The Why, What, and How of Sleep
Sleep has a direct impact on how we feel — the next day and over time. The morning after a poor night’s rest, you likely feel irritable or groggy. Maybe you yawn more throughout the day. Maybe you have less energy to do the things you love. When you get a good night’s sleep, the opposite is true: you have energy to burn, can think clearly, and may be in a better mood.
Still, what happens when we sleep is a bit of mystery — one that scientists are continually pulling apart to learn more about sleep’s role in our health. Here’s what we know so far:
Why Do We Sleep?
Did you know that the average person spends a third of their life asleep? It seems strange to put so much time into doing seemingly nothing, but, in fact, your body is actually doing a lot.
The main purpose of sleep is restoration: it’s time for your brain to restore itself so that you can think clearly the next day. Accumulating metabolic waste is a normal process, but it’s important to remove as much as possible because it helps to maintain a full sense of well-being - physically and emotionally. This cleansing occurs two times faster during sleep than waking hours.
Sleep also allows for memory consolidation. When you sleep, your brain processes memories (this is why we dream). Without enough sleep, your brain cannot do this process efficiently, which could weaken your long-term and short-term memory.
Last but not least, sleep supports a healthy metabolism. A good night’s rest is fundamental to maximising our body’s full health.
Health is at the foundation of why we sleep. It impacts not only our mental health but also our physical well-being. Ensuring we are sleeping well at night is essential to our well-being.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
The amount of sleep a person needs can be subjective, as it can vary by age and by individual. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, adults need anywhere from 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Babies, children, and teens require more sleep because their bodies are growing and changing quickly. Sleep needs may decrease in individuals over 65 years old.
In addition to these general guidelines, take stock of your own experience with sleep. For example:
- Do you fall asleep quickly (within 20 minutes of lying down)?
- Do you stay asleep through most of the night?
- Do you feel focused during the day?
- Do you have enough natural energy during the day without the help of caffeine?
If you answered yes to most or all of these questions, you’re likely getting enough sleep. If you answered no to most or all of them, you may need to adjust your sleep routine.
What Science Says About Our Sleep Cycle
When you drift off to sleep at night, there’s a lot that goes on in your mind and body after you close your eyes. We go through sleep cycles, or patterns, where our level of sleep fluctuates throughout the night.
Each cycle consists of three phases: light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep (this is when you dream).
Light sleep is the initial transition between being awake and falling asleep. During this phase, your heartbeat and breathing rate become slower. Your muscles begin to relax.
During the deep sleep stage, your body’s activities drop to their lowest levels.
About 90 minutes after you begin your light sleep stage, you’ll enter REM sleep, marked by rapid eye movements that accompany dreaming. Brain waves become more active during this phase after having slowed down during deep sleep. Your breathing and heart rate also increase, leading up to the end of one cycle and the start of another.
In total, you’ll go through about five sleep cycles per night, which may last anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes each.
How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep
So now we know why getting better sleep is so important for our well-being. Remember these top tips to help you get a more consistent dreamy night’s sleep:
Reduce Screen Time
The blue light from devices can interfere with your body’s natural sleep/wake rhythm. Try to power down at least two hours before bed.
Try Relaxation Techniques
Many sleep disorders are caused by stress. Try listening to soothing music, meditating, or doing yoga before bed to wind down.
Make Your Bed More Comfortable
Quality sleep starts with the right bedding and a bed that's as inviting as a warm embrace. Try investing in luxury bed sheets, doona cover, and pillowcases made from softer, higher quality materials. Remember, you’re worth it!
Or start with Bedsmade sheets to come home to the hug of a hotel-made bed, every time. Along with a few simple changes to your sleep routine you’ll be on your way to getting a better night’s rest!