Disclaimer: This guide is for informational purposes only. By providing the information contained herein we are not diagnosing, treating, curing, mitigating, or preventing any type of disease or medical condition. Before beginning any type of natural, integrative or conventional treatment regimen, it is advisable to seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional. May contain affiliate links. Product photos/descriptions provided by company websites. This is not medical advice.
What is it?
According to the National Institutes of Health, “your brain and body functions stay active throughout sleep, and each stage of sleep is linked to a specific type of brain waves (distinctive patterns of electrical activity in the brain).”
Sleep is divided into two basic types:
- Rapid Eye Movement (REM) usually first occurs about 90 minutes after you fall asleep, and longer, deeper periods occur during the second half of the night. During REM, eyes move rapidly behind closed eyelids while breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure are irregular. Dreaming occurs in REM while arm/leg muscles are temporarily paralyzed. Cycles between REM and non-REM sleep occurs throughout the night.
- Non-Rapid Eye Movement (non-REM)
- Stage 1 – your eyes move slowly, your muscles relax, and your heart/breathing rates begin to slow. This is considered “light sleep” where you are easily awakened.
- Stage 2 – your brain waves slow down with occasional bursts of rapid waves. You spend about half the night in this stage.
- Stage 3 – your brain waves become even slower and the brain produces extremely slow waves almost exclusively (called Delta waves). This is a very deep stage of sleep where it is very difficult to be awakened. Children who wet the bed or sleep walk tend to do so during this stage. Deep sleep is considered the “restorative” stage of sleep that is necessary for feeling well rested and energetic during the day.
As you sleep, REM sleep time becomes longer, while time spent in stage 3 non-REM sleep becomes shorter. By the time you wake up, nearly all your sleep time has been spent in stages 1 and 2 of non-REM sleep and in REM sleep. If REM sleep is severely disrupted during one night, REM sleep time is typically longer than normal in subsequent nights until you catch up.
Why is it important?
One substance, called adenosine, builds up in your blood while you’re awake. Then, while you sleep, your body breaks down the adenosine. Levels of this substance in your body may help trigger sleep when needed.
A buildup of adenosine and many other complex factors might explain why, after several nights of less than optimal amounts of sleep, you build up a sleep debt. This may cause you to sleep longer than normal or at unplanned times during the day. Because of your body’s internal processes, you can’t adapt to getting less sleep than your body needs. Eventually, a lack of sleep catches up with you.
Another substance that helps make you sleep is a hormone called melatonin. This hormone makes you naturally feel sleepy at night. It is part of your internal “biological clock,” which controls when you feel sleepy and your sleep patterns. Your biological clock is a small bundle of cells in your brain that works throughout the day and night. Internal and external environmental cues, such as light signals received through your eyes, control these cells. Your biological clock triggers your body to produce melatonin, which helps prepare your brain and body for sleep. As melatonin is released, you’ll feel increasingly drowsy. Because of your biological clock, you naturally feel the most tired between midnight and 7 a.m. You also may feel mildly sleepy in the afternoon between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. when another increase in melatonin occurs in your body.
Other factors also influence your need for sleep, including your immune system’s production of hormones called cytokines. Cytokines are made to help the immune system fight certain infections or chronic inflammation and may prompt you to sleep more than usual. The extra sleep may help you conserve the resources needed to fight the infection. Recent studies confirm that being well rested improves the body’s responses to infection.
Learning + Memory
Per NIH, REM sleep stimulates the brain regions you use to learn and make memories. Not only is a good night’s sleep required to form new learning and memory pathways in the brain, but also sleep is necessary for those pathways to work well. Several studies show that lack of sleep causes thinking processes to slow down. Lack of sleep also makes it harder to focus and pay attention. Lack of sleep can make you more easily confused. Studies also find that a lack of sleep leads to faulty decision making and more risk taking. A lack of sleep slows down your reaction time, which is particularly important to driving and other tasks that require quick response.
Sleep gives your heart and vascular system a much-needed rest. During non-REM sleep, your heart rate and blood pressure progressively slow as you enter deeper sleep. During REM sleep, in response to dreams, your heart and breathing rates can rise and fall and your blood pressure can be variable. These changes throughout the night in blood pressure and heart and breathing rates seem to promote cardiovascular health.
If you don’t get enough sleep, the nightly dip in blood pressure that appears to be important for good cardiovascular health may not occur. Failure to experience the normal dip in blood pressure during sleep can be related to insufficient sleep time, an untreated sleep disorder (for example, sleep apnea), or other factors. Some sleep-related abnormalities may be markers of heart disease and increased risk of stroke.
A lack of sleep also puts your body under stress and may trigger the release of more adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones during the day. These hormones keep your blood pressure from dipping during sleep, which increases your risk for heart disease. Lack of sleep also may trigger your body to produce more of certain proteins thought to play a role in heart disease. For example, some studies find that people who repeatedly don’t get enough sleep have higher than normal blood levels of C-reactive protein, a sign of inflammation. High levels of this protein may indicate an increased risk for a condition called atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
Deep sleep (stage 3 non-REM sleep) triggers more release of growth hormone, which contributes to growth in children and boosts muscle mass and the repair of cells and tissues in children and adults. Sleep’s effect on the release of sex hormones also contributes to puberty and fertility. Consequently, women who work at night and tend to lack sleep may be at increased risk of miscarriage.
Evidence is growing that sleep is a powerful regulator of appetite, energy use, and weight control. During sleep, the body’s production of the appetite suppressor leptin increases, and the appetite stimulant grehlin decreases. Studies find that the less people sleep, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese and prefer eating foods that are higher in calories and carbohydrates. People who report an average total sleep time of 5 hours a night, for example, are much more likely to become obese, compared with people who sleep 7–8 hours a night.
Things to Do
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Try to get at least 30 minutes of direct sunlight.
- Exercise regularly, but not within 2-3 hours before bedtime.
- Don’t take naps after 3 p.m.
- Have a comfortable mattress and pillow.
- Keep the room temperature cool.
- Read a book or listen to music, and turn off the TV and electronic devices.
- Take a hot bath, which will adjust your body temperature and help you relax.
- If you are awake for more than 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing.
Daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day. If possible, wake up with the sun or use very bright lights in the morning. Sleep experts recommend that, if you have problems falling asleep, you should get an hour of exposure to morning sunlight and turn down the lights before bedtime.
During Menstrual Cycle
Menstrual cycle hormones can affect how well women sleep. Progesterone is known to induce sleep and circulates in greater concentrations in the second half of the menstrual cycle. For this reason, women may sleep better during this phase of their menstrual cycle. On the other hand, many women report trouble sleeping the night before their menstrual flow starts. This sleep disruption may be related to the abrupt drop in progesterone levels that occurs just before menstruation. Women in their late forties and early fifties, however, report more difficulties sleeping (insomnia) than younger women. These difficulties may be linked to menopause, when they have lower concentrations of progesterone. Hot flashes in women of this age also may cause sleep disruption and difficulties.
Things to Avoid
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine.
- Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed.
- Avoid large meals and drinks late at night.
- Avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep, if possible.
- Avoid distractions such as noises, bright lights, clocks, TVs, and computers.
Caffeine is thought to block the cell receptors that adenosine (a substance in the brain) uses to trigger its sleep- inducing signals. In this way, caffeine fools the body into thinking it isn’t tired. It can take as long as 6–8 hours for the effects of caffeine to wear off completely. Thus, drinking a cup of coffee in the late afternoon may prevent your falling asleep at night.
Nicotine + Alcohol
Nicotine is another stimulant that can keep you awake. Nicotine also leads to lighter than normal sleep, and heavy smokers tend to wake up too early because of nicotine withdrawal. Although alcohol is a sedative that makes it easier to fall asleep, it prevents deep sleep and REM sleep, allowing only the lighter stages of sleep. People who drink alcohol also tend to wake up in the middle of the night when the effects of an alcoholic “nightcap” wear off.
Prescription + Over-the-Counter Medications
Certain commonly used prescription and over-the-counter medicines contain ingredients that can keep you awake. These ingredients include decongestants and steroids. Many medicines taken to relieve headaches contain caffeine. Heart and blood pressure medications known as beta blockers can make it difficult to fall asleep and cause more awakenings during the night. People who have chronic asthma or bronchitis also have more problems falling asleep and staying asleep than healthy people, either because of their breathing difficulties or because of the medicines they take.
Nearly one-quarter of all workers work shifts that are not during the daytime, and more than two-thirds of these workers have problem sleepiness and/or difficulty sleeping. Because their work schedules are at odds with powerful sleep-regulating cues like sunlight, night shift workers often find themselves drowsy at work, and they have difficulty falling or staying asleep during the daylight hours when their work schedules require them to sleep.
Night shift workers are also more likely to have physical problems, such as heart disease, digestive troubles, and infertility, as well as emotional problems. All of these problems may be related, at least in part, to the workers’ chronic sleepiness, possibly because their biological clocks are not in tune with their work schedules.
If you must work the night shift, the following tips may help you:
- Increase your total amount of sleep by adding naps and lengthening the amount of time you allot for sleep.
- Use bright lights in your workspace.
- Minimize the number of shift changes so that your body’s biological clock has a longer time to adjust to a nighttime work schedule.
- Get rid of sound and light distractions in your bedroom during your daytime sleep.
- Use caffeine only during the first part of your shift to promote alertness at night.
Traveling Across Time Zones
You may have a hard time adjusting when you travel across time zones. The light cues outside and the clocks in your new location may tell you it is 8 a.m. and you should be active, but your body is telling you it is more like 4 a.m. and you should sleep. The end result is jet lag—sleepiness during the day, difficulty falling or staying asleep at night, poor concentration, confusion, nausea, and generally feeling unwell and irritable.
Be aware that adjusting to a new time zone may take several days. If you are going to be away for just a few days, it may be better to stick to your original sleep and wake times as much as possible, rather than adjusting your biological clock too many times in rapid succession.
Eastward travel generally causes more severe jet lag than westward travel because traveling east requires you to shorten the day, and your biological clock is better able to adjust to a longer day than a shorter day. Fortunately for globetrotters, a few preventive measures and adjustments seem to help some people relieve jet lag, particularly when they are going to spend more than a few days at their destination:
- Adjust your biological clock. During the 2–3 days prior to a long trip, get adequate sleep. You can make minor changes to your sleep schedule. For example, if you are traveling west, delay your bed time and wake time progressively by 20- to 30-minute intervals. If you are traveling east, advance your wake time by 10 to 15 minutes a day for a few days and try to advance your bed time. Decreasing light exposure at bedtime and increasing light exposure at wake time can help you make these adjustments. When you arrive at your destination, spend a lot of time outdoors so your body gets the light cues it needs to adjust to the new time zone. Take a couple of short 10–15 minute catnaps if you feel tired, but do not take long naps during the day.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Although it may be tempting to drink alcohol to relieve the stress of travel and make it easier to fall asleep, you’re more likely to sleep lighter and wake up in the middle of the night when the effects of the alcohol wear off. Caffeine can help keep you awake longer, but caffeine also can make it harder for you to fall asleep if its effects haven’t worn off by the time you are ready to go to bed. Therefore, it’s best to use caffeine only during the morning and not during the afternoon.
Snoring is caused by a narrowing or partial blockage of the airways at the back of your mouth, throat, or nose. This obstruction results in increased air turbulence when breathing in, causing the soft tissues in your upper airways to vibrate. The end result is a noisy snore that can disrupt the sleep of your bed partner. This narrowing of the airways is typically caused by the soft palate, tongue, and throat relaxing while you sleep, but allergies or sinus problems also can contribute to a narrowing of the airways, as can being over weight and having extra soft tissue around your upper airways.
The larger the tissues in your soft palate (the roof of your mouth in the back of your throat), the more likely you are to snore while sleeping. Alcohol or sedatives taken shortly before sleep also promote snoring. These drugs cause greater relaxation of the tissues in your throat and mouth.
In addition to seeking professional health, here are some things that may prevent snoring:
- Maintain a Healthy Weight. Excess weight, especially around the neck area, can contribute to snoring. Losing weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise can reduce the fatty tissue in the throat, opening up the airways and decreasing the likelihood of snoring.
- Sleep Position. Sleeping on your back can cause the tongue and soft tissues in the throat to collapse and obstruct the airway, leading to snoring. Try sleeping on your side instead. You can use pillows or other aids to encourage side-sleeping, such as a body pillow. Seeking the advice from an experienced chiropractor may help you find the best sleeping position as well.
- Keep Bedroom Air Moist. Dry air can irritate and constrict the airways, leading to snoring. Use a humidifier in your bedroom to add moisture to the air, which can help keep the airways lubricated and reduce snoring.
- Stay Hydrated. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day can help thin out mucus and secretions in the throat, reducing the likelihood of snoring. Aim to stay well-hydrated by drinking enough water throughout the day.
- Avoid Irritants. Allergens and irritants, such as dust mites, pet dander, or smoke, can cause nasal congestion and inflammation, leading to snoring. Keep your bedroom clean, use allergy-proof bedding, and avoid exposure to smoke or other irritants to minimize nasal congestion and reduce snoring.
- Try mouth tape. Mouth taping aims to train individuals to breathe through their noses during sleep, as mouth breathing can contribute to snoring, dry mouth, and other sleep-related issues. Nasal breathing is generally considered more optimal because it allows the air to be filtered, humidified, and warmed before reaching the lungs. However, certain individuals, such as those with sleep apnea, chronic respiratory conditions, or specific anatomical or medical conditions, may require alternative solutions.
Parents of Newborns
One group of people who usually don’t get enough sleep are parents of newborns. According to the NIH, some experts think depression after childbirth (postpartum blues) is caused, in part, by a lack of sleep.
Here a some ways to get some sleep with a newborn:
- Share responsibilities. If possible, divide the responsibilities of caring for your newborn with your partner or trusted family member. Consider creating a schedule that allows both parents to get sufficient rest. For example, one parent can handle night feedings while the other takes over in the morning, allowing each parent to get uninterrupted sleep during their designated time.
- Take naps. Take advantage of the opportunity to nap when your baby is sleeping during the day. Newborns sleep for several short stretches throughout the day, so try to synchronize your sleep schedule with theirs. Even a short nap can help restore your energy levels and improve your overall well-being. It may be tempting to scroll social media or get some housework done. Try your best to prioritize sleep when you can.
- Create a Sleep-Conducive Environment. Make your bedroom a comfortable and relaxing space for sleep. Ensure the room is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Consider using earplugs, eye masks, or white noise machines to block out any disturbances that might disrupt your sleep.
- Practice Safe Co-Sleeping. Co-sleeping, when done safely, can help parents get more restful sleep. Follow safe co-sleeping guidelines, such as using a firm mattress, keeping pillows and blankets away from the baby, and ensuring there are no gaps where the baby can get trapped. If you’re unsure about co-sleeping, consult with a healthcare professional.
- Accept Help. Don’t hesitate to accept help from family and friends. They can assist with household chores, meal preparation, or caring for the baby, giving you an opportunity to rest. Consider reaching out to support groups or parenting communities for additional support and advice.
- Prioritize Self-Care. Taking care of your own physical and mental well-being is crucial during this time. Engage in activities that help you relax and unwind, such as taking a warm bath, practicing mindfulness or deep breathing exercises, or engaging in light physical exercise. Prioritize healthy eating habits and stay hydrated, as these factors can contribute to your overall energy levels.
- Communicate with Your Partner. Openly communicate with your partner about your sleep needs and challenges. Discuss how you can support each other and find ways to share the responsibilities. Be understanding and patient with each other, as sleep deprivation can impact mood and emotions.
- Seek Professional Help if Needed. If your sleep deprivation becomes overwhelming or persists for an extended period, consider reaching out to a healthcare professional for guidance. They can provide valuable advice, identify any underlying issues, and recommend strategies to improve your sleep and overall well-being.
Children Sleep Difficulty
There could be several reasons why children aren’t sleeping including: difficulty calming down, too restless to be still, growing pains, disruption to sleep schedule, nightmares, low blood sugar, bladder irritation/bed wetting, or desiring connect. To read helpful tips, click here.
Sources: National Institutes of Health
Products to Research
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Magnesium is an essential mineral in over 300+ biochemical processes in the human body. When you are low in magnesium, your body is strained. It’s largely missing from our Western diet, due to depleted soils and an excess of calcium, which reduces magnesium absorption and retention when magnesium intake is already low. Magnesium regulates sleep, inflammation, digestion and stress in the body, and deficiency has been linked to many different chronic health issues.
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