No matter what your health goal may be – losing weight, more energy, vibrant skin – sleep is going to help. Getting better sleep is even a step towards decreasing your risk of chronic disease. Who doesn’t want that?!
So how much is enough? The amount of sleep we need really depends on our age. Children need WAY more sleep than adults because their bodies are doing so much work to grow and change. Even depending your age as an adult, you may need more sleep than the guy next to you. Here are a few numbers for you: For teenagers, anywhere from 8-11 hours is a good time frame. For most adults 7-9 hours is plenty, but even as low as 6 hours may be enough for some people. If you’re over 65, 7-8 hours is the average.
Why all the differences? When we sleep, our bodies literally restore, regenerate and recharge so depending on where you are in life, our needs in those departments will be different. But no matter what your age, without the right TYPE of sleep this restoration and regeneration can’t happen. Most people have heard of the R.E.M. cycle (stands for rapid eye movement), but there are actually 4 other stages of sleep, each with their own functions.
- Stage 1: In this stage, our bodies are just getting calmed down. We sit in a half-sleep; we’re kind of awake and kind of asleep. If you’ve ever experienced the feeling that you’re falling, you were in stage 1.
- Stage 2: During stage 2, our bodies are actually falling asleep. Our body temperature drops and some of our senses become dulled so we won’t be woken up by light noise, movement, etc. A lot goes on during stage 2 in terms of consolidating our memories.
- Stage 3-4: These are where most of the physical restoration we were talking about happens. Our muscles relax and lots of blood flows to the muscles for tissue growth and repair. It’s during this stage that our energy levels are boosted and some hormones are released.
- R.E.M.: R.E.M. happens roughly every 90 minutes and our eyes are actually moving quickly back and forth while we sleep. Our muscles are completely relaxed during this stage, but our brain is active. This is the stage of sleep where we dream and tons of energy is going to the brain.
As you can see, there’s a lot that needs to happen while we’re out and it’s not only the length of time that matters, but the type as well. If we miss out on one type of sleep or cut our night short, we miss out on some seriously needed repairs and our energy levels will probably be crap. How can you ensure you’re getting a good night’s sleep? Here are our most practical tips:
Eat Protein at Breakfast: Most American’s aren’t protein deficient, but most Americans also tend to eat high carbohydrate breakfasts: cereals, breads, pastries, pancakes, etc. When we have smaller amounts of protein consistently throughout the day – including breakfast – instead of meat binging at night, we balance our blood sugar and our hormones, including serotonin (the awake and happy hormone) and melatonin (the sleep hormone).
Reduce Blue Light: This is all over the news these days and for good reason. Falling asleep with the TV on or having lights from electronics in the room where you sleep will keep us from entering those deep stages of sleep where most of the restoration happens.
Manage Stress and Reduce Tension: Easier said than done, right? We know stress is one of the most harmful modern day threats to our health, but it’s a constant battle to keep stress at bay. If you can start by taking time before bed to (first, turn off the TV!) dim the lights and relax with some deep breathing, taking a bath, writing or coloring, or reading (not on an e-reader, but an actual book), you’ll do yourself a huge favor. Your mind will calm down and stop racing. Your body will release tension, especially in the neck and shoulders. Your brain will release melatonin and you’ll be ready for sleep.
These three tips are the most practical ways you can get better sleep tonight. If you start with these three things and still have trouble, you may be having some deeper issues like long-standing hormone imbalance, other nutrient deficiencies or adrenal fatigue. In these cases, one-on-one work with a practitioner is probably a good idea.
Either way, these tips can only help, not hinder your sleep quality. Start with one or do them all, but be honest with yourself and make sure you’re making changes that are manageable. You know yourself best and you know what will work for you. So, as always, take what you want and leave the rest.
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