There’s nothing that feels more magical than a solid night of sleep. When you get enough shuteye, you wake up ready to conquer the day. But sleep doesn’t only make you feel great, it is also key to your overall wellness, playing a critical role in your mental and physical health. Research shows that a number of vital tasks carried out during sleep help people stay healthy and function at their best.
According to the National Institute of Health, when you’re asleep, your brain is still hard at work forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information. Sleep is also good for the brain when it comes to attention span, decision-making and creativity. Furthermore, adequate sleep contributes to your emotional well-being by helping you to stay sharp and more engaged during the day. Sleep is also important for your physical health. When you’re in slumber, your body gets a chance to heal, repairing cells and tissue. Plus, being well rested helps keep your immune system strong.
So what exactly is going on in your body during those overnight hours and how much sleep should you aim to get?
Our bodies have a natural clock that helps us regulate sleep. This is called the circadian clock, and it follows our biological cycles and repeats at approximately 24-hour intervals. Every night, when you wind down, close your eyes and fall asleep, your body goes into a state of rest. Your body temperature and blood pressure decrease; your heart rate and breathing eventually slow down. But even as you’re sleeping, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes.
Your body follows a specific sleep pattern of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. NREM occurs in four stages and takes place for about 75% of the night. In the latter stages is when your deepest sleep occurs, and when energy is restored, hormones are released and tissue grows and repairs. REM sleep occurs for about 25% of the night, which is when your brain is active and dreams occur. During REM, your brain becomes energized but your body is inactive. The amount of time your body spends on each stage varies throughout the night, but the end result is both rest and rejuvenation.
So how much sleep should you aim to get? In 2015, researchers affiliated with the National Sleep Foundation recommended that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep. Those over the age of 65, should target for seven to eight hours a night.
What You Can Do
The truth is getting enough sleep is sometimes easier said than done. For starters, the circadian clock is influenced by light, which is why most of us sleep at night and are awake during the day. However, not everyone keeps this schedule, which could be one reason why some people may have trouble getting shuteye. In other cases, we may not be able to wind down as easily as we’d like.
Shutting off all devices is a good way to help you wind down and prepare for bed.
However, a good night’s sleep is not far away with a little help. For starters, shutting off all devices is a good way to help you wind down and prepare for bed. Also, try eating dinner earlier and keeping it light—indigestion can also interfere with sleep. And if you still need some support to get to sleep, there are supplements that help make achieving calm a little easier.** Here are a few popular ones.
Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by your body that plays a role in your sleep cycle. Your body releases melatonin in the evening, which helps trigger sleepiness. Melatonin is an excellent choice for people experiencing occasional sleeplessness, those with jet lag, or anyone wanting to improve their quality of rest.**
Valerian is a plant that has been traditionally used for more than 2,000 years. It works in harmony with your natural sleep cycle to promote relaxation, and supports calm and tranquil rest.**
An amino acid that is naturally found in green tea, L-Theanine supports the mood centers of your brain.** It can help you feel calm and relaxed, so you can unwind before bedtime.**
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort is one of the most popular and widely used herbs in Europe. Not only does it support a feeling of tranquility, but it also promotes a healthy emotional outlook.**
Lavender Essential Oil
The beautiful lavender flower is a member of the mint family and has a distinct scent that is associated with tranquilly and serenity. Lavender essential oils could create an even more relaxing environment during massage, meditation or bedtime.