Good Night Sleep: Why REM Sleep Is Important
Sleep is our business at Slumberland, so of course we are strong proponents of this nightly ritual. But for many people, sleep is a cause of stress. Those with insomnia begin to fret as the clock inches toward bedtime. Others find sleep an annoyance—an activity that keeps them from completing tasks.
There are many reasons to develop a healthy relationship with sleep—and some things you can do if you’re not getting a good night’s rest. If the “zzzz’s” elude you, read on. We’ll talk about:
Sleep plays a major role in your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. In short: Sleep affects everything. Without proper sleep habits, you are at risk for a variety of diseases, and your relationships can suffer, as well as your work and daily tasks. If you are reluctant to address poor sleeping patterns or insomnia, consider these consequences.
- Illness and Disease Failure to get enough sleep or inconsistent sleeping habits puts you at risk for major illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Without sleep, the body is put in a state of high alert, which increases the production of stress hormones and drives up blood pressure—a major cause of heart attacks and strokes. Additionally, sleep-deprived people can develop issues regulating their blood pressure, which puts them at an increased risk for diabetes.
- Obesity Sleep’s influence on weight is so profound, it deserves its own category. People between the ages of 32 and 49 who sleep less than seven hours per night have a much higher chance of becoming obese. Studies have shown that those who don’t get adequate sleep put on 33 or more pounds over the course of 16 years and have a higher body mass index than those who consistently sleep for seven hours or more per night. If you’re trying to lose weight, experts say sleep is more important than diet and exercise. Without consistent, quality sleep, your metabolism cannot function properly.
- Emotional Imbalance If your mom ever cut you off from sleepovers with your friends because you came home with “a bad attitude,” you know what we mean here. Lack of sleep triggers stress and anger. It can also lead to anxiety and depression.
- Reduced Cognitive Function Another no-brainer (no pun intended): Without sleep, your brain can’t function properly. A University of Pennsylvania study found that participants who slept a mere 4–6 hours per night for 14 consecutive nights showed significant deficits in cognitive performance. On a positive note, researchers think that sleep helps improve the memory. While you sleep your brain goes to work, processing the day’s learning into memory and reenergizing the body as a whole. Did you know: If you stay awake for 17 hours straight, your decrease in overall performance (mental, physical, and emotional) is equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.05%.
If you are an insomniac or suffer from inconsistent sleep quality there are things you can do to make sleep easier. Many of them are actually fun and will hopefully develop into a routine that you look forward to each day.
Turn your bedroom into a retreat.
Have you ever had a spa service? Spa treatment rooms are set up for ultimate repose: they are simply furnished; the lights are dimmed; calm, instrumental music generally plays; and a soft scent (for example lavender) may even waft throughout the room. Such measures are taken to ensure that clients relax. Your bedroom should operate similarly.
- Be sure you have a mattress that supports your body type and sleep situation. The correct mattress can make a huge difference in improving your sleep quality and comfort. Lower back pain and other body aches are much more prominent for those sleeping on poor quality and/or older beds.
- Set the thermostat at around 67 degrees, the ideal temperature for a bedroom. If you feel cold, add a blanket instead of turning up the heat.
- Keep your bedroom clean and organized. A cluttered environment can distract from a good night’s rest. Remove televisions and computers from the room.
- Your bedroom should be completely dark at night with the lights off. Consider investing in blackout drapes that block out more light than regular curtains.
- Consider purchasing a white-noise maker. They not only block out external sounds, but also provide your brain with appropriate stimulus. If your brain does not have stimulus, it will create its own and potentially wake you up with the slightest sounds—a creaking floorboard or a refrigerator hum.
- Your bed should be used only for sleeping so it’s good practice to have a chair in your bedroom. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and read in your chair until you feel tired.
- Still can’t sleep? Keep a pen and notepad on your nightstand. Write down any concerns or “to-dos” that are preventing you from sleep. This act of capturing the worry or task can reduce stress.
Set a bedtime schedule and routine.
Experts say that the optimal sleep schedule is from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., which gives one eight hours of sleep per night—an ideal amount for adults. If 10 p.m.–6 a.m. doesn’t work with your schedule, it’s OK to adjust the times on either end. Just be sure to move toward a schedule that will provide you with approximately eight hours of sleep and be consistent. Always go to bed and get up at the same time every day—even on weekends and holidays. You may also want to create a sleep ritual. Sleep rituals help set the mood for sleep. Again, consistency is key. Do the same things every night before bed. What kind of things? Sleepy-time things.
- Take a warm bath and add some lavender essential oil. The scent of lavender is said to promote sleep.
- Dim the lights and put on soothing music.
- Read a book or engage in a quiet, repetitive activity like knitting or a game of solitaire.
- NOTE: Avoid including television or computer time in your routine. Researchers think the screen time can interfere with sleep.
Get your exercise.
If you wear yourself out during the day, you’ll be more tired at night. Even if concerns weigh heavy on your mind, you can’t help but sleep if your body needs it. It’s a bit of a catch-22, however. If you haven’t been sleeping well at night, you’re tired during the day, and you may not want to exercise. But try to work through it.
- Start simply: Park your car in the parking spot furthest from the entrance; take the stairs instead of the elevator; walk around the block one or two times. Small steps such as these are more likely to become part of your regular routine and will inspire you to build up to more exercise.
- Late-afternoon exercise will promote a more restful sleep. In the few hours leading up to bedtime, do gentle stretching exercises versus intensive cardio, which could energize you.
- If you have a bad night’s sleep, resist the urge to nap the next day. Napping will throw off your sleep schedule. In fact, you should increase your exercise on the day after poor sleep.
Watch what you eat.
Like sleep and exercise, diet affects everything. Up your odds for a good night’s rest by eating healthy meals at the right times.
- Avoid going to bed too hungry or too full. Either case might distract you from sleep. Try having your largest meal at lunch instead of dinner, and stop eating two to three hours before bedtime to ensure that your meal is properly digested.
- It’s pretty obvious, but cut off all caffeine after noon and don’t drink alcohol before bed. While alcohol may initially make you drowsy, it leads to a fragmented sleep.
- It’s not an old wives tale: Warm milk before bed actually does promote sleep. Milk contains the amino acid tryptophan, which simulates the brain chemical serotonin, which, in turn, induces sleep.
Know when to call a doctor.
If insomnia persists see a doctor. He or she can get to the underlying cause of your sleeplessness and prescribe the appropriate course of action. There’s no shame in saying “uncle!” especially when precious sleep is on the line.
Are you a back sleeper, a side sleeper, or a stomach sleeper? Everyone has a go-to sleep position, which affects the type of mattress that will allow us optimal sleep. If you’re sleeping on the wrong mattress for your body type and sleep position, you may toss and turn at night and wake up with aches and pains. But there are some things you can do to improve your sleep quality no matter what side of your body you sleep on. Don’t forget that a supportive pillow is also essential to a good night’s sleep.
Position 1: Dead Man’s Float
In this position, the sleeper is on his/her stomach, with the head turned to the side, and arms beneath the pillow—similar to the dead man’s float in swimming.
- The Problem: Stomach sleepers tend to hyper-flex the neck and exert pressure on the nerves along the underside of the arms, causing pins and needles when you wake up in the morning. Additionally, the body’s weight compresses the lungs, preventing deep breathing.
- The Fix: It sounds abnormal, but don’t use a head pillow. Try raising your entire body by sleeping on a long body pillow, or place a head pillow under your hips. It is also recommended that stomach sleepers purchase a firmer mattress.
Position 2: The Soldier
Like a little tin soldier, this sleeper sleeps flat on his or her back.
- The Problem: Back sleepers are prone to snoring. The position also causes one’s tongue to fall inwards and block the breathing tube.
- The Fix: Place a pillow under your knees and another small pillow under your lower back. If you suffer from sleep apnea (a life-threatening sleep disorder that causes brief episodes of breathlessness), and also are a back sleeper, consider purchasing an Adjustable Lifestyle Power Base foundation This gives you the ability to elevate your upper and lower body. This is also recommended for those people with heart failure, certain respiratory diseases, glaucoma, or gastro-esophageal disease, lower back pain, acid reflux and snoring.
Position 3: Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping beauties sleep on their sides with the knees bent, the back slightly curled, and the arms folded.
- The Problem: None! This is one of the healthiest positions in which to sleep, as it complements the natural curvature of the spine.
- The Fix: To enhance your sleep, put a pillow between your legs to reduce stress on your hips, back and knees. An Adjustable Lifestyle Power Base foundation could also help reduce stress on your hips, back and knees.