While it was once believed that the body was in quite a passive state during sleep, studies have now shown that the brain actually experiences specific patterns of activity during different periods of sleep, and is often more active at this time than it is while the body is awake. This all shows exactly how important sleep is when it comes to maintaining good health, and if you want to improve this area of your life, then it is vital that you first understand the basics behind healthy sleep patterns.
The Five Stages of Sleep
There are usually five specific stages to sleep, with the first being a light sleep from which you can drift in and out of easily. The second stage is when eye movements stop, with muscle contractions often occurring, before the slow brain waves of stage three start. Once stage four is reached, there is no more eye movement or muscle activity, and it is usually much more difficult to wake a person that is in this stage of sleep. The final sleep stage is the REM stage, which is when breathing becomes irregular, the eyes jerk around, and heart rate increases. It usually takes between 90-120 minutes for an entire sleep cycle to be completed, at which stage it all just begins again.
Factors that Suppress REM Sleep
The REM stage of sleep is extremely important to the body, but there are many lifestyle factors that can suppress this, therefore preventing the body from following normal sleep patterns the next night. Antidepressants usually do this, as does smoking, which causes the smoker to wake up every three to four hours due to nicotine withdrawal. Alcohol does the same, because while it may help you to initially fall asleep, it robs the body of all of the more restorative stages of sleep.
How Much Sleep is Healthy?
While there is plenty of debate surrounding the topic of exactly how much sleep is needed by the body, general consensus points to around seven to eight hours of sleep each night. However, sleep patterns can still vary greatly depending on everything from age to environmental conditions, so you need to take this into account too.
Healthy Sleep Habits
The best way to ensure that your body is receiving the amount and quality of sleep that it needs is to set yourself a few healthy sleep habits to follow. To begin with, you need to keep a consistent sleep schedule, meaning that you sleep at the same time on the weekends as you do on weekdays. Specific bedtime rituals will help with this, but, if you do not fall asleep within the first 20 minutes, you should get out of bed and not return until you are actually sleepy. Avoiding large meals, alcohol and caffeine before bedtime will help your body to adjust to healthy sleep patterns, as will regular exercise and a balanced diet throughout the day.
There are many ways in which you can encourage your body to settle back in to healthy sleep patterns, but it does take some dedication on your part in order to do this properly. Sleep plays such an important role in the way in which the body functions, so be sure to take this part of your life seriously, and do what needs to be done in order to give your body the sleep that it needs.