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Rest. Recharge. Renew.

By Addie Strickland

Life is busy and demanding of our time. The placement or management of our time is arguably one of the most important factors in staying healthy. To fit everything into our daily lives, sleep is often sacrificed—but what else are we sacrificing when we give up sleep? A good night’s rest is vital to our mental and physical health. Our sleep habits are directly related to our immune system, which should encourage us to take our sleep more seriously. It is the first and most natural defense against infections and inflammation.

Throughout a lifetime, a person’s sleep schedule will change depending on the physical need for it. The human body cycles through four stages of sleep throughout the night. The first three stages are considered “non-rapid eye movement” (NREM), and the fourth is “rapid eye movement” (REM). Non-rapid eye movement is divided into three subcategories: N1, N2, and N3. Each stage has a unique function in repairing and rebuilding the brain and body. Your body cycles through all four stages multiple times during the night. A full cycle takes about ninety minutes to complete.

During NREM sleep, your bodily functions begin to slow down to allow the restorative process to begin. The first stage of NREM is the transitionary period between wakefulness and sleep. This is the stage when you start to nod off. Your heart rate, breathing, and brain waves begin to slow. Stage one usually only lasts about five minutes, then your body enters N2; in this stage, your body continues to slow the heartbeat, breathing, and eye movements, but your body temperature also drops in this stage. Most of your sleep is spent in N2. Deep sleep is considered N3; this is when your heart rate and all muscle activity are at their lowest, and experts consider this stage to be the most critical for regenerating your brain and body. NREM stage three allows you to feel rested and refreshed the next day.

The enigma of sleep is puzzling because it is different for everyone, but there is an underlying outline we can all follow.

After cycling through the three NREM stages, the body enters REM sleep, a state in which your brain activity increases as if you were awake, but the body remains immobile. In REM, your eyes move rapidly, and brain activity lights up, causing you to dream. During the deep sleep of N3 and REM, the replenishing process begins, and the release of growth hormones allows your body to repair itself. A number of hormones are released while we sleep, each with different functions necessary for our awake time. For example, when we sleep, the body produces proteins called cytokines that are responsible for targeting infections and activating the immune system.

The time we spend asleep changes in accordance with our needs. An infant usually sleeps sixteen to eighteen hours per day, and this number gradually decreases over time to where adults average seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Children’s bodies require sleep to grow, physically and mentally. To maintain optimal health, good sleep habits are crucial. One could say sleep is the best medicine, so when we busy ourselves with work or entertainment and ignore sleep, we are robbing ourselves of health, and that sleep debt is hard to pay back. Catching up on sleep seems like the norm on weekends, but those weekday sleep cuts can cost you in the long run in areas such as your blood pressure, metabolism, energy levels, and overall resilience to infections. It is a myth that your body adjusts to sleep deprivation; however, it is possible that your body stabilizes despite the effects of prolonged sleep debt. Still, that doesn’t mean the body is firing on all cylinders. A prolonged case of sleep deprivation can lead to complications with mental health, the cardiovascular system, the immune system, and metabolism.

Improving your sleep quality is a worthy investment for your health that most people will enjoy working on. A few changes to your daily routine can positively impact the length and quality of sleep you get each night. Here are a few tips to add (and some things to avoid) to your nighttime routine:

Establish a sleep schedule.

Decide on a bedtime and wake-up time that will allow you to get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. It’s easy to get wrapped up in a good movie and sacrifice your sleep, but consistency in a sleep schedule will ultimately boost your mood and health. When establishing a routine, use gradual adjustments because change will not happen (metaphorically) overnight.

Cultivate a good sleep environment.

Your bedroom, or more importantly, your bed, should be associated with rest. Exclusively use your bed for sleep and sex, and save work and movies for another room. This will create a link in your brain between your bed and sleep. Other factors influencing sleep are noises, electronics, bedding, lighting, temperature, and aroma. All of these play into sleep but do not singularly determine your sleep quality. Sound machines help drown out background noise during sleep to promote better rest. The blue light from your phone and other electronics trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime, suppressing melatonin production. A lower bedroom temperature helps your body feel more drowsy. Make your bedroom, especially your bed, a sleep oasis.

Science proves that sleep and health are directly related, so it is a component of your overall wellness that can be improved from home

Be conscious of your diet.

Going to bed hungry or stuffed will cause disruptions in your sleep. Ideally, you shouldn’t eat for at least an hour or two before bed. Also, use caution when consuming nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine. The stimulating effects of nicotine and caffeine can take hours to wear off, whereas alcohol can make you seem sleepy, but its effects are felt throughout the night as the body is not able to rest like it should because it’s breaking down the alcohol. If you get hungry right before bedtime, go for healthy snacks like oatmeal, yogurt, or nuts that naturally boost your melatonin level.

Create a GRWM for bed routine.

On social media, GRWM stands for “get ready with me.” Well, now we’re getting ready for bed! Make a habit of taking a shower or bath, brushing your teeth, washing your face, changing into pajamas, listening to soothing music, etcetera. This routine will establish a wind-down rhythm that your brain and body will eventually associate with sleep. Try including mindfulness practices and breathing exercises, as they are great ways to relax the body and quiet the mind.

Write out your thoughts.

Why is it that we think of everything we need to do as soon as we lie down? If this happens to you, grab a journal and jot down your thoughts or make yourself a to-do list for the next day. Journaling is good for your mental health, relieving stress and helping you remember those great ideas. Practice it while enjoying a cup of chamomile tea, and let your thoughts flow.

The enigma of sleep is puzzling because it is different for everyone, but there is an underlying outline we can all follow. Science proves that sleep and health are directly related, so it is a component of your overall wellness that can be improved from home—literally from your bedroom. By breaking down sleep myths and learning from others, the healthiest version of ourselves becomes available. Understanding the function and importance of sleep allows for mindful practices to be included in our daily routines. Do yourself a favor and get some sleep!

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