The sleep cycle is an oscillation between two phases of sleep:
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep
Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep
NREM consists of three stages: N1, N2, and N3.
Every night, the body cycles through these stages approximately 4-6 times1. While the body cycles through the sleep phases, it also performs numerous biological processes like eliminating toxins, repairing cells, etc. However, with our busy schedules and numerous obligations, many individuals need more or even restful sleep. Insufficient sleep can have adverse effects on our overall health as well as our physical and mental performance. Insufficient sleep can cause slowed cognitive processes, poor motor skills, irritability, etc. As such, improving your sleep is one of the most tangible things you can do for your long-term health and happiness. So let's look at five key factors we should address to help us improve our sleep quality.
Consistent Sleep Times
Maintaining consistent sleep times will reinforce your circadian rhythm and help the body run more efficiently. Like babies, an irregular sleep schedule can negatively impact our day. It can cause drowsiness, irritability, mood swings, poor cognition, etc. Having an early sleep schedule on weekdays and a late sleep schedule on weekends can cause social jet lag which has the same effect on the body as jet lag. To ensure you get enough sleep each night, adjust your sleep schedule to keep it consistent throughout the week. Consider early or late training sessions or any other activities throughout the week that must be accounted for when determining your sleep schedule.
A wind-down routine is essential as it signals that it is time for bed. In a wind-down routine, it is crucial to slow down and prepare the body for bed. Some things you should limit or avoid during this time are working out, work-related activities, sugar, caffeine, and artificial or blue light. This time should be device-free and include anything that relaxes you, like stretching, a bath, journaling, reading, etc. Avoid devices (phones, TVs, laptops) as they emit blue light and suppress melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep and get restful sleep. If you cannot, you can use blue light blockers to protect your eyes from blue light before bedtime.
During sleep, body temperature drops, metabolism slows, and the body uses less energy because we are at rest. Sleeping in a cool room will help you settle and maintain a lower body temperature, making it easier to maintain sleep throughout the night.
To improve sleep quality, you must address sleep comfort. A comfortable mattress suited to you and your sleep habits will make a big difference in your sleep quality.
A Dark Room
Sleeping in complete darkness is a must if you are looking to optimize your sleep. Darkness signals to the brain that it is time to rest. It stimulates the production of melatonin while light suppresses it. The melatonin produced during the dark regulates the sleep cycles and allows the body to regenerate and rest. If there are lights outside your bedroom window, blackout curtains or a sleep mask can help achieve the darkness the pineal gland needs to start producing melatonin.
Sleep is a tricky beast for many, but taking the time to ensure you have the best possible sleep will reap many rewards. The points discussed are tips that pertain directly to your sleep environment. However, other factors like stress, caffeine, and sugar intake can affect our ability to fall asleep. You should also explore these factors if you desire to improve your sleep. Remember, your sleeping hours power your awake hours.