An estimated 35% of adults receive less than the recommended amount of sleep per night which is 7-9 hours. Additionally, 50 to 70 million adults have a sleep disorder – insomnia and sleep apnea being the most common.  You have likely experienced the effects of poor sleep – fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and sluggishness. In addition to these symptoms, lack of sleep can impact health in a variety of ways. To understand how health can be affected by lack of sleep, it is important to know what exactly happens when we sleep. 

Sleep Stages

Though you may think of sleep as being in one constant state, there are actually stages of sleep. There are 4 sleep stages that we cycle through 4-6 times during one night’s sleep. Each stage lasts around 90 minutes and consists of specific brain and bodily activities. During these sleep stages, various of the body’s systems are replenished which is integral for healthiness. 

  • Stage 1: the first sleep stage is the falling asleep phase. Sleep is initiated, muscles start to relax, breathing and heart rate slow. Heart rate and body temperature also decrease as sleep is very light, it is easy to wake up during this sleep stage. 
  • Stage 2: people fall into deeper sleep during this stage.  Muscles, heartbeat, and breathing continue to slow down. Brain activity also starts to change during this stage as the brain starts producing bursts of rapid brain activity. 
  • Stage 3: this is the deepest stage of sleep. Breathing and heartbeat are at their slowest during this phase. Brain activity also slows and people are likely not to wake from noises or activity in the environment.   
  • Stage 4: known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep because the eyes move underneath the eyelids during this stage. Heart rate, as well as brain activity, are similar to when one is awake but the body is still asleep. Dreams often occur during this stage.  

Tips for Quality Sleep

  • Create a Sleep Routine. Establishing a sleep routine that you practice every night is a useful way to initiate and maintain great sleep. Your routine should involve going to sleep at the same time each night which helps your body get into a rhythm, winding down using relaxing activities before getting into bed (warm shower, light music, adjusting the lights, etc.), avoiding eating or drinking before sleep, etc.  
  • Establish Comfortable Settings. Creating the most optimal conditions for your comfort can enhance sleep. This can include making sure that you have the most comfortable bedding (sheets, pillows, bed, etc), adjusting the lighting in your space, creating ambient noise, trying aromatherapy, etc. These strategies create a calm environment, helping with relaxation. 
  • Avoid Screens. We are constantly exposed to screens from our devices. It is important to avoid this right before sleeping because this light exposure and stimulation can actually 
  • Use Sleep Aids. There are various sleep accessories you can use to better help you relax and initiate sleep. This includes eye masks and earplugs which are designed to reduce your exposure to light and sound – common distractions that prevent quality sleep. 
  1. Exercise: increasing physical activity during the day can enhance sleep in a few ways. Exercise is a great way to alleviate stress and boost energy which maintains healthiness, supporting better sleep. 

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