Thanks to the efforts of scientists and researchers, we are now better understanding the importance of slumber and learning how to sleep better. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: “Everyone needs sleep, but its biological purpose remains a mystery. Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body – from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance. Research shows that a chronic lack of sleep, or getting poor quality sleep, increases the risk of disorders including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.”
More and better sleep correlates to a longer and better quality of life. When we fully appreciate the importance of sleep in our lives, it becomes clear that maybe it would be beneficial to know a thing or two about sleep and how to sleep.
How to Sleep: The 4 Stages of Sleep
Stage 1: During stage 1 sleep, the brain reduces alpha waves and increases theta waves. Our eye movements also slow down. This is a very light stage of sleep. People in stage 1 sleep can be woken fairly easily.
Stage 2: We spend half our sleep time in this phase. Spindles — brief increases in brain wave frequency — characterize stage 2 sleep. This stage of sleep is specifically connected to our ability to absorb new learning. The density of these spindles denotes the amount of new learning we’re taking in. If you’re looking for a quick alertness boost in your day, sleep experts suggest taking a 10 to 20 minute power nap. This means grabbing a quick sleep that pretty much only makes it into stages 1 and 2 of sleep.
Stage 3: This stage is the beginning of deep sleep. In deep sleep, the brain begins producing slower delta waves. At this stage of sleep, it’s much harder to be awakened.
REM Sleep: Adults spend about 20 percent of sleep time in this last stage of sleep. Conversely, infants spend about 50 percent of their sleep time in REM. (The amount of REM sleep we need/engage in gradually decreases as we age). During REM sleep, our eyes move quickly in different directions. Meanwhile, our muscles become paralyzed, our breathing and heart rate become erratic, and vivid dreams can occur.
These four stages of sleep progress in a cycle as we’re sleeping and repeat themselves. Each stage has its vital role to play in keeping our brain and body healthy. Keep reading for some easy-to-follow how to sleep tips!
How to Sleep: 10 Helpful Tips
1. How to Sleep: Wear socks to bed.
Studies have shown the best physiological predictor for the rapid onset of sleep is how warm and/or cold your extremities are. Who knew toasty feet mattered so much?! So, if you want to fall asleep faster and sleep sounder, pull on pair of warm socks!
2. How to Sleep: Try peaceful paint.
Many scientific studies show color can have a significant psychological and physiological effect on us humans. One study showed red to be the most arousing color, followed by green, yellow, and lastly blue as the most relatively calming. But each color might have a distinctive and unique physical, mental, and emotional effect on you. Observe the way different colors make you feel, and then paint your bedroom a color that inspires feelings of tranquility and peace for you.
3. How to Sleep: Keep your bedroom quiet— but not too quiet.
We don’t want to hear sounds that could stir us when we’re trying to fall asleep or while we’re sleeping. And yet, if our sleeping environment is too quiet at the baseline level, it makes disruptive noises — noises that could puncture our state of rest (think car horn or dog bark) — more disruptive because there’s a bigger difference between the background sound level and the sound level of the disturbing peak noise. Consider having only intentional sound in your bedroom environment — sound that’s proven to relax body and mind, and also help mask disturbing noises. Check out playlists here.
4. How to Sleep: Try sleeping with two separate blankets.
Cover wars between you and your partner can seriously inhibit sleep quality … especially since temperature matters when it comes to the comfiest, most restful sleep. Being too hot or too cold can disturb your ability to go to sleep and/or stay asleep. If you and your partner struggle with blanket hogging, try having two separate blankets on your bed so you’re both winning. In a Huffington Post article on sleep advice, Robert Oexman, D.O., director of the Sleep to Live Institute advised: “Use only one fitted sheet to start … then make the top-of-bed with twin-size flat sheets and blankets to meet each person’s needs. If you’re worried about how that will look — no problem — you can cover this up with a single comforter when dressing the bed each morning.”
5. How to Sleep: Rise with the sun.
Our circadian rhythm — the natural sleep and wake cycle that tells our body when it’s time to rest and when it’s time to be active — largely runs on light exposure. Taking in more light makes our brain and body more alert, and darkness signifies it’s time to start winding down. Soaking in some good old fashioned sunshine early in the day can help let your body know that’s the time you want to be at your most vital. Then, as the day darkens, your body will naturally and gradually wind down for sleep. Your circadian rhythm will thank you for rising and shining!
6. How to Sleep: Don’t stew on worries.
The weight of anxiety can keep us from falling asleep. Many a sleepless night results from playing problem scenarios on mental repeat, with no solution in mind. Well, it might actually be a good idea to take the time to do a little two-part writing exercise before bed.
Step 1: Write down a list of your worries and/or perceived problems.
Step 2: Write down a possible solution for each problem.
A sleep science study published in the Journal of Behavioral Sleep Medicine tested two groups – one that wrote down their problems before bed and one that wrote down both their problems and possible solutions. The study found that the constructive worry group (the ones with solution ideas) had “decreased pre-sleep cognitive arousal relative to the worry group.”
7. How to Sleep: Find the right pillow for how you sleep.
When it comes down to it, the best pillow for you is one that feels the most comfortable. The pillow you choose should support your head, neck, and shoulders. If the pillow you are using now is no longer providing the support you need, it may be time to ditch it and get a new pillow. In order to figure out the best pillow for you, let’s talk sleep positions. While we tend to move around while we catch some zzz’s, these loose rules will help you determine what to look for while shopping.
Side sleepers: This type of sleeper may need a firmer and thicker pillow. Look for a pillow that will support your head, neck, and work with your shoulder comfortably. Placing a small pillow between your knees or thighs can also help you maintain the proper spinal alignment.
Stomach sleepers: A soft, thin pillow would be a good choice or no pillow underneath the head at all. If you prefer this position but suffer from lower back pain, try placing a pillow under your stomach and pelvis for support. People who sleep on their back may benefit from thinner pillows which help to limit stress on the neck.
Back sleepers: To keep your head and neck in alignment, go with a soft and flatter pillow. If you have neck pain, look for a pillow that provides extra support.
8. How to Sleep: Say ‘goodnight’ your electronic devices.
To keep from overstimulating your brain, turn all electronic devices off one hour before going to bed— that includes your television. The blue light that some devices emit might negatively affect your body’s internal clock. Checking emails and scrolling through social media can also up your stress level, which can make falling asleep even more difficult.
9. How to Sleep: Pick up a book.
Reading a book (non-electronic) in bed or in another room before calling it a night is another good strategy. Once you start feeling sleepy, it’s time to put your book down and go to sleep.
10. How to Sleep: Rethink your go-to sleep position.
Favor sleeping on your back? You may want to switch that up. Research has shown that this might not be the best position to sleep in, as it could lead to blocked airways, sleep apnea, and snoring. Try adopting sleeping on your side for more high-quality sleep.