This may come as a surprise, but experts don’t actually know why we need to sleep. But they do know, of course, that it’s important. Think about how you feel after a night of low-quality sleep – groggy, irritable, exhausted – and there’s no denying that sleep is essential. But how does sleep work and what can we do to improve our quality of sleep? (1)
What Happens When We Sleep
When we fall asleep, several changes happen in both the body and the brain: (1)
- body temperature lowers
- reduction in brain activity
- breath and heart rate slow
- the body expends less energy
During the night, you will go through several sleep cycles. Each cycle lasts between 70 and 120 minutes and makes up the four stages of sleep. The first three stages are non-REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep, while the fourth is REM sleep. Together, the first three stages last between 31 minutes and 105 minutes. During these stages, activity in the body and brain slows down, moving you into deep sleep. (1)
The fourth stage, REM sleep, lasts between 10 minutes and an hour. Experts believe that REM sleep is key for brain functions like learning and memory. Each of the sleep stages is important for achieving quality sleep. (1)
How Much Sleep Do We Actually Need?
The amount of sleep we need changes based on the stage of life we’re in. Babies, children, and young adults require more sleep because they are still developing mentally and physically. (2)
The National Sleep Foundation has broken down daily sleep recommendations into nine age-based categories: (2)
- Newborns between 0 and 3 months need 14-17 hours of sleep.
- Infants between 4 and 11 months need 12-15 hours of sleep.
- Toddlers between 1 and 2 years need 11-14 hours of sleep.
- Preschoolers between 3 and 5 years need 10-13 hours of sleep.
- School-aged children between 6 and 13 years need 9-11 hours of sleep.
- Teens between 14 and 17 years need 8-10 hours of sleep.
- Young adults between 18 and 25 years need 7-9 hours of sleep.
- Adults between 26 and 64 years need 7-9 hours of sleep.
- Older adults 65 years or older need 7-8 hours of sleep.
Your Body’s Response to Too Little Sleep
Scientists may not know exactly why we need sleep, but its importance becomes clear when we see the impact of not getting enough. Sleep deprivation can negatively impact your body’s internal systems and has been linked to several long-term health issues. (3)
Sleep deprivation occurs when you struggle to consistently get seven hours of sleep or when you suffer from poor quality of sleep. Some symptoms of sleep deprivation are: (3, 4)
- low energy
- fatigue during the daytime
- impaired thinking
- poor decision making
- low attention span
- declined memory
Causes of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation can be caused by a variety of factors, some of which are in our control and some of which are not. Lifestyle choices like an inconsistent sleep schedule can lead to sleep deprivation, as can work obligations that don’t leave time for a person to get enough sleep. Night shift workers may also find it difficult to sleep enough during the day, especially if their schedule changes throughout the week. (4)
Various sleep disorders and medical issues can also negatively impact sleep quality. Sleep apnea causes those with it to wake up several times throughout the night, and chronic pain and anxiety disorders both make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. (4)
How Sleep Deprivation Affects the Body
People who struggle with chronic sleep deprivation could experience serious impacts on their health and quality of life. Sleep is the time when your body heals from the activities of the day. Your brain needs sleep to keep your memory strong and to create neural connections. Additionally, sleep is crucial for the production of hormones, such as cortisol, melatonin, growth hormone, and the hormones that help control your appetite. (1, 3, 4)
A lack of sleep can also wreak havoc on your body’s internal systems and their ability to function the way they’re supposed to. The immune, cardiovascular, endocrine, digestive, respiratory, and central nervous systems can all be negatively impacted by sleep deprivation. (3, 4)
How to Get Balanced Sleep
If you’re struggling to get at least seven hours of sleep on a regular basis, it may be time for you to create some new habits around your sleep hygiene. Follow these tips to make dozing off easier: (3, 4)
- Create a consistent schedule – Go to bed and wake up at the same times every day. When planning those times, make sure that they allow for sufficient hours of sleep. This consistency will help train your body to recognize when it’s time to go to bed so that it will be easier to drift off into dreamland every night.
- Set a relaxing evening routine – Give yourself an hour of relaxation time before bed to help your body and brain calm down and prepare for sleep. Take a bath, stretch, read, or meditate to put yourself in the mood for sleep.
- Move your body – Regular exercise promotes healthy sleep. Just make sure that you don’t work out too close to bedtime.
- Pay attention to what you eat and drink – Stop eating a few hours before bedtime, and make sure your evening meal isn’t too heavy. Spicy foods can also interfere with getting a good night of sleep, especially if you regularly get heartburn or acid reflux. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening, and reduce how much alcohol you drink, as it erodes sleep quality.
Taking a Sleep Supplement
If stress and anxiety are preventing you from getting sufficient sleep, taking a supplement like Be Serene may help you. Be Serene is a potent formula that is designed to reduce anxiousness and nervousness and lower your reactivity to stress. The adaptogens in Be Serene work with your brain and body to restore your natural state of calm.
- Mulungu and Holy Basil both have a long history of relieving anxiety in traditional medicine.
- Schisandra reduces the levels of stress hormones in your body and improves brain function.
- Shatavari has been used in traditional Indian medicine to help cope with physical and mental stress. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and nourishes the brain for improved mental health.
- Rehmannia proactively reduces your body’s stress reaction and balances your hormones.
Racing thoughts and feelings of stress can make falling asleep feel impossible. Be Serene uses natural ingredients to reduce anxiety and calm your mind, which could help you get a better night’s sleep.
Use these tips and tools to make falling and staying asleep easier!