Sleep is an important part of your overall health and quality of life. How well you sleep affects how well you feel when you’re awake.
Both the length and quality of your sleep are important. Most people spend nearly a third of their lives sleeping, and this is necessary for good productivity and health.
Too little or too much sleep can have adverse health effects and impact your quality of life. Plus, some chronic conditions that cause altered sleep patterns may get worse from lack of sleep, which could result in a shortened life expectancy.
But it is possible to get your sleep back on track or improve the quality of sleep you get each night. Read on for more about the benefits of sleep, sleep disorders, and ways to get a better sleep.
Sleep is important. When you’re asleep, your body replenishes and repairs itself, both mentally and physically. It needs this time to:
- repair muscles
- consolidate memories
- release hormones that maintain growth and digestion
Good-quality sleep helps:
- control your appetite
- support your immune system
- promote good overall health
Many adults are chronically sleep-deprived from going to bed too late or waking up too early.
Getting too little high-quality sleep can leave you feeling fatigued, unable to concentrate, and mentally foggy. It can also raise your risk of accidental injury and certain health conditions.
The amount of sleep you need depends on your age. Children and teens generally need more sleep than adults.
For most adults, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Getting too little or too much (typically defined as more than 10 hours per night on most nights) can lead to health concerns.
Your sleep cycle can be broken into two main types of sleep: nonrapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) stages.
NREM stages typically make up
NREM sleep is divided into three substages:
- stage N1
- stage N2
- stage N3
Older research had identified four stages of NREM sleep; however, experts currently combine the third NREM stage and the former fourth stage as stage N3.
Here’s more about the three NREM stages:
- Stage N1. This is the typical transition from wakefulness to sleep. Is the lightest stage of sleep; people awakened from it usually don’t realize they were actually asleep. Stage N1 sleep typically accounts for 5 to 10 percent or less of the total sleep time in young adults
- Stage N2. This generally comprises the largest percentage of total sleep time in middle-age adults, typically 45 to 55 percent of the night
- Stage N3. This is frequently referred to as “deep sleep” or “slow wave sleep.” During N3 sleep, blood flow to your muscles increases, growth hormones are released, and tissues can repair themselves. Stage N3 typically accounts for 10 to 20 percent of the total sleep time in young to middle-age adults and decreases with age. It tends to occur more in the first half of the night, particularly at the beginning of the night, and it’s often more difficult to arouse sleepers from, compared with stages N1 and N2.
REM sleep has typically been associated with vivid dreaming, based on early studies in which patients were awoken out of REM sleep. REM sleep typically accounts for less than a quarter of total sleep time and plays an important role in memory consolidation.
Some people have sleep disorders that make it difficult to get good a quantity and quality of sleep. Sleep disorders include:
- sleep apnea
- circadian rhythm disorders
Insomnia is a common condition characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep or waking up too early.
You may experience insomnia for several reasons. Common causes include:
- an inconsistent sleep schedule
- overall poor “sleep hygiene” (discussed below)
Insomnia may also be an underlying component of depression or generalized anxiety, which often requires treatment.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
OSA, often referred to as sleep apnea, occurs when your airways briefly collapse while you’re sleeping. This interrupts (or obstructs) your breathing.
OSA can potentially happen multiple times per night. It can wake you up suddenly and cause stress, resulting in poor sleep, though some people aren’t aware they’re waking up during the night.
Symptoms may include:
Sleep apnea can have adverse effects on your long-term health, so it’s important to contact a doctor if you think you’re experiencing OSA.
Circadian rhythm disorders
Circadian rhythm disorders occur when your sleep schedule becomes irregular. The most common type of circadian rhythm sleep disorder is called “shift work disorder” or “jet lag”
People who work during the night are at risk of this condition. It occurs when you feel tired at night while you’re working, but you have difficulty sleeping during the day when you’re not working.
Jet lag can also disrupt your sleep rhythms.
Parasomnia is a catchall term for strange and unusual behaviors that people experience prior to falling asleep, while asleep, or during the arousal period between sleep and wakefulness. These behaviors vary considerably in terms of characteristics, severity, and frequency.
- talking during sleep
- grinding your teeth during sleep
- having nightmares
Sleeping well is necessary for good health. But for many people, it’s hard to do. Try these simple strategies to enjoy better quality sleep.
Get treatment for sleep disorders
If you suspect you have insomnia, sleep apnea, or another sleep disorder, talk with your doctor. Many sleep disorders can be managed through lifestyle changes or other treatments.
For example, your doctor may advise you to:
- Change your sleep environment or habits.
- Practice meditation or other relaxation strategies.
- Take prescription medications.
- Undergo a sleep study, known as a polysomnogram, to further evaluate the cause of your sleep disturbance.
OSA can be treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
This is a noninvasive ventilator that helps keep your airways open while you sleep. You’ll wear a mask that allows pressured air to be delivered to your airways.
Practice healthy sleep hygiene
Healthy sleep habits can help you fall asleep, stay asleep, or enjoy better quality sleep.
For example, a consistent sleep schedule is important. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same times each day, even on weekends and holidays.
Making your bedroom more sleep-appropriate and comfortable can also help. Take steps to keep it dark, cool, comfortable, and quiet, such as the following:
- Consider limiting indoor sources of light, buying dark curtains, and using earplugs.
- Update your mattress, pillows, and bedding as needed.
- Limit use of screens (TV, phone, tablet, or computer) 30 to 60 minutes before sleep.
Developing a pre-sleep routine can also help prepare your body and mind for sleep. This routine should include relaxing activities, such as:
- taking a warm bath
- drinking herbal tea
- reading a calming book
- listening to calming music
- writing in a journal
- practicing restorative yoga
Avoid loud noises, bright lights, glowing computer screens, and other stimulating things before bedtime.
Since stress often causes sleep deprivation, efforts to reduce stress are also important. For example, consider:
- simplifying your lifestyle
- setting priorities
- delegating tasks
- taking regular breaks
Prioritize self-care by eating a well-balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and making time for activities you enjoy.
It may also help to:
- Avoid caffeine, especially late in the day.
- Avoid alcohol, which can disrupt sleep stages.
- Don’t drink too many liquids at night to lessen your need for bathroom trips.
- Avoid exercise late in the day.
- Avoid daytime naps, or limit them to 30 minutes or fewer.
If these lifestyle changes don’t help you get the sleep you need, talk with a healthcare professional.
You may have an underlying health condition that’s keeping you awake at night. A doctor can recommend next steps and strategies to improve your sleep.