This post was written by Dr. Temitope Okuwoga and edited by Lani Sodunke.
Sleep is a natural rest state of the body essential for human survival, and it is just as important as food and water. It is a state of altered consciousness characterized by reduced muscle activity, decreased sensitivity, and interaction with the environment. Although consciousness is altered, sleep is not a state of coma, which is a state of unconsciousness. Sleep allows the body to recharge, making it better and more alert, ready for when we wake up. Sleep is controlled by the hypothalamus, a peanut-sized gland in the middle of the brain.
How much sleep do we need?
It is essential that we sleep well at night and for the right amount of time.
On average, infants need about 15 hours of sleep per day, toddlers need about 13 hours of sleep per day, school children need about 11 hours of sleep per day, teenagers about 9-10 hours of sleep per day, while adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per day.
Importance of sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep has a direct and positive impact on our physical health, and it boosts our energy and increases productivity throughout the day. Longer sleep has been associated with good exercise motivation and performance, which in turn improves physical health.
1. Sleep has a vital function on the body
During the wakeful hours of the day, many metabolic end products are produced from the various activities performed by the body. These toxic metabolic end products are removed at a faster rate while we sleep, protecting the body.
2. Sleep helps our memory and cognition
Long-term memory is consolidated during sleep, and it increases the recall of previous knowledge and experiences. With sleep deprivation, attention, concentration, and performance during the day are negatively affected. i.e. without enough sleep, the brain does not function at a maximum level.
3. Good sleep prevents excess weight gain
One way this is achieved is by an increased motivation to exercise. Also, it has been noticed that poor sleep causes an inadequate regulation of appetite, leading to the tendency to eat more calories. Studies have shown that obesity from childhood to adulthood has been linked with sleeping for short hours.
4. Sleep improves emotional balance, mood, and socialization
Studies have shown that poor sleep affects our ability to recognize or make emotional expressions appropriately.
5. Good sleep improves our mental health
Many mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and suicide have been linked with poor sleep. Sleep disorders like insomnia can lead to depression and other mental health problems.
Stages of sleep
There are two stages of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. The rapid eye movement sleep is so-called due to the movement of the eyes rapidly from side to side behind closed eyelids as we sleep.
- Non-REM sleep occurs first and has three stages, while REM sleep occurs later. These stages of sleep are repeated several times throughout the night, and different electrical activities occur within the brain in each stage. The body’s response to each stage of sleep also differs. In non-REM sleep, the heartbeat and breathing slows down, and the muscles continue to relax further as the sleep gets deeper, making us sleep for longer hours.
- In REM sleep, the body responds near waking levels; heart rate and breathing become faster and irregular. Most dreams happen in REM sleep. Here, the muscles are temporarily paralyzed, which prevents us from acting on what happens in our dreams.
What you can do to sleep well at night
1. Maintain your sleep schedule
Keep a regular sleep-wake cycle by going to bed and getting up from bed at the same time every day. You can do this by setting alarms or wearing a fitness band that reminds you of your bedtime and when to get up. This helps to maintain further your body’s internal clock (or circadian rhythm).
2. Develop a healthy daytime routine
Preparation for good sleep at night starts during the daytime.
- Begin your day with a healthy breakfast – This helps to keep your blood sugar at reasonable levels and reduce stress during the day, making you feel less tired.
- Exercise frequently – Ensure at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. This keeps your body feeling refreshed and makes you less likely to get tired.
- Take naps if needed – You must limit your naps between 10 to 30 minutes to avoid disrupting your sleep schedule at night.
3. Practice good sleep hygiene
Actions you can take at night to improve sleep include:
- Eating your last meal three hours before bed
- Have a warm or cold bath every night, depending on your preference
- Make sure your room has an ambient/cool temperature
- Make sure your bed is well laid without creases
- Put away your phone and turn off your television to avoid distractions
- Turn off the lights or ensure the light in the room is dim
- Close your eyes for 10-30 minutes till you fall asleep
If you still cannot sleep, stand up and take a walk In the house for about 10 minutes, or read a book beside your bed. Afterward, lay on your back and focus on your breathing. Putting one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach, notice the rise and fall as you breathe deeply and slowly. This has been shown to have relaxing effects on the mind and body and eventually lead to sleep.
It would help if you focused more on relaxation when having trouble sleeping at night because worrying about not sleeping or forcefully trying to sleep may reduce your chances of falling asleep.
If you notice other worrying thoughts interfering with your sleep, get a notepad beside your bed to write them down and go back to lying down.
The importance of good sleep cannot be over-emphasized. If the quality of our sleep can affect our lives, we must take control of it. You know you are having enough sleep at night when you:
- Are not having worrying thoughts about not sleeping well at night
- Can maintain long hours of sleep
- Wake up feeling refreshed, physically and mentally alert
- Can carry out ordinary daily activities without getting repeatedly tired.
If you still have difficulty sleeping after applying the tips above, consult a doctor at CribMD.