If you find yourself tossing and turning at night and having difficulty getting a good night’s rest, you’re not alone. Approximately 30% of Canadians are sleep deprived, sleeping less than seven hours a night, even though experts recommend 7–9 hours. Short sleep duration and poor sleep quality are common among Canadians. If you’re one of these Canadians, you are not alone!
The good news is, there are many things you can do to improve your quality of sleep. In this guide, you’ll learn how your sleep cycle works, which factors are likely impacting your ability to get a good night’s rest, and tips to help you get the sleep you deserve.
First off, why is sleep so important? Well, sleep contributes to the normal function of your brain and body. Your body needs sleep to recover from the day’s physical, emotional, and mental activities. While you sleep, your body is repairing damaged cells and recharging your nervous system.
There’s also truth to the phrase “beauty sleep”– while you sleep, your body is replenishing your cells, which is key to maintaining healthy skin and bodily functions as you get older. Getting a good night’s rest helps your overall well-being and allows you to feel more energized to get through the day.
As you sleep, you go through five stages, and in each stage, your brain and body experience different things.
The five stages make up a cycle. Most adults experience five or more sleep cycles each night. Each cycle consists of two distinct types of sleep: non-REM (NREM) sleep, which makes up the first four stages, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is the final sleep stage. Here’s a breakdown of the five stages within a sleep cycle:
Stage 1 of NREM (5–10 minutes)
You are in a state of very light sleep. Your eyes are closed, you’re easily awoken, your muscle activity slows, and sometimes you get a sensation of falling.
Stage 2 of NREM (20 minutes)
You are in a state of light sleep. Your body temperature drops and your heart rate slows as the body gets ready for deeper sleep.
Stage 3 of NREM (transition to deep sleep)
You have extremely slow brainwaves (delta waves) interspersed with smaller, faster waves.
Stage 4 of NREM (30 minutes)
You are in the delta sleep phase, which is a deep sleep phase. It is difficult to wake you up. Your body makes very little movement, and it repairs and rejuvenates muscle, bones, and tissue during this stage.
Stage 5 REM sleep (10−60 minutes)
You experience rapid, shallow, irregular breathing. Your eyes move rapidly, and your muscles are temporarily paralyzed. Your brainwaves increase to the same as waking levels. This is when most dreams occur, and you are in the deepest phase of sleep.
Deep sleep stages play a key role in your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Recent research suggests that REM sleep might also play a key role in learning and memory. When you don’t go through deep sleep stages, you might feel groggy and tired when you are awake, which can affect your overall mood and well-being.
Your age; lifestyle habits, such as drinking alcohol; your sleeping patterns; and sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, are all factors that might prevent you from getting the deep stages of sleep you need to help your body function properly.
Falling asleep isn’t an easy feat for everyone. Luckily there are some simple steps you can implement to help you fall asleep faster and allow you to have better quality sleep.
Eating a light, healthy snack about 90 minutes before bedtime can help prevent sleep disturbances caused by low blood sugar. Snacks should include protein, fibre, complex carbs, and minerals. Here are some foods and snacks we suggest:
There are also a few snacks that are good to eat before bed. This includes half a cup of low-fat cottage cheese with an apple, half an avocado on a slice of whole-grain toast, a handful of raw nuts or seeds, or a small bowl of cherries.
Sticking to the same bedtime and wake-up time (yes, even on weekends!) helps maintain your normal circadian rhythm (the natural process in your body that regulates when you wake up and when you go to sleep). Allowing your body to maintain its internal clock naturally improves sleep quality. Here are some ways to ensure your body keeps its internal clock consistent:
Wake up at the same time every day.
Try to get some natural sunlight. Even just a few minutes outdoors can improve your mood, and fresh air has been shown to promote better sleep.
Reduce your caffeine intake and avoid drinking it in the afternoon to decrease its chances of disrupting your sleep at night.
When going to bed, keep your bedroom as dark as possible to help your body produce melatonin, the natural hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm.
Try to go to bed at the same time every night.
Good sleep hygiene means you’ve implemented daily habits, and created a positive environment and a bedtime routine that set you up for a good night’s rest.
Create an environment that promotes sleep. We’ve included a handy checklist below that can help you get started. For more ways to optimize your environment, check out our blog on 5 Ways to Create Your Own Sleep Sanctuary.
Make your bedroom as comfortable as possible. This includes ensuring your mattress, pillows, and bedding suit your needs and preferences.
Ensure that your room is at a cool, comfortable temperature.
Minimize light by using blackout curtains or a sleep mask.
Use your senses to help you wind down. Scents such as lavender promote a sense of calm and relaxation, and listening to music can also help you drift off to sleep.
Try not to use devices such as your phone, laptop, or tablet before bed. The blue light emitted from the screens can disrupt the production of melatonin, which is needed to help you fall asleep.
Doing activities that help you relax as part of your bedtime routine can improve your sleep. This can include taking a bath, washing your face and applying your nighttime skin care, writing in your journal, reading a book, or listening to relaxing music. Experiment to find out which activities work best for you!
Whether it’s white noise, a deep breathing exercise, or a bedtime story, sounds can help you drift off easier. This is the one instance in which we encourage you to use your smartphone before bed – you can turn off the screen while still listening to something that can encourage the zzzs. There are many apps that do this such as Headspace or Calm.
If you want to keep your smartphone away from your bed as recommended by sleep experts, you can also try sound machines that play white noise.
If your sleep pattern is thrown off by jet lag, stress, an irregular schedule, a sleep disorder, or age-related factors, a melatonin supplement can help you get back on track. Melatonin helps you fall asleep quickly, stay asleep longer, and improve sleep quality. In a research study, melatonin was also shown to have positive effects on primary sleep disorders. These include restless leg syndrome, snoring, shortness of breath, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy.
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