Sleep 101

Sleeping is something everyone takes for granted. Everybody does it, so how hard could it be?

For some, a good night's sleep is hard to come by. From tossing and turning all night to always being drowsy during the day, sleep deprivation can adversely affect your daily routine in many ways.

Here's a few facts that can get you on your way to better sleep.

How Much Do You Need?

Your body needs a certain amount of sleep each day, and though it varies for each person, age plays a big part.

  • Infants need 16 hours a day.

  • Teens need 9 hours a day.

  • Adults need 7 or 8 hours a day.

  • Women in their first trimester need a few more hours daily than other adults.

  • Elderly: Still appear to need the same as other adults, but sleep lighter, for shorter spans, and more often.

Stages of Sleep

Sleep is made up of two types: NREM, or non-rapid-eye-movement, the non-dream state; and REM, or rapid-eye-movement, the dream state.

NREM sleep is further broken down into four stages:

  • Stage 1 - You're easily woken and may feel as if you've not slept at all. Some may even experience a feeling of falling during this stage, leading to the term "falling asleep".

  • Stage 2 - Muscles alternate between relaxation and contraction, and heart rate and body temperature drops.

  • Stage 3 - Brain wave patterns begin changing, preparing to enter the REM phase, and you become very hard to wake.

  • Stage 4 - Brain waves are almost exclusively slow and deep, and your muscles are fully relaxed. There is little or no muscle or eye movement.

REM sleep is characterized by rapid eye movements, full brain wave activity as if awake, and little or no muscle movement. This is when dreams occur.

A normal night's sleep usually progresses through the four stages of NREM and on through REM, then starts over. This can happen many times. The first cycle lasts around 90 minutes, but they get longer as the night goes on.

About 50% of each cycle is spent in stage 2, of NREM. Another 20% is in REM, and the rest is split between the other stages.

Better Sleep

Sleeping better can start as early as tonight. With just a few simple changes, you can have it completely under control in a matter of days.

  • Set a schedule - Disturbing your body's daily cycle can make it hard to sleep, so stick to your routine, so don't "sleep in". Your body's clock will reset itself to wake up later, and thus go to sleep later.

  • Avoid caffeine - Obviously, caffeine is a stimulant. Drinking too much in the hours before bedtime will keep you from dozing off.

  • Avoid nicotine - Smokers tend to spend more time in stage 2 NREM sleep and wake up earlier due to withdrawals.

  • Avoid alcohol - Alcohol robs you of deep sleep and REM.

  • Exercise - Exercise during the day helps you sleep at night. Don't exercise right before bed though. For best result, work out 5 or 6 hours before bedtime.

  • Relax - Relaxing before bed naturally helps you get to sleep.

  • Wake with the sun - Your body's internal clock resets itself with the sunlight. If that's not possible, use bright lights. Don't wander around in the dark when you get up. Turn on those lights.

  • Temperature control - Extreme temperatures keep you from falling asleep, and can wake you up during the night.

Now you have everything you need to get more out of your sleep time.