When you wake up in the morning feeling energized, refreshed and ready to take on your day, it’s usually after a great night of sleep. Conversely, if you’ve slept poorly, the next day can be difficult. You may feel lethargic, have difficulty staying focused or remembering things. Your reaction time may be slow, and you may feel as if you’re coming down with a cold.
Sleep is essential for overall health and wellness. Our bodies and brain use this time to recharge, stave off diseases and illness, and repair cells. If sleep is so important, why is it that we are willing to skimp on it? Or worse, develop poor sleep patterns long-term? It is true that some people have sleep disorders making it a struggle to develop healthy sleep patterns and habits. But, for most of us, sleep is something that we should prioritize and work to develop healthy habits.
It’s helpful to understand the science behind sleep to create healthy sleep habits. Our sleep pattern is driven by our internal body clock or the circadian rhythm. This 24-hour cycle is what causes us to wake feeling refreshed and grow increasingly tired throughout the day. When our internal body clock is thrown off, it can contribute to sleep disorders such as insomnia.
Once we fall asleep, there are four sleep stages that our body goes through repeatedly throughout the night. The first three stages are NREM or non-rapid eye movement sleep and the fourth is REM or rapid eye movement sleep. Stage 1 NREM occurs as you are falling to sleep and is considered light sleep. Your muscles begin to relax and your breathing, heart rate and eye movements slow down. Stage 2 is a deeper sleep, and you’ll continue to become more relaxed. During this stage, your eye movement will stop, and your body temperature decreases. Stage 3 is when your heart rate, breathing and brain activity will be the lowest and this stage contributes to us waking up feeling refreshed. During the REM stage, your eyes will move quickly under your eyelids and your breathing, heart rate and blood pressure increase. This is also the stage that you will typically dream. Your body will go through these four stages cyclically throughout the night and the NREM stages comprise about 75% of each cycle.
Creating Strong Sleep Habits
As with any healthy habit that you create and intend to follow, it’s important to plan to set yourself up for success. It will also take discipline to follow. Most adults should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep nightly. Now this is where the discipline comes in. To create your sleep schedule, it’s important to go to bed and wake at the same time daily. Yes, I know that there are some days that this may not be possible, or you may want to sleep in on the weekend. But, if you have discipline with your schedule, your body will benefit by getting used to its sleep schedule and it will become natural to sleep and wake within the schedule.
Another aspect of creating strong sleep habits is to create a sleep routine. This is a series of activities that you engage in to signal your mind that it’s time to slow down and prepare for sleep. Some ideas are dimming the lights in the room; turning on a sleep machine playing soothing sounds such as ocean waves, rain or white noise; taking a bath; meditation; practicing yoga resting poses; inhaling essential oils like lavender; reading; listening to a sleep story; and so on.
The last area that I want to discuss is the dreaded 3am wake up with your mind racing. It can be very difficult to fall back to sleep in these circumstances. When this happens, I keep a notebook and pen in my nightstand, so that I can write down my thoughts. This allows me to clear my mind and focus on sleep. I also like to inhale Lavender essential oil and apply it to the wrists and bottom of feet once again focusing my mind back to sleep.
Benefits of Developing Healthy Sleep Habits
- Reduce the risk of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity
- Lower stress
- Improve memory, concentration and productivity
- Maintain a strong immune system
- Improves our mood and social interaction
- Invigorate creativity
- Generally, feel better and energized each day
Sleep is one of the pillars of health and it’s important to prioritize it.
“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.”-Irish Proverb