Better Sleep Habits
Creating better sleep habits is necessary for maintaining optimum health. While you sleep, your body increases cell production and reduces the breakdown of proteins. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) adds that cell growth and repair require proteins. In addition, deep sleep aids in maintaining emotional health and social functioning.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) says sleep requirements change depending on age and individual needs. Sleep debt and basal sleep need are two key factors in determining how much sleep you should get. Sleep debt refers to the total amount of sleep you’ve lost due to poor habits and other situations that keep you awake. Basal sleep need refers to the regular amount of sleep your body requires to stay healthy and perform at its best. The NSF warns that even obtaining the optimal basal sleep need for your body may leave you feeling tired if you have an accumulation of sleep debt. While your personal requirements may vary, in general, adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep daily.
The sleep cycle consists of five stages. Stage one is the lightest phase, during which muscle activity decreases and hypnic myoclonia–the combination of muscle contractions and the feeling of falling–occurs. Stage two is typically the longest phase of sleep. During this period, brain waves slow, and eye movements cease. Sleep spindles, which are brief bursts of rapid brain waves, occur, according to NINDS. Delta waves occur during stage three sleep. These brain waves are very slow and may alternate with brain waves that are faster. As the sleep cycle progresses into stage four, delta waves take over. Deep sleep occurs during the fourth and third stages. REM, or rapid eye movement, is the fifth and final stage of the sleep cycle, according to NINDS. REM sleep brings with it shallow and irregular breathing patterns, an increased heart and blood pressure rate, and temporary paralysis in the limbs. Dreaming occurs during REM sleep. Unless sleep is interrupted, you return to stage one after REM and cycle back through each of the sleep stages and into REM again. The entire sleep cycle, from stage one through REM, generally takes between 90 and 110 minutes, according to NINDS.
Poor Sleep Habits
Poor sleep habits can lower your quality of life and lead to serious repercussions for your health. Not getting enough sleep leads to a higher risk of heart problems, diabetes, poor concentration and obesity, according to the NSF. Lack of sleep may also lead to complications with your immune and nervous systems. In cases of long-term sleep deprivation, mood swings and hallucinations occur. NINDS warns that the neural connections your brain uses during sleep may deteriorate from lack of activity, and neurons may malfunction from energy depletion if you do not get enough sleep. A study published in a 2002 edition of the Archives of General Psychiatry suggests that sleeping too much can also damage your health. The study found that people who slept in excess of 7.5 hours had a greater mortality hazard (risk of dying) and that this hazard increased with longer durations of sleep.
Improving Your Sleep
NINDS lists several tips for better sleep habits. Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, and finding a way to relax–such as reading or taking a warm bath–before bed may help. A habit of going to sleep at the same time each night and rising at the same time each morning may reduce insomnia and lead to a better quality of sleep. A habit of sleeping until the sun rises and getting an hour of exposure to morning sunlight will help reset your biological clock. The NSF suggests getting regular exercise and eating no later than two to three hours before you go to bed.
Several disorders can interfere with your sleep habits. The National Center on Sleep Disorders Research divides them into three categories: sleep restriction, which affects people who adhere to specific work schedules, school schedules or lifestyles; primary sleep disorders, which includes more than 70 disorders; and secondary disorders, in which pain or disease prevents normal sleep habits. NINDS lists narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea and insomnia as the most common disorders.