How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep (According to Science)
Sleep scientist Dr Carmel Harrington reveals exactly how to get enough rest for optimum health and productivity
You shouldn’t underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep. Insufficient sleep affects our ability to think and perform everyday tasks, and can lead to difficulties maintaining relationships.
Poor quality or quantity of sleep makes us more vulnerable to serious long-term health issues, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression and type 2 diabetes.
Experts recommend adults have between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.
Not all sleep is the same – there are different stages we go through every night that help repair and refresh our brains and bodies. These stages are light sleep, deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, also known as dream sleep.
Light sleep: Your body is just beginning to relax, preparing itself for sleep. People often drift in and out of this stage and many people experience a sudden feeling of falling, all of which is completely normal. Later in this stage, your brain begins to slow down as your body prepares for deeper sleep.
Deep sleep: During deep sleep, the body and brain are at their most relaxed. If you’ve ever tried to wake someone and it was incredibly difficult, they were probably in deep sleep. This stage of sleep is essential for a healthy body; during this time the body builds and repairs muscles, and prepares to meet the physical challenges of the waking hours.
REM sleep: This sleep stage is most associated with dreaming. During REM sleep, most of your muscles are paralysed (except for your eye muscles and those you use to breathe). This is a good thing, otherwise you might act out your dreams. During this stage of sleep the brain is very active and without sufficient REM sleep you will have trouble learning and remembering. If you experience a lack of REM sleep, you may also find it difficult to control your emotions.
In healthy young adults, REM sleep accounts for approximately 20 to 25%, light sleep accounts for about 55%, and deep sleep for roughly 15 to 20%. As we age, we have more light sleep and less deep and REM sleep.
Your body is very good at letting you know if you are not getting the right quantity or quality of sleep.
If you wake up feeling refreshed and able to meet the challenges of the day without feeling exhausted or overwhelmed, you are probably getting the sleep your body requires.
If, on the other hand, you are sleeping in excess of nine hours and feel tired, sad, depressed or exhausted when you wake, then you need to speak with your doctor, as there might be something not quite right with your sleep that can be rectified if diagnosed.
Studies of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have shown that up to 70% of them have sleep problems – either difficulty with the sleep process itself, such as initiating sleep; difficulty getting enough sleep; trouble staying asleep; or a sleep disorder that prevents them from getting the sleep they need, such as sleep apnoea or restless legs.
Many of the symptoms of ADHD are very similar to the symptoms of insufficient and disordered sleep. A diagnosis of ADHD in children frequently comes about after a child exhibits some or all of the behavioural symptoms of this disorder, such as difficulty paying attention, forgetfulness, disorganisation, or impulsiveness – all of which are also behaviours consistent with an overtired child.
Create the optimum environment for a good night’s sleep by preparing your bedroom beforehand. Ensure it is:
- freshened so the air is clean.
Looking to create a more restful bedroom? Find an interior designer near you for some practical design tips to help you sleep. Many designers offer virtual consultations if you aren’t able to leave the house.
Research shows that poor air quality in your bedroom can:
- increase your vulnerability to sleep-breathing problems, such as hypoventilation, sleep apnoea and rhinitis.
- cause fragmented sleep.
- delay the initiation of sleep.
- decrease sleep duration.
- cause excessive daytime sleepiness and poor productivity.
Using an air purifier is a great way to clean the air. Research shows that cleaning the air can help to:
- reduce susceptibility to asthma and rhinitis.
- improve sleep duration.
- improve sleep quality in adults and children.
- reduce the severity of sleep apnoea.
Have you ever closed your laptop or put down your mobile just before bed then tossed and turned for ages trying to get to sleep? If so, the trouble you’re having falling asleep could be attributed to your digital habits. There’s an extensive amount of research indicating that light-emitting technology is very disruptive to our sleep.
When you sit in front of a computer screen or stare at your phone – both bright light sources – you trick the brain into thinking there is no fading light, so your brain does not start producing the hormone melatonin that our bodies need to sleep. The body only produces melatonin during the dark hours and production is switched off as soon as light is detected.
To get quality, consolidated sleep, you need to switch off at least one hour before bed. This will also allow your mind to start relaxing, so you don’t go to bed with an overactive brain, which can make getting to sleep very difficult.
Also see how to design a home that boosts wellbeing.
How do you ensure you get a good night’s sleep? Tell us in the Comments. And don’t forget to like, save and share this story.