Your quality of sleep can be influenced by several factors—learn about sleep, its stages, and how to best support healthy rest.
Years of our life pass by in the various stages of the sleep cycle, and this is by design. Our bodies need rest to thrive, often through a combination of nightly sleep and the occasional nap. We use this period of rest to empower our days, but the reality of sleep is more complex than you might think.
In this guide, we will explore sleep, sleep conditions, and the factors that can influence how well you rest each night.
What is Sleep—and Why is it Important?
Every night—and during other times too—we all settle into bed and go to sleep. This is an action that often happens automatically, and it isn’t something that we think about too often unless something goes wrong. Most of us think of it as a nightly period of rest, and that is true—but what is sleep, and why is it so important for us?
Although sleep is a period of rest, is it also a period of time when we undergo significant change. Our brains and our bodies will enter new stages that they do not enter when we are awake, and these stages can have significant impacts on our health, mood, and recovery. During this time, our heart rate lowers, our breathing deepens, and we will become less aware of external stimuli.
Everyone has different sleep patterns, but true sleep occurs when we are unconscious and our brain begins to enter the various sleep stages.
Your sleep can influence several essential factors, including:
- Mental Health
- Reaction Time
- Physical Health
Understanding Sleep Stages
There are several different stages that occur throughout the sleep cycle. These stages all serve different purposes and are characterized by different physical and mental changes. Effectively entering these stages each night can influence how beneficial our sleep is in and even how rested we feel the next day.
The waking period of our sleep cycle occurs in the times that surround our sleep. This part of the cycle shows itself before we fall asleep, during periods in the night when we wake up, and after we are done sleeping. Although we may experience different levels of wakefulness, these periods allow us to be conscious, even if only temporarily, and they fall outside of other sleep stages.
The light sleep stage happens when you first drift off to sleep at night, and it can reoccur throughout the night, particularly if you wake up at any point. This stage is sometimes split up into two different stages, and it often makes up about half of your sleep, which is why it is essential. It helps with memory, as well as creativity.
The deep sleep stage often occurs after you exit the light sleep stage. How much time we spend in this stage can vary, and it often decreases as we exit childhood and become adults. For adults, it accounts for about 25% of time spent asleep.
During this stage, your mind and body place a significant focus on repair. This stage supports the immune system, assists in healing, and plays a key role in how rested we feel the next day. When we are in a state of deep sleep, we are more likely to be out of touch with the external world and may be difficult to wake up. Contrary to what you may think, this sleep stage can arrive for the first time fairly early in the sleep process.
Out of all of the sleep stages, REM sleep is the one that people often talk about the most, even though it only makes up about 25% of our sleep cycle. REM, which stands for Rapid Eye Movement, is the sleep stage that we enter when we dream. Its name comes from the fact that our eyes often move behind our eyelids during this stage, like they do when we are awake. In fact, our brains can even give signals like we are awake while we are actually dreaming. We enter several of these stages a night in most cases.
Sleep Conditions to Know
We all need rest to recover, and it is impossible to live without sleep. However, that doesn’t mean that this natural process always runs smoothly. There are several conditions that can influence our sleep, and consequently, our health.
What is Sleep Insomnia?
Sleep insomnia is one of the most common sleep conditions, and it can have a significant negative impact on those who experience it. When someone has sleep insomnia, they will struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep.
There are many different causes for sleep insomnia, and most people will experience insomnia at some point in their lives. Chronic insomnia, however, can lead to significant health risks, including exhaustion, a less effective immune system, and even hallucinations.
What is Sleep Deprivation?
Many people imagine sleep deprivation as an extreme, but it doesn’t have to be. Clinically speaking, sleep deprivation is the term we use any time that we do not get enough sleep. Consequences of sleep deprivation can range from discomfort or low mood to significant health risks depending on how severe it is.
What is Sleep Paralysis?
While insomnia and sleep deprivation deal with not sleeping, sleep paralysis is a condition that occurs when you are regaining consciousness. When your body doesn’t properly move through the sleep cycles, it can cause mental and physical problems. Sleep paralysis occurs when you wake up from being asleep and cannot move your physical body for a short period of time.
Factors That Influence How We Sleep
Our sleep quality can vary based on the day, and there are several known factors that can influence how well we sleep. This includes mental, physical, and lifestyle factors, including:
Falling Asleep: How to Fall Asleep Fast at Night
Sometimes we can’t control how well we sleep at night. These tips and tricks can help you to experience more regular sleep so falling asleep is easy:
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon
- Take time to wind down before bed
- Avoid screen time too close to bedtime
- Try to keep a consistent sleep schedule
- Find a sleep environment that works well for you (light level, noise level, blankets, sheets, pillows, etc.)
- Embrace healthy movement on a regular basis
- Talk to a doctor about treatment options if falling asleep is difficult for you
Enjoy a Great Night of Rest and Recovery with Supported Sleep Habits
Our sleep quality has a big impact on what we bring into each new day, and supporting high-quality sleep habits is a positive change to make. When you prioritize sleep and take active steps to ensure you rest well at night, you can live a happier and healthier life. Support your sleep, and see what changes it brings!
This is not professional medical advice.