We need sleep to survive. And we need good sleep to thrive. Sleep is important to our mental, physical, and emotional well-being. The benefits of good sleep can affect every moment of our day and every part of our life. Achieving good sleep is essential to both our activities and to our health.
Knowing how sleep works can help us understand why it sometimes doesn’t. The body’s daily clock—influencing when we sleep—and the sleep cycle—influencing how we sleep—are two critical elements in good sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, there are things you can do. So find out what you need to know, and get a good night’s sleep.
What are the stages of sleep that create our natural sleep architecture?
People used to think that sleep was the time when everything slowed down or stopped. Now we know that a lot is happening as we sleep. And we know that all sleep is not the same. There are two major stages of sleep—non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) —with dramatically different characteristics. The natural sleep architecture—the way these stages fit together—is an important part of how sleep restores us.
Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep About 80% of adult sleep is NREM sleep. NREM sleep is divided into four stages:
Stage 1—the drowsy transition from waking to sleeping
Stage 2—intermediate sleep, when arousal is more difficult
Stage 3—the beginning of “deep,” or slow-wave, sleep
Stage 4—the deepest sleep, when there is little contact with external sensations
During NREM sleep:
Brain activity decreases.
Blood pressure decreases.
Respiration (breathing) decreases.
Heart rate slows.
The time spent in deep sleep—stages 3 and 4—decreases throughout our lifetime. By age 75, stage 4—the deepest sleep—may be completely absent.
Rapid Eye Movement Sleep
REM sleep is often known as the dreaming stage of sleep, although dreams actually occur during all sleep stages. Unlike NREM sleep, REM sleep involves a high level of mental and physical activity, including:
Increased brain activity
Increased and variable blood pressure
Increased and variable heart rate
Increased blood flow to the brain
Increased and variable respiration
In the newborn baby, more than 50% of sleep may be REM sleep. By the age of 2 years, the proportion of REM sleep decreases to 20% to 25% and remains constant throughout adulthood.
Sleep Architecture Sleep usually begins with a cycle that consists of 80 minutes of NREM sleep followed by 10 minutes of REM sleep. This 90-minute cycle is repeated three to six times each night. With each cycle, the amount of slow-wave sleep decreases and the proportion of REM sleep increases. Research indicates that different sleep stages may serve different functions. Although the reasons for the different types of sleep are still being studied, it is clear that we need each type. Getting the right amount of sleep is important, but getting the right kind of sleep is important, too.
What are the effects of sleep loss?
We all know it’s important to get enough sleep. But we may not realize just how critical good sleep really is. Sleep loss can affect your health, your functioning, and even your safety. So, if you have any questions about your own sleep, be sure to talk to your doctor. Get help and get enough sleep.
Sleep Loss and Health
Sleep loss may be associated with significant health problems, such as:
Depression. Several studies have shown that sleep loss isn’t just a result of mental health problems; it can be a significant risk for the development of depression.
Headaches. Headaches can interfere with sleep, but sleep loss can also provoke headaches.
Impaired heart functioning. People with disrupted sleep schedules, such as shift workers, may be more prone to cardiovascular problems.
Sleep Loss and Functioning
Sleep loss can impair our functioning in many ways. It can affect us at:
Work. People with sleep loss reported poor concentration, lower productivity, and poorer work quality. It has been estimated that lost productivity at work due to sleepiness at work may cost the economy as much as $100 billion annually.
School. Sleep loss can interfere with memory, logical reasoning, and concentration.
Home. By making us fatigued, irritable, or forgetful, sleep loss can lead to stress and strained relationships.
Sleep Loss and Safety
Sleep loss isn’t just distressing—it’s dangerous. Think about this:
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 100,000 auto crashes annually may be fatigue-related.
More than 50% of Americans surveyed reported driving while drowsy, and 17% had actually dozed off at the wheel.
Excessive sleepiness has been linked to major catastrophes such as the Three Mile Island meltdown, the Challenger launch disaster, and the grounding of the Exxon Valdez.
How do you achieve good sleep?
If you’re not sleeping well, getting a good night’s sleep can improve your performance, your mood, and even your health. So, when you’re having trouble sleeping, it can help to understand your sleep, evaluate the factors that might be affecting your sleep, and make a plan for getting a good night’s sleep every night.
Understanding Your Sleep
The more you know about your sleep, the easier it will be to solve any sleep problems you might have. You can learn more about your sleep by:
Keeping a sleep diary. A diary is a quick way to monitor your sleep time and quality, as well as factors that might be disturbing your sleep. It’s also a great tool for informing your doctor about your specific sleeping problems.
What Can Affect Your Sleep
Sleep is essential, but it can often seem impossible. If you’re having problems sleeping, it’s important to be aware of the factors that can improve or interfere with sleeping well. Among them are:
Your sleeping environment. Noise, light, temperature, and even your mattress can all have an impact on your sleeping.
Your personal habits. Diet, exercise, caffeine, and use of tobacco or alcohol can all change your sleep quantity and quality.
Medical conditions and various medications. Certain medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and some medications, including some heart medications, may interfere with sleep.
Stress. Worry about life issues and even concern about getting enough sleep can contribute to sleeping problems.
Making a Plan for a Good Night’s Sleep
Now that you’ve examined the factors that might be contributing to poor sleep, you can decide what to do to ensure a good night’s sleep. You can:
Use sleep tips to improve your sleep environment, change habits and activities that interfere with sleep, and develop new ways to sleep better.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia—difficulty getting good sleep or getting enough sleep—is an old problem with new solutions. To deal with it, we should understand what insomnia is, be aware of the factors that contribute to insomnia, and learn what can help.
What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a perception of inadequate or poor-quality sleep as a result of:
Difficulty falling asleep
Difficulty staying asleep
Waking up too early
Having sleep that is not refreshing
Insomnia can last for varying periods. It may be:
Transient—lasting for a short time
Intermittent—occurring on and off
Chronic—lasting for more than a month and occurring on most nights
What contributes to insomnia and what can help?
Insomnia disturbs our work and our relationships, and it impairs our ability to function well. Insomnia has effects on all aspects of our lives.
What Contributes to Insomnia?
Insomnia is a complex problem with a variety of causes. Sometimes several factors together can contribute to insomnia. Among these are:
Environmental factors. Noise, light, or even your mattress can be causing sleep problems.
Psychological problems. Stress, anxiety, depression, and other emotional difficulties can be related to insomnia.
Lifestyle issues. Using alcohol or caffeine or even napping during the day or exercising at night can impair your sleep.
Physical factors. Anything from pain to hormone shifts to involuntary movements (such as restless leg syndrome) may be linked to sleep disturbances.
Medication side effects. Certain drugs, such as decongestants and some high blood pressure medications, can cause sleeping difficulties.
What Can Help
If you think you have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor. After your doctor determines your diagnosis, you can consider these treatment options together:
Follow your doctor’s recommendations about managing the medical conditions that may be affecting your sleep.
Make lifestyle changes—such as eliminating or restricting caffeine and alcohol—that will help you sleep better.
Employ some sleep tips—such as following a regular sleeping schedule—to improve your sleep.
Try behavioral treatments—such as relaxation training or sleep restriction therapy—to help change sleep-stealing patterns.
How is insomnia diagnosed and treated?
Sleep complaints can be evaluated by your doctor with the help of a medical history and a sleep diary. This will provide information on possible underlying problems, as well as about the quality, quantity, and patterns of your sleep. If certain sleep disorders—such as sleep apnea, an interruption of breathing during sleep—are suspected, a specialized sleep study may be advised.
Since insomnia often has several causes, treatment may involve a variety of approaches. Treatment may include changes in lifestyle or environment—check out sleep tips—that can help anyone sleep better. It may involve behavioral techniques—such as relaxation therapy—that require specific training.
Do most sleep disorders go away without treatment and how serious is the problem?
Sleep disorders often don’t disappear without treatment. Many people don’t realize that they can get help for their problem. Untreated sleep disorders can have a negative impact on our performance at work and at school, create problems in relationships, and even lead to accidents and death.
Nearly two-thirds of American adults experienced a sleep problem a few nights per week during the past year. Falling asleep at the wheel is a devastating problem on our highways. Sleep disorders and sleep deprivation are estimated to cost more than $15.9 billion directly (through healthcare and medication costs), and between $50 billion and $100 billion indirectly (through costs associated with, for example, lost productivity, accidents, and death). So, yes, sleeplessness really is a serious problem.
Why is everyone yawning?
It’s not just because yawning is catchy; it’s because so many of us need more sleep. If you’re one of the many people experiencing sleep problems, you’re not alone. In a survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation in 2000:
One-third of adults say that they get fewer than 6.5 hours of sleep each night.
Nearly two-thirds of adults experienced a sleep problem a few nights a week during the past year.
Among the adults surveyed, 43% say that sleepiness interferes with their daily activities a few days a month, and 20% say that this happens at least a few days each week.
Eighty percent of Americans never get help concerning sleep problems. If you’re one of the many people who have sleep problems, be one of the few who get help. learn more about the revolutionary new SAM mattress and how it can help you sleep better.
What are some good sleep tips that will increase the chances of getting a good nights sleep?
Sleep, like food and water, is a necessity of life. But sometimes it can seem very hard to get enough. You may not realize all the things you can do to sleep better. Try these tips and see what works for you.
Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Keeping a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends, helps to develop a sleep-wake rhythm that encourages better sleep.
Create a comfortable sleep environment. You can try to control a number of the elements in your bedroom that will promote good sleep, such as:
Temperature—for most people, cool is better than hot.
Light—keep your bedroom as dark as possible. You might even consider wearing an eye mask.
Noise—less noise means more sleep. You can reduce noise levels with rugs and drapes, earplugs, background “white” noise (such as a fan), or soothing music.
Comfort—a good mattress can improve the quality of sleep.
Function—try not to use your bedroom for work activities, such as balancing the checkbook or studying. Make your bedroom a stress-free zone.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol may help you get to sleep, but it will make your sleep restless and uneasy. Caffeine—contained in tea, cola, and chocolate, as well as in coffee—is a stimulant that can cause problems falling asleep.
Watch your diet. A heavy meal or spicy foods before bedtime can lead to nighttime discomfort, and fluids can require disruptive trips to the bathroom. A light snack, however, can prevent hunger pangs and help you sleep better.
Get out of bed if you’re not sleeping. If you don’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, get up. Get back into bed only when you feel sleepy.
Exercise regularly. Exercising in the afternoon—at least 3 hours before bedtime, so you won’t be too “revved up”—will help you get a deeper, more restful sleep.
Cut back on or stop tobacco use. Nicotine, like caffeine, is a stimulant. It may cause problems with falling asleep, waking up, and nightmares.
Avoid watching the clock. Set the alarm and place the clock out of sight. Constant checking can even cause insomnia.
Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Read a good book, listen to music, practice relaxation techniques, or take a warm bath.