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Understanding Sleep

women sleeping under blanket

Sleep. It’s something we all could use a little more of. 

It’s where we retreat in times of stress and in those moments when we finally have a couple of hours to relax. It keeps us looking forward to the weekend—a time traditionally dedicated to recharging and staying in bed for as long as possible.  

Sleep, however, is more than just something to do on a Sunday. It is a crucial component of health and the circadian rhythm our bodies create to function effectively. Read on for a crash course in understanding sleep, and what you can do to improve this necessary element of life. 

Sleep Cycle Basics  

What happens when we sleep? It’s not like we can simply observe ourselves to understand what we experience every night. That’s where research comes in handy. 

Lucky for us, studying both the short and long-term consequences of sleep deprivation is a highly revered science.  We now understand the function behind the circadian rhythm, and what happens to our body when we fall asleep. 

When we sleep, the brain is hard at work removing waste products from brain cells, and preparing the brain for learning information and storing memories. Other health benefits of sleep include tissue restoration and 

The brain is very active during sleep as it cycles through its various sleep stages. Every 90-110 minutes, the brain experiences both REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep and non-REM (NREM) sleep.  These cycles are referred to this way due to the pattern of eye movement in each stage. A normal adult sleep pattern has 4 to 6 cycles of REM/NREM. 

Non-REM sleep a very restorative period, and is typically associated with tissue growth and repair, bone and muscle growth, and immune system support. Once the brain has completed the many smaller cycles of NREM, going into REM sleep kicks off a deep rest associated with intense dreams and neural stimulation. This reconstructive cycle supports learning and memory retention. 

When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies aren’t able to function effectively. Sleep deprivation puts us at severe risk of metabolic disorders, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. It can also put the immune system at risk for illness and infection. 

Understanding Sleep Hygiene

When it comes to sleep, you have more control over the quality than you might think. Research encourages us to stick to these standard sleep hygiene rules:

  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule and limit daytime naps
  • Avoid alcohol or nicotine before bed (avoid entirely if sleep issues are chronic)
  • Keep your room dark and cool 
  • Stop using your phone 30 minutes prior to bedtime
  • Exercise every day (at least 30 minutes)
  • Stress management techniques 

If you find yourself struggling with sleep even when sticking to these guidelines, you may want to consider seeing a specialist. There may be an underlying medical reason for your insomnia. 

Get Better Sleep

The key to understanding sleep and getting better sleep is to stick to the standard sleep hygiene rules as much as possible. We’re all in for a few rough nights here and there, but can set ourselves up for success 

Don’t sleep on our expert-level advice. Check out our blog for more tips and tools for when you need that extra nighttime support.