During slow wave sleep the body relaxes, breathing becomes more regular, blood pressure falls, and the brain becomes less responsive to external stimuli, making it more difficult to wake up. This phase is critical for renewal and repair of the body. Researchers also believe that the body's immune system is repaired during this stage. If you place heavy physical demands on your body, slow wave sleep is what helps you recover.
REM sleep is to the mind what slow wave sleep is to the body. The brain is relatively quiet during most sleep phases, but during REM your brain dreams and reorganizes information. It clears out irrelevant information, boosts your memory by connecting the experiences of the last 24 hours to your previous experiences, and facilitates learning and neural growth. Your body temperature rises, your blood pressure increases, and your heart rate speeds up. Despite all this activity, your body hardly moves. Typically, the REM phase occurs in short bursts about 3-5 times per night.
“It’s important to have a balanced quality of deep and REM sleep.”
Here’s what you can do:
Craft a Routine with Power Down Bedtime Rituals
Train the brain to have a more positive relationship with sleep. Choose a bedtime that doesn’t fluctuate more than 2 hours on weekdays and weekends. Don’t overdo it with naps - keep them around 20 minutes and no later than 3pm.
1. Turn out the lights. When it gets dark outside, dim the lights in your house and reduce blue or full-spectrum light in your environment. F.lux, a free software app for your computer, makes the colour of your computer's display adapt to the time of day: warm at night and like sunlight during the day.
Winding down low-intensity exercises before bedtime can provide you with the health benefits of exercise without increasing your heart rate and body temperature. Activities such as stretching and meditation can help prepare your mind and body for relaxation and sleep. Avoid engaging in more strenuous exercise in the 90 minutes before sleep.
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3. Shower Before Bedtime. If you’re taking a shower to help you sleep, the temperature matters. Experts recommend that a lukewarm shower 60-90 minutes before bed is best. The steam acts as a natural decongestant, helping you breathe easier at night. This is particularly important to those living with asthma or allergies. The easier it is for you to breathe, the less likely you are to snore and disrupt the quality of your sleep.
4. Keep yourself warm. Most people sleep best in a cool room. The ideal range is usually between 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit (18-21 degrees Celsius).
5. Sound. A quiet space is key for good sleep. If peace and quiet is hard to come by, try controlling the bedroom noise by creating “white noise” with a fan or using ear plugs.
Daily Habits for Better Sleep
Get outside. Aim for at least 30 minutes of sun exposure each day.
Avoid caffeine. If you can't go without your morning cup of coffee, then a good rule of thumb to keep in mind is “No coffee after noon.” This gives caffeine enough time to wear off before bed time.
Avoid tobacco. Tobacco use has been linked to a long line of health issues, and poor sleep is another one on the list.
Design your bedroom to promote good sleep. Don't make your bedroom a multi-purpose room. Eliminate TVs, laptops, electronics, and clutter to avoid distraction. The ideal sleeping environment is dark, cool, and quiet.
The Nightcap: To drink or not to drink?
It is true that having an alcoholic drink before bed — a “night cap” — makes it easier to fall asleep. However, it reduces the quality of your sleep and delays the REM cycle. So it's possible that you'll wake up without feeling rested.
Some of these tips will be easier to include in your routine than others. However, if you stick with them, your chances of achieving restful sleep should significantly improve. Goodnight and good luck!