01 Aug Improve Your Sleep: A Practical Checklist
Have you ever heard of sleep architecture? Your body’s natural daily rhythms are regulated by structures in the brain that help determine when you fall asleep and wake up. People progress through a series of distinct physiological stages during sleep. Each stage of sleep serves an important purpose in keeping your brain and body healthy. During the night, these stages of quiet sleep alternate with periods of REM (dreaming) sleep. Quiet sleep is important because it helps restore the body, while REM sleep restores the mind and is important for both learning and memory. Sleep experts call this pattern sleep architecture. In a young adult, normal sleep architecture usually consists of four or five alternating non-REM and REM periods. Most deep sleep occurs in the first half of the night. As the night progresses, periods of REM sleep get longer and alternate with stage N2 sleep. However, sleep architecture is deeply affected by sleep deprivation, which plagues Americans of all ages and backgrounds.
According to studies performed by the American Psychology Association, most affected by sleep deprivation are typically unaware of the decline in their performance, increasing their risk for accidents and mistakes. Meanwhile, studies have also shown that sleep deprivation is more prevalent in women. The relationship between car crashes and sleep deprivation is a prime example of such a risk. Other studies suggest that declarative memory, which is fact-based, benefits primarily from sleep periods dominated by SWS, and procedural memory, remembering how to do something, is related to REM sleep.
Although, as physicians and scientists, we still have much to learn about sleep and memory, we can say with certainty that a good night’s sleep improves concentration for learning and remembering what we learned. Here are a few tips for improving the quantity and quality of sleep:
- Exercise earlier in the day – not several hours before bedtime.
- Reduce or avoid stimulants such as caffeine later in the day and alcohol in the evening.
- Limit naps to 30 minutes; don’t nap after midday.
- Stick to a sleep schedule; go to bed and wake up about the same time each day, including weekends and holidays.
- Relax and clear the mind before bedtime; read a book, listen to quiet music.
- Keep the bedroom cooler at night. Use “white noise” like that from a fan motor to mask distracting sounds. Install room-darkening shades.
- Make sure your mattress is comfortable and try sleeping on one pillow – not two or three.
- Don’t eat a heavy meal or drink an excessive amount of liquid just prior to bedtime.
- Avoid using a computer, tablet, or smartphone right before going to bed. The light from the screen stimulates the brain, making it difficult to fall asleep.
Sleep architecture or quality is as important as quantity. Proper bed and wake times allow us to go through the phases of slow-wave and REM sleep. Alcohol, sedatives, and many drugs can also diminish slow waves as well as REM sleep. And a cool bedroom, or hot bath before bed, enhances deep, slow-wave sleep.