STEP 5: Sleep Better
Your body does amazingly complicated things whilst you sleep. Going to bed is not merely switching off; it is a process to help you feel rested and healthy the next day.
Our body goes through four main stages of sleep in 90-minute cycles. Generally a deeper sleep occurs at the start of the night leading to more dreams towards the end.
How much sleep do I need?
Adults should target 7 to 8 hours per night. Whilst many fall asleep easily, it is suggested 1 in 5 adults do not get enough. Not getting the recommended shut eye will make you feel tired, lack energy and increase the risk of falling asleep when you don’t want to, in some cases such as driving this could be fatal.
What does my body do when I sleep?
Throughout the sleep cycle various things happen depending on the stage. This is a typical sleep pattern throughout the night:
Stage 1 – the initial stage of sleep is when your eyes may twitch slightly and it is very easy for you to be woken.
Stage 2 – here you spend around half of the night. Your body temperature drops and your brain waves slow, meaning you lose sense of your surroundings. Your blood pressure and heart rate also drop meaning for most the night your cardiovascular system is getting a good rest.
Stage 3 – during the deepest stage of sleep, blood pressure and heart rate is further reduced and blood flows to muscles to repair tissue. Hormones, including human growth hormone are released during this period. You spend about 20% of the night in this stage and it is the hardest to be woken from.
REM sleep – this Rapid Eye Movement phase is where we have vivid and creative dreams. This is because the body is asleep, yet the brain is still functioning as if awake. Our muscles become paralyzed during this stage to ensure we do not act out our dreams. As the night goes on and we go through the stage, REM gradually becomes longer.
The body does other amazing things when sleeping. Our appetite is regulated throughout the night via hormone secretion. Memory and brain pathways for memory and learning are also formed when we sleep. Finally the brains waste-flushing system is up to 10 times more active when asleep, than when awake.
What can I do to help me sleep better?
These simple tips should help ensure you get a good night’s sleep:
- Don’t exercise close to bedtime
- Avoid a nightcap; whilst it may make you drowsy, it disrupts a normal sleep pattern
- Ensure your room is dark and quiet
- Make sure your mattress is good enough quality and suited to your needs
- Be relaxed before bed with a hot bath, music or read a book. Don’t watch TV, use a computer, tablet or smart phone
- If you can’t sleep, get up, do something relaxing and try again
- Resist caffeine late at night in coffee, tea and chocolate
- Quit smoking. Smokers typically have disrupted sleep. Smoking before bed can make it harder to get to sleep
- Keep a sleep diary to understand what helps you sleep best
- Keep consistent sleep hours to to program your body