Improving Sleep: A Guide

The average person spends about one-third of their entire lifetime sleeping. In college, we often give up precious sleep for other, not so noble causes (i.e. pulling an all nighter for a big exam or red Solo cups), but it’s frustrating when you actually want to go to sleep and your mind won’t stop running. What’s a girl to do when face masks and cucumbers won’t work anymore? 

Sleeping can bring so many questions as to why it even happens, how much is enough, and why so much of our time is devoted to simply resting. Here, we’re going to dive into some facts and myths about catching z’s and what you can do to ensure that your next night’s sleep is ideal.

  1. 1. How Much Sleep is Enough?

    white pillows and white bedding

    A common question that many people have about sleep is how much we really need. In reality, multiple factors tend to affect the amount of sleep each individual person requires. This largely depends on a person’s basal sleep need, sleep debt, and the interplay between both of those combined:

    Basal sleep need is defined as the standard amount of sleep the body requires for optimal performance. According to Kevin Sung on Total Wellness Magazine, “Other health issues such as acute or chronic sickness, and poor sleep quality will increase the amount of sleep one needs, but one’s basal sleep need will remain relatively constant throughout one's life.”

    Sleep debt is a term scientists use to describe the difference between the sleep a person needs and what a person actually gets. Generally speaking, the amount of sleep each individual needs varies from person to person, but it usually falls around seven to eight hours for adults.

    Getting too little or even too much sleep can also have a detrimental effect on a person’s well-being. “If someone is sleeping too much, more than 9 hours each night, the quality of sleep should be evaluated. If the quality of your sleep is poor, it could result in more time in bed.  Your body needs deep restorative sleep, and if that is not happening during the recommended 8 hours, your body will instinctively try to prolong the sleep period to obtain the quality of sleep it needs,” says Michele Roberge on Early Bird, a Registered Polysomnographic Technologist who currently leads a hospital-based sleep disorder center in Florida where she specializes in treating patients with sleep apnea.

    She adds, “Look at what could be causing the poor sleep quality—environmental factors (lights, noises, an uncomfortable bed, etc.), medications, comorbid conditions (depression, chronic pain, etc.), or sleep disorders (sleep apnea, narcolepsy, bruxism, PLMD, etc.).”

  2. 2. Poor Sleep or Sleep Deprivation Can:

    woman in bed under covers

    1. Cause accidents

    2. Affect cognitive ability

    3. Affect the libido

    4. Contribute to depression and anxiety Increase forgetfulness

    5. Increase weight gain

    6. Impair judgment

    Over time, these sleep irregularities can also age skin, lead to heart disease, heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, or high blood pressure.

  3. 3. Stages of Sleep (Rem Sleep, Deep Sleep, Sleep Cycles):

    Woman in white shirt sleeping in bed

    Sleep, in general, allows us to rest and relax while providing a way for our bodies to recuperate from all the stresses that we accumulated throughout our day. As we sleep, our bodies cycle through different stages that fall under either “Non-REM” or REM (Rapid Eye movement) sleep. Non-REM sleep can be further distinguished into three stages of sleep:

    The first stage of Non-REM sleep, or Stage N1, involves the process of actually falling asleep. During this phase, muscle activity decreases, eye movement slows under the eyelids, and one falls asleep. 

    Stage N2, the second stage of Non-REM sleep, lasts from between ten to 25 minutes into sleep, and is the beginning of true sleep. During this phase, body movement stops, body temperature drops, and the heart rate slows. 

    Upon reaching Stage N3, the body enters deep sleep. During this time, the body directs blood away from the brain and towards the muscles for physical recuperation. Being woken from deep sleep will leave an individual groggy for several minutes before the body readjusts. 

    Finally, the body enters REM sleep and dreaming takes place. During REM sleep, the body is paralyzed, the eyes flicker rapidly, and the body experiences an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

  4. 4. The Senses and Sleep:

    woman sitting on a white bed in front of a window while stretching

    You may not know it yet, but each of your senses plays a critical part in how you sleep, whether it's based off of a survival need or simply a reaction to our external environments, our 5 senses definitely determine whether our night’s rest is amazing or terrible. For each sense, here are some tips and tricks that can help you catch some more z’s:

    1. Touch

    The comfort of your room can determine how great of a night‘s sleep you can have.

    - A comfortable and supportive mattress is important to a good night’s sleep.

    - Pillows should be replaced every year to avoid any loss of support cushioning.

    - Dust mite-proof covers help prevent dust mites while sealing in allergens.

    - A cool room (65 degrees) makes for the best sleep. At night, body temperature drops while sleeping, which helps to induce sleep. If the room is too hot or cold, one is more likely to wake up.

    - Choose a breathable fabric, such as cotton, for pajamas and sheets. This helps prevent the body from overheating while sleeping.

    2. Taste

    What you eat and drink before bed can affect how you sleep throughout the night.

    - Stay away from eating 2 hours before bedtime. However, if you must eat, make sure that it is a light snack. 

    - Refrain from eating fatty, fried, or spicy foods before going to bed. These types of foods are harder to digest, which will result in difficulty falling asleep.

    - Avoid caffeine after mid-afternoon. Caffeine can stay in the body for about 12 hours, which could prevent the body from falling asleep on time.

    - Avoid drinking alcohol 2 hours before bed. Although it may induce sleep, it generally disrupts sleep later on in the night.

    3. Sight

    Light in the bedroom has an impact on the quality of your sleep.

    - Electronics could keep one feeling alert past bedtime. Consider turning off the computer and phone 30 minutes before bed. 

    - Change electronics to the “orange light” setting when available.

    - Stay away from any stimulating or mentally intense activities, such as watching action, drama, or horror TV shows, videos on YouTube, reading an intense book, doing homework, etc. before bedtime.

    - Turn off or dim alarm clocks that have light.

    4. Hearing

    Noise can affect your sleep, causing you to wake, move, and shift between stages of sleep.

    - Keeping the TV on at night while sleeping can negatively affect sleep. The sound coming from the TV is always changing in tone and volume, and getting up to turn the TV is bothersome, and increases restlessness.

    - Block noise from the environment using a white noise machine, fan, or an air purifier to create a background noise that is soothing.

    - Closing the window in the room can help block unexpected noise throughout the night.

    5. Smell

    Different smells that your nose comes into contact with while you sleep can affect how you feel before sleep and your mood the following day.

    - The smell of lavender has been shown to decrease heart rate and blood pressure, potentially inducing a relaxed state to fall asleep more easily. 

    - Having oils, candles*, or sachets in the room could be helpful to calm down the body during one’s bedtime routine.

    - Keeping the room clean can help eliminate bad smells that could affect one’s sleep.

    *Remember to extinguish all candles PRIOR to going to bed or leaving the room where the candle burns.

  5. 5. False Sleep Myths and their Truths:

    Woman sitting on bed with laptop

    1. Sleeping in on the weekends can help you catch up for lost sleep during the week.

    One or two nights of solid sleep may not change the amount of “sleep debt” that accumulates over a period of time. Even so, suddenly changing your sleeping hours can actually cause a similar feeling to that of jet lag. Sleeping an extra hour or two every night over a couple of days is a much better alternative to make up for lost sleep.

    2. As you get older, your body needs less amounts of sleep.

    A majority of adults, including seniors, require around the same hours of sleep. Sleep patterns, however, do change. As people get older, they develop lighter sleep, and as a result are more likely to be disrupted during sleep. Older individuals may sleep less during the night, but end up making up for this by taking small naps throughout the day.

    3. Sleepiness during the day only means that the person is not getting enough sleep.

    While it is true that daytime sleepiness can indicate sleep deprivation, it can also point to another medical condition or a possible sleep disorder as well. Taking certain medications, consuming drugs or alcohol, and even drinking coffee or tea in the afternoon can all have an impact on rest quality.

  6. 6. Sleep Loves Routine

    woman with white towel on head and face mask

    Creating a custom sleep routine can help signal the body into a resting stage and later, a sleep stage. Some ideas for a good winding-down routine include:

    1 hour before bed:

    - Take a warm bath or shower before bed

    - Stretch for 10-20 min

    - Pick up your room, put away items

    30 minutes before bed:

    - Read a relaxing book

    - Diffuse aromatherapy oil

    - Plan for the next day

    - Limit or remove screen time

    10 minutes before bed

    - Drink a cup of tea

    - Listen to soft music

    - Journal or reflect on the day

    5 minutes before bed

    - Change into comfortable clothing

    - Skincare & hygiene routine

    - Deep breathing or meditation

And there you have it: an all inclusive guide to sleep and some tips to help you get started on your path to better z’s. If you’re practicing good sleep habits and you find you’re still having problems with getting a good night’s rest, especially out of the blue, talk to your doctor! Often, these types of unexplained changes could be a result of an underlying health issue, such as hypothyroidism, heart problems, depression (even low-level), and sleep apnea. Your doctor can assess your symptoms and determine the best way to approach improving rest. Good night!