Whether caused by stress, changes in the body or environmental factors, statistics show that an estimated 50 – 70 million Americans suffer from sleep-related problems. To better face these issues, it helps to understand how the body processes sleep.
In this post, we’ll examine the different stages of sleep and the consequences of sleep deprivation. In addition, we’ll suggest some good habits to start before bedtime to promote better sleep and discuss how participating in a sleep study could help diagnose specific issues. Finally, we’ll share where to get help if you’re in need of sleep treatment.
The Stages of Sleep
Many who struggle to get or stay asleep, or sleep through the night, but wake without feeling well-rested wonder: Do I need better sleep? The answer is most likely “yes,” but to be sure, it’s helpful to understand the different stages the body goes through during a normal night’s sleep. The first three stages are considered “Non-Rapid Eye Movement” (NREM) and the fourth is considered “Rapid Eye Movement” (REM).
You have closed eyes, but could still easily wake up. This stage of NREM only lasts from 5 – 10 minutes.
This stage lasts a bit longer—approximately 10 – 25 minutes. At this time, your body temperature lowers and your heart rate slows down. The brain also begins sleep spindles, which are essentially bursts of fast, rhythmic brain wave activity.
Your blood pressure will lower in this stage, as will your breathing rate, and your muscles will relax. It’s the transitional phase between light and deep sleep. After this stage, there is a slight return to stage 2 before entering into stage 4.
As you enter into REM sleep, your body immobilizes and relaxes completely, your eyes rapidly move as your brain becomes more active and dreams occur. This is the deepest stage of sleep, and before waking, the body will return to stage 2.
The Consequences of Sleep Deprivation
Each adult should get seven to nine hours of sleep per night for optimal health. Getting any amount less than 7 hours is considered sleep deprivation, which can cause physical and mental complications.
There are multiple causes of sleep deprivation, such as lifestyle changes, travel, sleep disorders and medical conditions. The important thing is to recognize if you are impacted by sleep deprivation, so you can act to avoid the ramifications, which may include:
- Worsened Immune System
- Weight Gain
- Mental Health Disorders
- Higher Susceptibility to Accidents
Any or all of these conditions can lead to a lower quality of life and greater risk of premature death. The good news is that there are ways to reduce the chances of sleep deprivation and reset your body to get better rest.
Sleep-promoting Habits Before Bedtime
If you’re someone who struggles with sleep issues, you’re probably wondering what you can do to get more sleep. Here are some proven healthy habits that you can develop to encourage better slumber:
Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary. Designate your bedroom only for restful activities such as reading or sleeping. Avoid the use of electronics and keep the lighting and temperatures low.
Exercise 5 hours (or earlier) before bed. This will help your body wind down in time to sleep when necessary.
Create a bedtime routine. Most children have rituals before bed such as taking a hot bath and reading stories. Just because you’re an adult, that doesn’t mean you should abandon the routine. Do what feels right to help you to relax, whether that means listening to soft music, taking a hot shower, reading or spending time in prayer or meditation.
Stick to a schedule. If at all possible, try to lay down and wake up at the same time every day, regardless of work. Aligning with your natural circadian rhythm will help you regulate your sleep long-term.
Avoid heavy meals, caffeine and alcohol before bed. A light snack is okay, but a lot of food, stimulants and alcohol can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep.
Should you get a sleep study?
If you’ve exhausted every attempt at getting a good night’s rest and still find yourself struggling, you may want to participate in a sleep study. These in-lab studies record information that will help your doctor determine how quickly you fall asleep, if there are issues with airflow, and the possibility of neurological events such as seizures. These findings will best inform how to diagnose and treat your sleep issues.