For many people, whether they have a good day or a bad one is directly connected to whether they got high-quality sleep the previous night. Powering through on a day that you’re exhausted is like trying to drive your car a few hundred more miles while ignoring the oil light. But getting through the day when you’re well-rested is like driving a brand new car with all the bells and whistles. It’s a breeze. How do you ensure that you get a good night’s sleep? You start by understanding what happens when you sleep, how much you need, and what can help you get good sleep.
What happens when we sleep?
Despite spending roughly one-third of our lives asleep, scientists haven’t yet figured out exactly why we need to sleep. Throughout the evolution process, sleep has remained a constant, and is common to more than just humans. It’s clear it serves a significant purpose, but no one has been able to figure out the exact purpose yet. There are a few things that we do know result from sleep.
Sleep has two broad stages, REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). While being deprived of REM sleep doesn’t seem to have a significant impact, NREM sleep-deprivation leads to an inability to form declarative memories, such as learning to associate pairs of words. NREM sleep is also necessary for us to convert short-term memories into long-term memories. Finally, it’s also responsible for peak growth hormone release in the body, a factor that is critical to cell reproduction and repair.
We can resist sleep for a time, but eventually even in a life-threatening situation, we will give in and fall asleep if we’re deprived for long enough. It is as critical to our lives as food. In studies, rats have died without sleep after two to three weeks, which is the same amount of time that it takes to die of starvation.
How much sleep is enough?
Sleep needs vary by age, lifestyle and health, among other factors. Each person is an individual, and sleep guidelines are only a rough idea of where to start. Guidelines are based on age, with newborn recommendations of 14-17 hours of sleep per day, and senior adults recommended to get 7-8 hours. Some people are able to thrive on just 4-5 hours of sleep per night, while others need much more.
Without enough sleep, the consequences can be inevitable and harsh. It can make you less alert, impair your memory, create stress and conflict in your relationships with others, make you less likely to exercise or do other activities, and put you at risk for vehicle accidents. Those are just the short-term effects of too little sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation can cause bigger health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart failure or heart attack. It can also increase your weight and lower your sex drive.
It can also affect your looks, creating dark circles under your eyes and premature wrinkles. It also increases cortisol, which breaks down collagen, leading to less smooth skin.
What helps give you good sleep?
There are a variety of ways you can ensure good sleep. Getting some exercise during the day can be a great help. Avoiding sugar and caffeine can also help. Think about how you would try to prepare a small child for bed: you’d avoid sugar, getting them worked up and excited, bright lights and loud noises. Follow the same rules for yourself and you’ve got a good start on being ready for a good night’s sleep.
A healthy, nutritious, but not too heavy meal a few hours before bed can also help. Balanced meals in proper portion sizes can help ensure you get all the vitamins and minerals you need to be able to sleep well.
Warm baths to drop your body temperature, a cool, dark and quiet room in which to sleep, and avoiding TV or other electronic devices about an hour before you want to go to sleep can all also help you sleep more easily and deeply.
Another option is to consider a natural sleep supplement, of which there are many over the counter options that people have had great success in using. Some options include:
- Tryptophan and serotonin: Turkey, nuts and seeds can all help give you that sleepy feeling.
- Calcium: Calcium can combine with tryptophan to create melatonin, a natural sleep aid produced by the body. Calcium also works well with magnesium.
- Magnesium: Higher levels of magnesium can help induce deeper sleep.
- Essential oils: Bergamot and lavender oils, among others, help calm and soothe the body to ensure a quality night’s sleep.
- Chamomile tea: Chamomile tea has been used for hundreds of years to help people sleep.
- Melatonin: Produced naturally by the body, this is also available as a supplement to help increase your natural levels.
- Valerian: Valerian root has a sedative and anti-anxiety effect on the body, which can be hugely helpful with getting you to sleep if stress or anxiety is contributing to your wakefulness.
You can also look for products that combine several natural sleep aids, such as Nootrolux. Nootrolux combines 5-HTP, melatonin, GABA, magnesium and more to create a sleep supplement that will give you a restful, deep sleep and relax your muscles with no grogginess the next day. It’s designed to help you get the sleep you need, while also helping to regulate your body to ultimately help you sleep without needing any additional help at all.
Sleep supplements come in a variety of forms: pills, powders, oils, teas, and even topical sprays. What works for one person doesn’t always work for another, so it’s important to try a variety of options, and even the same supplement in a different form to see what works best for you.
Considering that we spend 25 years of our lives asleep, we all want the same thing: a quality, restful sleep, instead of tossing and turning with no restoration. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. The important thing is making sure that the one-third of your life spent asleep leaves you feeling rested, refreshed, and ready to take on your life.