantity must be improved.
The human sleep-wake cycle regulates the amount of sleep we get. A person who understands this cycle and tries to get in sync with it is likelier to get better sleep quality.
What is the Sleep-wake Cycle?
The sleep-wake cycle is technically known as the circadian rhythm. It is the reason you start feeling drowsy at night. The circadian rhythm is a daily mechanism of rising and falling levels of chemicals in the blood (melatonin, adenosine) controlled by the brain. In humans with regular routines, melatonin levels will spike in the evening and continue to rise through the night. The level of melatonin drops as you prepare to wake. Melatonin production takes place in a dark environment, and that’s why you find it difficult to get quality sleep with the lights on.
Accumulation of adenosine throughout the day will make you feel tired and sleepy the longer you are awake until you can no longer stay awake. Substances like caffeine will inhibit the action of adenosine. This inhibition is why coffee and other energy drinks keep you awake and active for more than typical lengths of time. Knowing how your sleep-wake cycle works will enable you to take steps always to keep your body in sync, particularly if you work or study at odd hours or travel across time zones.
What is Quality Sleep?
You want to feel refreshed and recharged after a good night’s sleep, yet determining sleep quality is not an exact science. Quality sleep for most people will mean a complete feeling of invigoration after the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep. However, sound sleep is not necessarily a function of length. Some people will need as little as six hours of sleep for complete rejuvenation, while others will require up to ten hours for full restoration of their energy.
The imprecise nature of sleep makes determining sleep quality a subjective affair. How you feel upon awakening and throughout the day will tell you the quality of sleep you’ve had. Other factors that will impact sleep quality measurement are the length of time it takes to fall asleep, and the number of times you awaken from sleep. Ultimately, quality sleep is sleep that incorporates the different aspects of sleep – initiation, length, and maintenance – leaving you refreshed and fully rejuvenated when you wake up
What Happens When We Sleep?
The body moves through a series of stages when we go to bed every night. In the past, many thought that the human brain shut down every night then came up again in the morning. With the use of technological devices such as electroencephalograms (EEG), we now know that the brain continues to be active even when we sleep.
During sleep, the brain goes through a series of stages every 90 minutes. This cycle consists of five stages divided into Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM). The sleep cycle begins with NREM stages and progresses to REM sleep stages at 90-120 minute intervals.
The sleep cycle first stage is known as the light sleep stage. The light sleep stage is a short, transitional stage that lasts about five to ten minutes. Your mind and bodily functions begin to slow down as you start to feel sleepy. At this stage, awakenings are frequent, and it’s easier to rouse you from sleep.
As you transition to this stage, all eye movements cease, and your core body temperature drops as your heart rate and muscle activity decrease. The second stage is markedly more prolonged than the first stage and can constitute up to 50% of total sleep time. Surges in brain activity at this stage are thought to be necessary for the formation and consolidation of memories.
Stages Three and Four
The first two stages of sleep make up the light sleep stage. The third and fourth stages of sleep are the deep sleep stages. These stages are critical as the body releases hormones and carry out essential repairs necessary for tissue recovery. These stages are together called slow-wave sleep (SWS) periods because brain waves slow down. The brain waves at this point have large amplitudes and are known as delta waves. At such times, you become difficult to awaken, and anyone forcefully aroused at this point will wake up disoriented. A person who has gone for extended periods without sleep will spend more time in this stage. Your muscles become entirely limp during this stage. However, your muscles still retain function despite their immobility. The deep sleep stage is where parasomnia – sleepwalking, bedwetting, night terrors, and sleep talking – occurs.
The fifth stage is when REM sleep happens. REM sleep is so-called because the eyes dart quickly in all directions throughout this stage. The muscles and limbs experience temporary paralysis. REM sleep is the most studied stage of sleep. Brain waves are heightened, and most people experience dreams in this stage. Some physiological activities observed during REM sleep are similar to when you’re awake; heart rate and blood pressure increase while breathing becomes shallow and irregular. Studies into sleep cycles are relatively new. Some experts believe that the brain is refreshed and reenergized for the next day’s activity during REM sleep.
The deep sleep stages are longer than the light sleep stages in most people. Scientists believe that adults aged 18 and above require about 1.5 to 1.8 hours of deep sleep per night for full rejuvenation. This requirement may be more or less for some people. The duration of REM sleep increases progressively from the first period (which can last about ten minutes) to the last (can be up to an hour). A person will experience up to three to five REM cycles per night (or day if they are on an alternative sleep schedule).
How to Get Quicker and Better Sleep
We can’t gainsay the need for good sleep. You’ll get the best out of your slumber if you adopt deliberate strategies for better sleep. Below, we share some tested tips to help you get healthy sleep and improve your overall wellness and productivity.
Maintain a Sleep Schedule
Adopt a regular time for sleeping and waking up. Your body clock will become attuned to these times. You’ll fall asleep quicker and stay asleep. Be consistent, and always try to maintain your sleep schedule. Ensure your weekend activity does not interfere significantly with your schedule. If you cannot fall asleep within this period, engage yourself in an activity such as reading a book or walking around till you are tired. Consider developing a sleep routine. Consistently engage in relaxing activities like meditating, reading, or listening to soft music. If you sleep and wake at the same time daily, you prepare your body for sleep each night.
Avoids Stimulants and Heavy Meals Hours Before Sleep
Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and other substances that stimulate the nervous system three to six hours before bed. Such stimulants will continue to exert their effects for hours after consuming them. So a late smoke or cup of coffee should go off the menu. Alcohol can aid sleep hours after its stimulant effects must have waned, but its sedative effects are offset by its potential to disrupt your sleep cycle.
Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime. A large meal can cause indigestion problems that could interfere with your sleep. If you feel hungry, consider a light meal or a snack. We recommend an early dinner for better sleep. Regulate fluid consumption close to sleep. Enough so that you won’t feel very thirsty when you wake up and not so much that you will need to take sleep-disrupting bathroom trips.
Make Your Bedroom a Sleep-conducive Environment
You want your body to associate your bedroom with sleep. Avoid working, watching TV, or fiddling with your phone or other gadgets in your bedroom. Remove any material that reminds you of anything other than sleeping and sex from your bedroom. You’ll fall asleep faster if you can get your brain to connect your bedroom with sleep. A good bed, mattress, and pillow are essential as well. Experts advise that mattresses should be changed every five to eight years, and pillows at 18-month intervals. Old mattresses and pillows will accumulate dust, mold, ticks, and other allergens that can make sleep difficult. Investing in a quality mattress can be key to better sleep. IDLE Sleep mattresses are designed with innovative hybrid technology. The longer-lasting two-sided design makes IDLE the mattress of choice. The buoyancy foam for unbeatable pressure relief and cooling will make your bedroom the conducive sleep environment you need it to be.
Other environmental tweaks that can induce sleep include the use of fragrances (lemon, lavender, frankincense). White noise – the humming sound that is the combination of all audible sounds is a useful sleep aid. The hum of your air-conditioning unit or white noise appliance can provide this sound. Earplugs, eyes shades, and blackout curtains are other ways to make your environment dreamland.
Avoid Daytime Naps
Daytime naps help many people get through their day. Catnaps are also useful for making up for sleep deficits. However, long daytime sleep can make sleeping at night a problematic task. If you must catch some shut-eye during the day, take a nap at least four to six hours before bedtime, and do not sleep for more than 15 to 20 minutes. A very brief powernap will get you through the day without ruining your chances of getting quality sleep at night.
Engage in Regular Exercises
Physical activity can help you catch better sleep. Daytime exercise will help you sleep faster at night. Strenuous exercises like running, swimming, or jogging are preferable, but light exercises are also helpful. Physically demanding activities cause the body to release cortisol, a stress hormone that signals the body to become alert. If you must work throughout the day, make sure to take your work breaks outside. Bright light affects your circadian cycle and tells your brain that it’s time to be awake. Also, there’ll be decreased production of melatonin, making it harder for you to sleep at night.
Resolve Your Worries
Sometimes, a clogged mind from unresolved issues during the day is the only reason you are unable to get quality sleep. Stress from the day’s activities can be the cause of your sleep problems. Declutter your mind before you retire for the night. If you are finding it difficult to rid your mind of worries, write them down, and make a mental note to address them when you wake up. Meditation as a bedtime ritual and other stress management techniques will help rid your mind of nagging issues, letting you concentrate on getting quality sleep.
Sleep supplements are an easy way to improve sleep quality. Melatonin supplements relax the mind and body, helping you to sleep faster. They are also useful when traveling across time zones. Other supplements such as lavender, valerian root, glycine, and magnesium can equally aid sleep. We advise that you talk to a professional before using any sleep supplements.
Know When to See a Doctor
Most of us will deal with sleep-related problems at some point in our lives. However, a persistent inability to get good sleep may be the result of an underlying sleep disorder. Acute or chronic insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy are some common disorders that make sleep a difficult task. If you suspect your inability to get quality sleep is a result of a sleep disorder, don’t hesitate to consult a doctor or sleep professional.
Quality sleep is priceless. If you want your sleep to get better, adopting some of these strategies may be what you need to improve your wellness and productivity.