In his book “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams”, author and director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, Matthew Walker says “Humans are not sleeping the way nature intended. The number of sleep bouts, the duration of sleep, and when sleep occurs has all been comprehensively distorted by modernity.” The causes of sleep deprivation are usually attributed to the “modern” nine-to-five lifestyles and the excessive use of bright-screen portable devices in recent years. The disruption of our daily routines and schedules during the past year only added an extra obstacle towards a good night’s sleep.
Sleep is becoming increasingly recognized as a critical component of healthy development. In its consensus statement published in 2015 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society recommended 7 or more hours of sleep per night on a regular basis for adults to promote optimal health. According to the statement, sleeping less than 7 hours per night on a regular basis is associated with adverse health outcomes, including weight gain and obesity, heart disease and stroke, depression, impaired immune function, and greater risk of accidents.
In addition to sleep duration, many other dimensions of sleep are also important. These include aspects of sleep quality such as sleep efficiency (the proportion of the time in bed spent actually asleep), sleep timing (the bedtime and wake-up time), sleep consistency (the day-to-day variability in sleep duration), and sleep satisfaction (the overall sleep experience and refreshment upon awakening).
One major aspect is sleep architecture which refers to the basic structural stages of normal sleep, non-rapid eye-movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye-movement (REM) sleep, also known as deep sleep. A sleep episode begins with a short period of NREM stage 1 (2 – 5% of total sleep episode) progressing through stage 2 (45 – 55%), followed by stages 3 (3 – 8%) and 4 (10 – 15%) and finally to REM, which may last only 1 – 5 minutes and becomes progressively prolonged as the sleep episode progresses. However, individuals do not remain in REM sleep the remainder of the night but, rather, cycle between stages of NREM and REM throughout the night.
When divided into groups, the morning types, or people who prefer to awake at or around dawn, make up about 40% of the population, while evening types, those who prefer to go to bed late and wake up late, account for about 30%. Whether you are a morning type, an evening type, or one of the remaining 30% that lie somewhere in between, here are some tips to help you get a good night’s sleep:
- Increase bright light exposure during the day: Exposing yourself to bright daylight in the morning will help the natural circadian rhythm.
- Exercise during the daytime: Exercise boosts the effect of natural sleep hormones such as melatonin.
- Reduce caffeine consumption late in the day: When consumed late in the day, caffeine stimulates your nervous system and may stop your body from naturally relaxing at night.
- Reduce irregular or long daytime naps: Naps longer than 30 minutes can harm health and sleep quality.
- Develop a bedtime routine: Whether you choose to read a book, listen to soothing music, or meditate, make sure to take time to relax before bedtime each night.
- Take a relaxing hot bath: A hot bath dilates blood vessels which causes them to radiate inner heat, and the core body temperature drops. To successfully initiate sleep, your core temperature needs to drop about 1 degree Celsius.
- Optimize your bedroom environment: Temperature, noise, external lights, and furniture arrangement, as well as the quality of pillows and mattress are key factors in improving sleep quality. Stay away from your screen devices before sleeping.
- Try to sleep and wake at consistent times: A regular sleep schedule can aid long-term sleep quality, as the body’s circadian rhythm functions are on a set loop, aligning itself with sunrise and sunset.
- Make sure to receive the optimal amount of sleep for your age: The recommended amount of sleep for newborns is 14 – 17 hours, 10-13 hours for children under thirteen, 8 – 10 hours for teens, and 7 hours or more for adults.
If you feel tired and unable to do your activities, you may have a sleep problem. Consult with your doctor about changes you can make to get a better night’s sleep.