Our Guide to Sleep – Tips and advice for better sleep
Welcome to our comprehensive guide to sleep, with information, advice and tips all designed to help improve both the duration and quality of your sleep.
Why is sleep important?
Sleep is essential for maintaining both physical and mental health. Your body needs sleep to function correctly and to repair and rejuvenate itself. And when you sleep, your body undergoes several physical changes in order to keep you fit and healthy.
Physical restoration and sleep
Firstly, sleep is vital for physical restoration. During sleep, your body produces hormones such as melatonin and cortisol. Melatonin helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle, while cortisol helps to regulate your stress levels. Your body can’t make enough hormones without proper sleep, which may lead to mood swings and fatigue. The body also releases growth hormone, which aids in cell growth and repair. This is especially important for children and teenagers, who are still growing and developing. Additionally, the immune system is activated during sleep, releasing cytokines that help to fight infection and inflammation. Adequate sleep is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system and in helping to prevent illness and disease.
Mental restoration and sleep
Secondly, sleep is essential for mental restoration and emotional regulation. Studies have shown that people who experience better sleep have better moods and are less likely to experience depression and anxiety. Proper sleep is also essential for memory and cognitive function; for instance, people who experience more REM sleep have better memory recall and are better able to solve problems. Getting enough sleep helps you to recall information better, make better decisions and be more creative.
What can happen to the body from a lack of sleep?
A lack of sleep can lead to several health problems, such as fatigue, mood swings, weight gain and even the risk of certain chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. It can also make it more challenging to concentrate and make decisions, which can be dangerous in certain situations, such as driving or operating heavy machinery.
Furthermore, sleep is also essential for maintaining a healthy weight. Studies have shown that people who get adequate sleep are less likely to be overweight or obese. This is because sleep plays a role in regulating the hormones that control appetite and metabolism.
What happens to my body when I sleep?
When you sleep, your body undergoes several physical changes that help you rest and rejuvenate. These changes include:
- Breathing rate and heart rate slow down: During sleep, your breathing rate and heart rate decrease, allowing your body to relax and conserve energy.
- Body temperature drops: Your body temperature also drops before and during sleep, which helps promote drowsiness and prepares you for all stages of sleep.
- Muscles relax: Muscles throughout the body relax, including the muscles in your face, jaw and limbs. This helps to prevent you from acting out your dreams during sleep.
- Hormones are released: Sleep triggers the release of hormones such as melatonin and growth hormone. Melatonin helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle, while growth hormone aids in cell growth and repair.
- Brain activity changes: The brain goes through different stages of sleep, characterised by different patterns of brain activity. During the non-REM stages of sleep, the brain is less active, while during REM sleep, the brain is more active, and dreams occur.
- The immune system is activated: During sleep, the immune system releases cytokines which help to fight infection and inflammation.
- Blood pressure decreases: Blood pressure also decreases during sleep, which can help to reduce the risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
What are the different stages of sleep?
There are two main stages of sleep, non-REM and REM sleep. Non-REM sleep is split into four stages.
The four stages of non-REM sleep are:
- N1 (light sleep).
- N2 (light sleep).
- N3a is the deeper stage of N3.
- N3b is the lighter stage of N3.
What is Non-REM sleep?
Non-REM sleep is considered to be the deeper and more restful stage of sleep. The brain’s activity during non-REM sleep is characterised by slow, steady waves known as delta waves.
Non-REM sleep is divided into four stages, N1, N2, N3a and N3b.
- Stage N1 is the lightest non-REM sleep stage, also known as the “dozing” stage. During this stage, the brain produces alpha and theta waves, and you may experience sudden muscle contractions or twitches. This stage is considered to be the transition stage between wakefulness and sleep.
- Stage N2 is the second non-REM sleep stage and is considered light sleep. The brain activity during this stage is characterised by a pattern known as sleep spindles and K-complex, which are short bursts of activity in the brain that help to protect you from being easily awakened.
- Stage N3a is the deepest stage of non-REM sleep, also known as slow-wave or deep sleep. During this stage, the brain produces delta waves, and you become increasingly difficult to wake. This stage is considered the most restful and restorative stage of sleep and is essential for the repair and growth of cells, muscles and tissues.
- Lastly, stage N3b is considered the lighter stage of N3, where delta waves still dominate, but you are less difficult to wake up.
Non-REM sleep is essential for physical and mental wellbeing. It is during this stage that your body repairs and regenerates itself. Non-REM sleep is also essential for memory and cognitive function. It plays a vital role in the consolidation of long-term memories, and a lack of non-REM sleep can lead to problems with learning and memory.
What is REM sleep?
REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, is the second type of sleep the human brain experiences. Characterised by rapid eye movement and low muscle tone, it’s the stage of sleep where the brain is most active. The brain’s activity during REM sleep features high-frequency, low-amplitude, beta waves.
This is the stage of sleep where most dreaming occurs. During REM sleep, the body’s muscles become temporarily paralysed, and the eyes move rapidly back and forth. This protective mechanism prevents the sleeper from acting out their dreams.
It’s vital for emotional regulation and mental well-being too. Studies have shown that people who experience more REM sleep have better moods and are less likely to experience depression and anxiety.
REM sleep is also vital for memory and cognitive function. Studies have shown that people who experience better REM sleep have improved memory recall and are better able to solve problems.
It is not uncommon for people to experience problems with REM sleep. Factors such as stress, anxiety, depression and certain medications can all have adverse effects. REM sleep disorders, such as REM behaviour disorder (RBD), can cause people to act out their dreams, which can be dangerous.
Occurring in cycles throughout the night, REM sleep starts around 90 minutes after falling asleep. It becomes longer as the night goes on, and by the early morning, REM sleep can last up to an hour.
As the night progresses, the proportion of REM sleep in relation to other stages of sleep increases, with the last sleep cycle of the night having the most prolonged duration.
How many hours of sleep do I need?
The recommended amount of sleep varies depending on age. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), the following are the recommended hours of sleep for different age groups:
- Adults (ages 18-64): 7-9 hours
- Older adults (ages 65 and above): 7-8 hours
- Teenagers (ages 14-17): 8-10 hours
- Children (ages 6-13): 9-11 hours
- Pre-schoolers (ages 3-5): 10-13 hours
- Toddlers (ages 1-2): 11-14 hours
- Infants (ages 4-11 months): 12-15 hours
It’s important to note that these are general guidelines, and you may have different sleep needs. Factors such as lifestyle, overall health and personal preference can also affect the amount of sleep you need.
If you’re having trouble sleeping or feeling tired during the day, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist to determine the cause and to create a sleep plan that works best for you.
What is the best sleeping position?
When it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, the best position is a matter of personal preference. However, certain positions can help optimise comfort and minimise health risks associated with poor posture.
The best sleeping position is also the most comfortable and allows for the least disturbance to breathing and circulation. Sleeping positions can affect the body differently; what is best for one person may not be best for another. However, there are some general guidelines for what are considered to be the most beneficial sleeping positions for different health concerns:
- Back sleeping: Sleeping on your back is considered the best position for maintaining a neutral spine. This position can help to reduce the risk of wrinkles, as well as reduce the risk of acid reflux and sleep apnoea.
- Side sleeping: Sleeping on your side can benefit people who snore or have sleep apnoea, as it can help keep the airways open. It also may help reduce acid reflux symptoms.
- Stomach sleeping: Sleeping on your stomach is not recommended as it can cause strain on the neck and spine and lead to wrinkles and facial acne.
- Foetal position: This position is where you sleep curled up on your side with your knees bent; it can be helpful to alleviate back and hip pain.
Ultimately, the most important thing is finding a position that allows you to get a good night’s sleep and wake up refreshed. Experimenting with different positions and adjusting your pillows to find the best one is advised. If you have any specific health concerns, it’s a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional for personalised advice.
Should I take naps during the day?
Taking naps during the day can have benefits and drawbacks, depending on the individual and their specific circumstances. Napping can be beneficial in certain situations, such as for those who have difficulty sleeping at night or have a demanding job that requires them to stay alert during the day.
On the other hand, napping can be detrimental if you have trouble sleeping at night and can lead to insomnia. It also can be hard to wake up from a nap, making you feel groggy and disoriented for a short period of time, a condition known as sleep inertia.
What are the benefits of napping during the day?
Here are some benefits of napping during the day:
- Napping can help to improve mood, alertness and cognitive function, especially if you have difficulty staying awake during the day.
- A short nap can boost energy levels and reduce fatigue, which helps to improve performance and productivity.
- Napping can also help to improve memory and learning, as it allows the brain to consolidate information acquired during the day.
- Napping can also help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Generally, a nap of 20 to 30 minutes is considered the most beneficial. However, if you are considering taking a nap during the day, it’s important to consider your sleep habits and patterns.
If you have trouble sleeping at night or have insomnia, napping may not be your best option. It’s also important to remember the timing of your nap, as napping too close to bedtime can interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night.
How long before bed should I shut off my screens?
Shut off your phone or screens at least an hour before bedtime to improve sleep. The blue light emitted by electronic screens can suppress melatonin production, a hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. When melatonin levels are low, it can affect sleep quality and make it more difficult to fall asleep.
Additionally, using electronic devices before bed can stimulate the brain and make it more challenging to relax and wind down, making it harder for you to fall asleep.
Avoiding these screens for a certain amount of time before bed can also help you establish a bedtime routine, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day. This can improve the quality and duration of sleep, which is essential for maintaining good health.
It’s important to note that everyone’s sleep habits are different, and some people may be more sensitive to the effects of blue light than others.
If you find it difficult to fall asleep even after shutting off your phone or other screens an hour before bedtime, try shutting them off earlier, using blue light filters on your devices, or wearing blue light-blocking glasses.
What are good sleep habits?
Good sleep habits, also known as sleep hygiene, refer to practices and behaviours that promote healthy and restful sleep. Here are a few examples of good sleep habits for you to try:
- Establish a regular sleep schedule: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends and holidays, can help regulate your body’s internal clock and improve the quality and duration of sleep.
- Create a comfortable sleep environment: Keep the bedroom dark, quiet and cool, and use comfortable bedding. Consider using blackout curtains, a fan or earplugs to block out light and noise. Also, ensure that your mattress and pillow provide adequate support and comfort.
- Avoid stimulating activities before bedtime: Avoid electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets and computers, for at least an hour before sleep. Additionally, avoiding stimulating activities such as work, exercise, or intense conversations can help calm the mind and prepare the body for sleep.
- Relax before bedtime: Engaging in relaxation techniques such as reading, taking a warm bath with Epsom Salts or Magnesium Flakes, or listening to soothing music can help calm your mind and prepare your body for sleep.
- Limit caffeine, nicotine and alcohol consumption: Consuming these substances can disrupt the sleep-wake cycle and affect sleep quality. Avoid consuming caffeine 6 hours before bedtime, limit alcohol consumption and avoid smoking.
- Eat a healthy diet: Sleep and Diet are causally linked. Eating a healthy diet can help improve sleep quality. It’s also best to avoid eating heavy or high-fat meals close to bedtime, as they can disrupt the sleep-wake cycle and affect sleep quality.
- Exercise regularly: Regular exercise can help improve the quality and duration of sleep. However, it’s best to avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime, as it can stimulate the body and make it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Get exposure to natural light during the day: Natural light helps to regulate your body’s sleep-wake cycle. Try to get natural light during the day, especially in the morning. In the Autumn and Winter months, you could use a SAD Light box for the same purpose.
- Spend time in nature: Spending time in nature is a great way to relax and de-stress. Take a walk in the park, hike, or simply sit outside and enjoy the fresh air.
- Incorporate relaxation techniques into your daily routine: There are a variety of relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation and yoga, which can help to reduce stress and improve relaxation.
- Schedule time for relaxation: Set aside a specific time each day to relax. This could include walking, reading a book or doing a craft. Make sure to schedule this time into your day so that it becomes part of your routine.
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is a great way to reduce stress and improve relaxation. Spend a few minutes daily practising mindfulness, such as focusing on breathing or paying attention to the present moment.
- Consider taking supplements for sleep and relaxation: Certain supplements, such as l-tryptophan and magnesium, can help to improve your sleep and relaxation. Talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.
- Talk to your doctor or healthcare professional: If you still have difficulty sleeping, talk to your doctor or healthcare professional. They can help determine the underlying cause of your insomnia and recommend the best treatment.
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