Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” This famous quote by Benjamin Franklin depicts the importance of sleep. It tells us that if we have the right amount of sleep, we will be healthy, and our mind and body will work efficiently.

Everyone has his/her sleeping habits, but one thing is clear, we cannot live without sleep. The importance of sleep is just as vital as food, water and the air we breathe.  If sleep is so important, then why do we take it for granted, or deprive ourselves of it, or decide to get round to it when we have time, and fight to stay awake?  As you will read in the article below, sleep is essential to your health and well-being.  And, if you want to function optimally, it’s best you start to take it seriously.

Why is sleep important? 

Our bodies get revitalized with enough sleep. It is during this time that our minds evaluate the things we have absorbed during the day. It also gives our body and mind time to relax. Sleep deprivation makes us irritable and unable to handle simple everyday tasks. Getting enough sleep enables us to build up our resistance to mental stress and day-to-day coping mechanisms. It helps to keep us focused on what we need to do.

Lacking in sleep may cause changes in our moods and disposition. Usually, people who lack sleep are easily agitated and they can become impatient and moody.  Lack of sleep can also affect our appetite causing us to either gain or lose weight. Most people who don’t get enough sleep are not running at an optimal level.  Therefore, there is more accumulation of carbohydrates and fats when one requires sleep, making one prone to weight gain.

Lack of sleep can also affect our safety. When we are sleep deprived, going about our daily routine, we are putting ourselves and others in harm’s way. Most people who lack sleep are not working at their optimum level. They tend to have poor judgement, lack alertness, and awareness of the things happening around them. Usually, accidents and mishaps happen to people who are sleep deprived.

Sleep deficiency has been linked to many chronic health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity, to name a few. The simple fact is that sleep is vital to our health and well-being and is not an option but rather a necessity, as is food, water, and air.

Definition of Sleep:

Sleep is the natural periodic resting phenomenon of body and mind. It is characterized by the suspension of consciousness and inactivity of muscle movement. Moreover, it also interrupts the sensory-motor relations between subjects and the environment.

What is quality sleep?

Sleep quality is perhaps more important than quantity, or the number of hours of continual sleep you get each night.

A study published in the Sleep Health Journal, mentions four golden rules about the hours of sleep, and quality sleep, combined.

Thus, we can say that we slept well if at least 85% of the total time spent in the bed is devoted to sleeping. If the sleep phase lasts 30 minutes or less, and we do not wake up more than one time per night, the waking time should be less than 20 minutes. These findings have been endorsed by several US health authorities such as the American Academy of Neurology or the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms.

What are the health benefits of sleep?

First of all, sleep aids in the preservation of brain cells that are responsible for memory retention. If you have, at times, gone through some sleeplessness nights, you will know why after a restless night’s sleep, you have difficulty remembering things.

Secondly, sleep helps to fight illness.  With consistent and regular amounts of sleep, we tend to be healthier and our immune system tends to be stronger.

And, thirdly, sleep contributes to ones’ general well-being allowing the body and mind to be more patient, attentive, alert, and retentive.

What are sleep patterns?

If you fall asleep each evening around the same time and wake up around the same time, it’s because your sleep pattern, regulated by the brain, works exactly like a clock in the hypothalamus.

We can distinguish the different stages of sleep according to progression:

  • Stage N1 is a transition stage between wakefulness and sleep. The sleeper does not really feel like sleeping; he/she dozes
  • Stage N2 is the confirmed sleep stage. The electroencephalogram recorded during sleep shows characteristic figures with “spindles” and “K” complexes, which make it possible to affirm that the sleeper sleeps.
  • State N3, deep sleep, is characterized on the electroencephalogram by slow and wide waves, hence its name slow-wave sleep. It is a deep sleep that is difficult to wake the sleeper.
  • State R – paradoxical sleep is when the brain activity is intense, quite close to that of the awakening; there are swift eye movements.

When is the best time to sleep?

According to the suggestion of NSF (National Sleep Foundation), the best time to sleep is between 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. But the best time depends on when you need to wake in the morning. This should be dependent on when you go to bed each night and your wake time each morning. Many of our body’s physiological processes follow certain rhythms during a 24-hour cycle (also known as circadian rhythm) and keeping your sleep/wake schedule synchronized with your internal clock. This is crucial to restful night’s sleep.

Your target bedtime should be late enough so that you struggle to stay awake, though most people do well with around 7 hours of sleep per night. As a general rule, try to keep your sleep cycle in tune with natural rhythms, meaning a waking time around sunrise. An earlier rising time rather than a later bedtime would probably be beneficial for most people. You might prefer to make this change gradually, perhaps waking 10 minutes earlier each day until you reach your target time. With your new earlier rising time, you should find it much easier to fall asleep at night.

 

How does shift work affect ones’ sleep?

According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, working shift work can alter the regular sleep patterns and may have long-term adverse effects on workers’ bodies.

Some studies have found that shift work, especially night shifts, can induce a certain amount of stress on the body, as it upsets the normal rhythm of the sleep/wake cycle.

When you don’t have 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night, your body reacts negatively. The reason for this lies in our daily hormones that affect our rhythm.

Sleep is regulated by melatonin, released by the pineal gland and helps you fall asleep at night. Alternatively, cortisol is produced by the adrenal cortex, naturally at the highest levels in the morning, helping you to perform daily tasks optimally. Therefore, working shifts requires multifaceted strategies among, which training both the shift workers and the employers is of utmost importance.

This goes against the physiology of the body. Melatonin not only regulates sleep, but it is also essential in maintaining productive hormones to the immune system. If you disturb your daytime hormonal rhythm by staying awake during the night and sleeping during the day, you expose yourself to a higher risk of health problems.

Research shows the deepest sleep occurs between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., where hormones are readjusted due to the night hormone called melatonin. Telomeres are caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes, like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces. Our telomeres can be shortened by too much stress, and lack of sleep and the length of the telomeres can have a severe impact on our bodies. People with shortened telomeres can develop a host of severe health issues.

How much sleep does a person need? 

The recommended length of sleep is 6 to 8 hours for adults, depending on the biological clock of each individual. Some people can get by with just six hours of sleep while others need more. Eight hours is the ideal recommended sleep time, though, for some, anything beyond 6 – 8 hours may cause sluggishness in the morning. The key here is – to get just the right amount of sleep that your body needs. Having fewer hours is discouraged, but having more than what is required is not recommended either.

The importance of sleep is, therefore, relative, based on the personal need of each individual. When one is ill, naturally, one may require more sleep than usual for repair and recuperation. On the other hand, an active and well person must have adequate rest, though too much may cause stagnation or sluggishness. Each person requires varying amounts of sleep and knowing your recommended amount offers you the best form of relaxation and detoxification needed to stay healthy and active.

Studies have shown, a person with a wound or fractured bone is advised to rest and sleep as much as possible. This is because wounds and injuries heal faster with sleep. In fact, there are instances where even medicine doesn’t offer the same healing properties as getting plenty of rest and sleep.

With the many benefits of sleep, it is no wonder that it is usually the first recommendation from medical practitioners when our bodies are not performing optimally.

According to Dr. Epameinondas Fountas, of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Centre, Athens, Greece, who said: “We spend one-third of our lives sleeping yet we know little about the impact of this biological need on the cardiovascular system.” The study took into consideration 16 prospective studies published in the last nine years, which involved a total of over one million adults without cardiovascular diseases. This group was divided into two groups: those who slept less than 6 hours and those who slept more than 8 hours. Scientists calculated that both short (less than 6) and long (more than 8) hours of sleep were 11% and 33% more at risk to develop coronary heart disease or stroke, or even to die, in the subsequent 9.3 years on average.

What are the stages of sleep?

There are 5 stages of sleep that rotate between non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). This includes drowsiness, light sleep, moderate to deep sleep, deepest sleep, and dreaming.

Stage 1

During this stage, you drift from being awake to falling asleep. This is a light NREM sleep that has a very short duration. You may start to relax, and your body may also twitch as you transition into stage 2.

Stage 2

This is light sleep, though you are starting to drift into a steadier sleep. Your breathing and heartbeat slow down, and your muscles begin to relax. Your body temperature decreases, and your brain waves are less active.

Stage 3

This stage is where your body feels completely relaxed, and you begin to enter deep sleep.

Stage 4

Stage 4 is the deepest sleep stage. During deep sleep, your muscles are extremely relaxed. Your breathing, heartbeat, body temperature, and brain waves reach their lowest levels. This stage is known as the healing stage when cellular energy is restored, tissue growth and repair take place, and essential hormones are released.

Stage 5 (REM Sleep)

Stage 5 is known as REM Sleep. This occurs about 90 minutes after you fall asleep and recurs every 90 minutes. Your eyes move quickly behind your eyelids, and your brainwaves look similar to those of someone who is awake. Your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure rise to near-waking levels.

This is the stage where you are most likely to dream, though your arms and legs become temporarily paralyzed during this stage to prevent you from physically acting out your dreams.

Experts believe that dreaming during REM sleep helps you process emotions and solidify certain memories. For most adults, REM sleep constitutes about 20 – 25 percent of average healthy sleep cycles.

 Recommended sleep duration by:

 

The National Sleep Foundation

Age Amount of Sleep Per Night
0 to 3 months – Newborn From 14 to 17 hours
4 to 11 months – Infant From 12 to 15 hours
1 to 2 years – Toddler From 11 to 14 hours
3 to 5 years – Pre-School From 10 to 13 hours
6 to 13 years – School Age From 9 to 11 hours
14 to 17 years – Teen From 8 to 10 hours
18 to 25 years – Young Adult From 7 to 9 hours
26 to 64 years – Adult From 7 to 9 hours
65 years and older – Older Adult From 7 to 8 hours

How to increase deep sleep:

Some sleep experts say that it is not a good idea to study, eat, read, or watch TV in bed. Your bed should be inviting, comfortable, and used strictly for sleeping as these activities do not allow the mind to shut down and prepare for proper sleep.

The following suggestions may help to reinforce the importance of deep sleep activity:

  • Make sure that your mattress and bedding are comfortable, and keep an extra blanket nearby in case you get chilly. Natural materials such as cotton and down are preferable to synthetic materials that may not breathe well or wick away moisture properly. If you tend to wake up with neck pain, it’s possible that it may be your pillow. Try different pillows, perhaps foam, contoured, or simply a different thickness. If you share a bed and are often awoken by your partner’s movements or body heat, consider a larger mattress that will give you more space, or a foam mattress that will better absorb his or her movements. If you have a very understanding partner, you might even try using separate blankets to avoid nighttime blanket “tug of war.”

If you may be in the market to purchase a new bed, I would highly recommend the Puffy Lux mattress.  After extensive research, involving many brands of mattresses, and painstakingly reading every article/review, and watching every video I could, my choice was clear – I purchased a Puffy Lux, and have never looked back.  From the comfort to the quality, to the 101-night free trial, to a lifetime return policy, and a company who stands behind their product – I was sold!  If you are looking for a high-end, luxurious mattress that will you will love now, and for many years to come, consider owning a Puffy Lux.

 

  • Try to keep the room temperature between 65 and 70 degrees, and 68 degrees is generally considered the ideal but will vary from person to person. A very warm or very cool room can make it difficult for your body to achieve its target nighttime temperature, and may very well interfere with sleep. You might consider an automatic temperature control heater or air conditioner, even a portable one just for your room.
  • If noises, such as a partner snoring or dog’s barking, disturb you at night, you may want to try using earplugs, or purchase a CD of nature sounds to mask the noise. You can download white noise clips on various websites that can be recorded on a CD. You might also run a fan, air purifier, or simply tune your radio on the static between stations to get a similar effect. Some people find that running a small fountain in the bedroom is soothing and masks noise well. If you have hardwood or tile floors in your room, use an area rug to absorb some of the noise and reduce echo.
  • Finally, if the light from street lamps or other sources bothers you, you can purchase light-blocking shades, or hang a piece of heavy canvas in front of your window. Another light blocker is to find a comfortable sleeping mask to wear over your eyes.

Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?

Do you have trouble falling asleep? If so, there may be specific reasons why.

Obsessive thoughts

Sometimes you may not be able to sleep due to certain thoughts that have bothered you during the day such as; a difficult work project, a discussion with a friend, or things you need to accomplish the next day. These can all play havoc when trying to drift off to sleep and you may find that you are constantly tossing and turning all night.

 

 

Solution:

Leave your worries about work, health, relationships, etc. out of your bedroom. Before you go to bed, write down, in point-form, everything that has been bothering you, or on your mind during the day. Include in that list the most important things you must do tomorrow.

Next, as you lay your head on your pillow, you mustn’t go over in your head what you have written down on paper. Instead, slowly start counting from 1 through to 10. When you reach 10, slowly start counting backward until you reach 1. Repeat the process over and over until you fall asleep. Distraction will help your mind ease the burden of worry you have carried around all day.

Bedroom

Is your bedroom really a suitable place to rest? Are your walls painted a colour too bright? Do you have your gym, office, or TV in your room? Are your bed, pillows, and linens comfortable to crawl into each night? A third of your life is spent sleeping, so your sleep environment should be as comfortable as possible to help you get a great night’s sleep.

Solution:

A 2013 study by Travelodge found people who have a blue bedroom get the most and the best sleep at night. This study showed that the color of your bedroom could greatly impact the amount of sleep you get, and the color blue averaged 7 hours and 52 minutes of sleep, while yellow and green came in 2nd and 3rd. These colors are often associated with calmness and relaxation and therefore can help put your mind at ease as you are trying to rest.

Your bedroom should be your sanctuary where your body and mind can rest and repair itself for a new day. By removing all the clutter and distractions in your room like gym equipment, TV’s, electronics, etc. will significantly help you achieve more restful sleep. A TV emits blue light, which can trick the body and slow down the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep.

There is an array of bed sheets, comforters, duvets, and pillows on the market, and you should always buy the best sheets possible, based on your budget. Be sure to research various products for things like thread count (tip: a higher thread count doesn’t always mean higher quality), type of material, i.e.; synthetics, pima, or Egyptian cotton. It is also recommended that you wash your new sheets twice before first use.

Brightness

Your bedroom may be too bright. Some people are very sensitive to light and have trouble falling asleep if their room is not completely dark. The lights of the electronic alarm clock, street lamps, walkways, or houses nearby could also disturb you.

Solution:

Researchers warn of the health dangers of too much light while we try to sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, your bedroom should be free from any light, and you should consider using blackout curtains or shades. This cuts down considerably on light pollution filtering into your bedroom and disturbing your sleep patterns.

Sensitivity to noise

Some people are kept awake at night by noise. For some, any sound – such as traffic noises, a television in the next room, or noisy neighbors – noises are really a nuisance when trying to fall asleep, or stay asleep.

Solution:

Creating a quiet bedroom environment is key to a full, healthy night’s rest. Dealing with regular noise pollution can not only steal vital sleeping hours but could also have a negative effect on your health.

It is recommended to mask such noise; try using devices such as a white noise machine, fan, or air purifier to create a background hum and block unwanted outside noise. Another suggestion is to use comfortable fitting earplugs, which work well for many people.

Foods that promote insomnia

There is a list of foods that may be healthy to eat, but not recommended to eat before bed, as they can interfere with sleep. Among them are: foods and drinks containing caffeine, such as coffee and energy drinks.

Spicy foods are also a contributor as they are notorious for causing heartburn, indigestion, and acid reflux.

Alcohol should also be avoided as it disrupts you from entering the deeper, much-needed phases of the sleep cycle.

Foods high in fat and protein can also cause sleep disruption when eaten too close to bedtime, causing your body to spend more time working on digestion rather than sleeping.

Foods containing water such as watermelon, celery are natural diuretics and can cause you to lose sleep from bathroom trips in the middle of the night.

Solution:

There are 4 main vitamins and minerals that can be found in food that aid in promoting sleep: tryptophan, magnesium, calcium, and B6. Some of these substances help the body produce melatonin, which helps regulate your circadian rhythm. While it’s not recommended that you eat anything right before bed, it is suggested that a few hours before bedtime that the following foods and drinks may help aid in a successful night’s sleep:

Tryptophan – is an amino acid that gets turned into serotonin and then converted into melatonin, helping to promote good sleep.

  • Dairy products (milk, low-fat yogurt and cheese)
  • Poultry (turkey, or chicken)
  • Nuts and seeds (flax, pumpkin, sunflower, cashews)
  • Fruits (apples, bananas, peaches, avocado)
  • Vegetables (spinach, broccoli, asparagus, onions)
  • Grains (wheat, rice, barley, oats, corn)

Magnesium – is a powerful mineral that aids in sleep, along with being a natural relaxant, helping to deactivate adrenaline.

  • Dark leafy greens (baby spinach, kale, collard greens)
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds, cashews, flaxseed, pecans)
  • Wheat germ
  • Fish (salmon, halibut, tuna)
  • Soybeans

Calcium – another mineral that helps the brain make melatonin.

  • Low-fat milk, cheeses, yogurt
  • Fortified orange juice and cereals
  • Sardines
  • Green snap peas and broccoli

Vitamin B6 – also helps convert tryptophan into melatonin. Deficiencies in B6 have been linked to lowered serotonin levels and poor sleep.

  • Sunflower seeds, pistachio nuts, flaxseed
  • Fish (tuna, salmon, halibut)
  • Meat (chicken, lean pork and lean beef)
  • Dried prunes
  • Bananas and avocados
  • Spinach

Melatonin – while many foods aid in the production of turning serotonin into melatonin, there are a few excellent sources of naturally occurring melatonin in foods.

  • Fruits and vegetables (tart cherries, corn, asparagus, tomatoes, pomegranate, olives, grapes, broccoli, and cucumber)
  • Grains (rice, barley, rolled oats)
  • Nuts and seeds (walnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, mustard seeds, and flaxseed)

Drinks that aid with sleep – many drinks contain essential vitamins and minerals that can help you fall asleep.

  • Warm milk/almond milk
  • Teas (Valerian, Chamomile, Passion fruit, Peppermint)
  • Tart cherry juice

Sleep Disorders:

One of the worst causes of difficulty in sleep is due to an undiagnosed untreated sleep disorder. Insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy are 4 of the most common, all of which should be treated by a physician. Doctors can usually treat most sleep disorders effectively, once they have been correctly diagnosed.

Insomnia

Insomnia is a persistent difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night and waking feeling tired and exhausted the next day.

Sleep apnea

There are several types of sleep apnea, which all cause abnormal patterns in breathing while you are sleeping. Sleep apnea can be central (of neurological origin) when the breath stops due to lack of nerve stimuli to the respiratory muscles: it is as if the “brain” forgets to breathe.

Restless leg syndrome (RLS)

Restless leg syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease is a type of sleep movement disorder. It can cause painful or uncomfortable sensations in your legs with sudden urges to move your legs while you are trying to fall asleep.

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that affects your ability to stay awake. Those with this condition have excessive, uncontrollable daytime sleepiness and may fall asleep at any time, during any type of activity. People with narcolepsy go into REM sleep almost immediately even while they’re awake.

 

Strategies on how to improve your sleep:

It’s a great idea to practice an excellent pre-sleeping regime before bedtime. After all, the more you can do to promote good, sound sleep, the better concentration, energy, mental, and emotional clarity you are going to feel the next morning.

Set a fixed hour for sleeping and waking

Try to fall asleep and wake up at the same time each night and day. Having a bedtime routine cues your body that it’s time to sleep, and since we need an average of 8 hours of sleep per night, it’s recommended you schedule the same time each night, including weekends, to allow your body to maintain a consistent rhythm.

Turn off electronic devices.

Our cell phones, tablets, computers, and other electronic gadgets have become a huge part of our daily lives. If you want to develop good sleeping habits and remain asleep so that you can feel rested and refreshed, you need to turn off your electronic devices at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime.

As mentioned previously, the blue light emitted by screens restrain the production of melatonin, thus making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. After spending an entire day surrounded by various forms of technology, your mind needs time to unwind.

Dedicate your bedroom as a technology-free zone and get into the habit of turning them off completely before bedtime.

Exercise

People who exercise tend to have a more restful sleep. It is recommended that exercising late afternoon or early evening, 3 times per week, can dramatically improve your quality of sleep. Although it is not recommended exercising less than 2 hours before bedtime, it is advised that gentle stretching before bed is a great way to relieve tight, or sore muscles and help promote flexibility.

Adjust the room temperature

Did you know that several recent studies have shown that those who sleep in a cooler room sleep more sound and can even slow down the aging process? A cool room with warm blankets is optimal for a good night’s sleep.

Avoid alcoholic beverages and caffeine

Before going to sleep, it is important to avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine. Although alcohol can make you feel sleepy, it can also make you wake up at night. You need to be cautious about your beverage intake during dinner. That cup of coffee after dinner can prevent you from achieving a solid, restful sleep.

Take a hot bath before going to bed

Another way to sleep well at night is to take a hot shower, or a warm relaxing bath 90 minutes before bedtime in water between 104 to 109̊ F (40 to 43̊C). The hot water actually helps change your body’s core temperature so that you go to bed with a cooler temperature, inducing a good night’s sleep.

How massage can help you sleep

Massage is an effective technique that helps you fall asleep and improve your overall quality of sleep. Even a 5 – 10-minute massage before going to bed can:

  • Help you fall asleep more quickly
  • Foster a deeper and more restful sleep
  • Release endorphins, increases the feeling of tranquility
  • Help fight anxiety and stress
  • Help you wake feeling more rested and resilient.

Conclusion:

With so many demands on our time, jobs, and family life, we often sacrifice the one thing that our bodies need to function effectively – sleep! The importance of sleep is often taken for granted, which has a huge impact over time.

Research has shown that just because you sleep in on weekends doesn’t erase all of the drawbacks of not getting your proper sleep during the week. It is best to develop good sleeping habits when you are young and carry them through the remainder of life.

Good sleep is critical to your overall health and well-being. Make it a priority to take sleep seriously by incorporating a few things into your nightly regime that will help you achieve quality rest and relaxation.

Start slowly by making small changes that can have a large impact. Be patient and consistent – don’t try to do everything all at once. Before long, you will have developed good sleeping habits, and your body and mind will thank you!

Have a great sleep – Good-night!