Good sleep is about more than just feeling well-rested — it’s foundational to your overall wellness. From healthy brain activity and blood pressure to good immunity and memory, every major body system is affected by how much sleep you get and the quality of those restful hours.
What Does Healthy Sleep Look Like?
Sleep is a dynamic process, with a complex architecture of cycles and rhythms, regulated by multiple parts of the brain and several different hormones.
Your need to sleep is determined by how long you’ve been awake. You’ll naturally feel more sleepier after a full day of activity because your body’s sleep drive(sleep-wake homeostasis) and biological clock(circadian rhythm) are self-regulated to require sleep at regular intervals — the longer you’ve been without sleep, or without enough good sleep, the more your body will start demanding it. Your circadian alerting system is also influenced by light exposure, setting up a typical daytime wakefulness and nighttime sleep schedule.
As you doze off, your body starts reducing it’s energy usage. Breathing and heart rate both slow, muscles relax and body temperature lowers. As you move into deep sleep, brain activity slows noticeably. It’s likely that the body does significant work to recuperate in this stage, clearing and sorting and filing away the activity from the day. These initial sleep stages can take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes to cycle though.
Once you’ve reached deep sleep, your body moves into REM(rapid eye movement) sleep. While most of the rest of your body experiences temporary paralysis, your brain rapidly picks up for a burst of activity and some intense dreaming. While we don’t know the exact mechanisms of biophysical recovery, REM sleep is essential for mental wellness and establishing the neural connections that affect memory and learning. REM should make up more and more of each sleep cycle throughout the night.
Everyone’s sleep cycles are different, so the first step on the path to healthy sleep is taking the guesswork out of what’s happening when you sleep. By charting the biometrics like your heart rate, your oxygen saturation levels and breath pattern, a sleep study can help to clearly identify any irregularities or imbalances that could be affecting the duration and quality of your rest.
A range of daily habits and experiences can affect your body’s natural sleep rhythms.
Stress, hunger, and alcohol and caffeine intake can influence your sleep drive, disrupting the way your body normally manages its need for sleep by prolonging wakeful hours or increasing metabolic function too close to bedtime.
Your sleep environment plays a critical role in your circadian rhythm. Too much light, particularly blue light, case repress your body’s natural production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Blue light is emitted by electronics, so keeping bedtime screen-free is important to feeling sleepy.
Addressing chronic stressors in your life, making incremental changes to your diet and exercise levels, and optimizing your sleep environment are all great ways to actively start taking control of your sleep health.
Sometimes, small changes in routines or habits can make a dramatic difference in the way that you sleep. Our trained clinicians can help you to identify healthy practices that are tailored to your lifestyle, your work and family schedule, and your own natural body clock.