Posted in Health by Guest
Sleep is an essential part of everybody’s life – we all need down time to recharge our batteries. But have you ever wondered what actually happens when you’re sleeping? Why is sleep so vital to our health and how can we improve our quality of sleep?
The Different Stages of Sleep
There are four different phases of sleep; stage 1, stage 2, stage 3 and REM (which stands for rapid eye movement).
The first stage is where you are just drifting off to sleep, and is a very light doze in which you only have very slow eye movements.
It is quite common for a person to slip in and out of sleep during this stage, like daydreaming. If you are woken during this phase, you may experience a sudden muscle movement or a sensation of falling – the scientific term for this is ‘Hypnic Myoclonia’.
Research has shown that the average sleeper takes about 7 minutes to fall asleep…
This phase normally lasts about 20 minutes. During the second phase, your eye movements stop, and your brain waves slow down.
The third phase normally lasts about half an hour, and is the deepest phase of sleep. There is no eye movement or muscle activity during stage 3 sleep, and if you’re woken during this stage you’re likely to feel groggy and disorientated for several minutes.
The final stage of sleep is known as REM, which stands for rapid eye movement. It gets its name because during this stage of sleep your eyes move about quickly in all different directions. Your heart and respiration rates also increase during REM sleep, and the muscles in your limbs become immobile.
REM sleep is when you dream the most. Some people think that the rapid eye movements that characterise this stage of sleep are actually caused by the things that a person is experiencing within the dream.
One complete sleep cycle takes around 90 minutes, so in an average night’s sleep you will go through the sleep cycle 4 to 5 times.
The Importance of Sleep
Did you know that getting a good night’s sleep is as important for your health as eating and drinking correctly?
Most adults need around 7 to 8 hours of sleep, although this can vary depending on the person. If you don’t get the sleep your body needs you will start to feel the psychological and physical effects very quickly! You may suffer from stress, concentration or memory problems and feel a lack of motivation.
During the third stage of the cycle, you’re in a deep sleep, and your body has the chance to spend time repairing itself, boosting your immune system and building up energy for the next day.
It is during REM sleep that your brain processes the information that has been learned throughout the day. This helps improve your memory and replenishes vital hormones, such as serotonin, which help boost your mood.
Your sleep cycles don’t follow an exact pattern, and your REM period lengthens as you go through more cycles. That’s why it’s important to have at least 6 hours sleep each night.
Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
So now we know how important sleep is…how can you improve your quality of sleep?
A lot of people enjoy a coffee to help them get through a long day at work, but did you know that caffeine can stay active in your system for up to 10 hours? Try avoiding caffeinated products after lunch, and cut down on your overall intake to help you sleep better at night.
Reading can really help you wind down in the evening, although try and avoid using a backlit device, such as an iPad, as this might make you feel more awake. Instead, try an eReader (or even a good old-fashioned paperback!) with a soft light source such as a bedside lamp.
Having a regular bedtime and waking up at the same time each day can be extremely beneficial to maintaining a good sleep cycle.
The final tip is to remember that the environment you sleep in can affect the quality of your sleep. Make sure that your room is quiet, not too warm, and definitely invest in a good mattress to stay comfortable throughout your slumber.
As always, we’d love to hear from you, so if you have any other sleeping tips that work for you, please share them in the comments below.
Gemma Pearson enjoys blogging about natural ways that you can look after your health. She is an Optical Consultant at Lenstore, an online contact lens store.