You are currently viewing Want more out of your life? It starts with SLEEP!

Want more out of your life? It starts with SLEEP!

What’s sleep got to do with it?

We all know that sleep is important and the majority of us have witnessed the cranky effects of not having enough or rode the emotional roller coaster trying to function while sleep deprived.  However, there’s much more to it than that.  Sleep is the one thing you can do to help improve your health and wellbeing, reduce your risk of inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease. Not to mention, sleep helps to improve your immunity, brain function, and moods.

Sleep is intimately linked to your health and wellness and getting enough quality sleep boosts your health in so many ways. 

FUN FACT: There’s growing evidence that sleep is crucial to health. In fact, science shows that getting enough quality sleep may prevent and improve several diseases.

Not having adequate quality sleep can be a huge factor when it comes to deteriorating physical and mental health, and even death.(1) It increases your risk of developing and worsening several serious conditions, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Metabolic issues like diabetes
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Neurodegenerative diseases
  • Moods and mental health issues
  • Performance and productivity

What does proper sleep looks like?

From the outside, sleep looks like a pretty passive activity. But, even though you’re not conscious and are not fully aware of many things going on around you (e.g., noises), both your brain and body are active while you sleep.(2)

Sleep is regulated by two processes that create your personal biorhythm.(A) The first one—your sleep-wake process—regulates how you sleep, and the second—your circadian process (or rhythm)—regulates when you sleep.

There are four stages of sleep:

  • Stage 1 – The stage between wakefulness and sleep
  • Stage 2 – Light sleep before you enter deep sleep. This makes up about 50% of the total sleep time.
  • Stage 3 – Deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep (SWS). It helps you feel refreshed in the morning and makes up about 20% of total sleep time.
  • Stage 4 – Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is when your brain activity is almost as high as when you’re awake—most dreams occur here. REM sleep makes up about 20% of total sleep time.(2,3)

Each cycle through these four stages takes about 90 minutes. Meaning, during an average night of eight hours of sleep, you would go through this cycle about five times. As the night goes on, the SWS stage shortens while the REM stage lengthens.(2) This means that the longer you’re asleep the more of your sleep is in the REM stage—and REM sleep is great for your body and brain. Studies show that when learning a new physical task, people’s performance can improve overnight—but only as long as they get enough REM sleep.(4)

What is “enough” quality sleep”?

We know the benefits of getting enough quality sleep. But, how much sleep is “enough”?

The official recommendations for adults are to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.(5) And younger people need even more. Here’s what everyone should aim for every 24 hours:

  • Newborns (0-3 months) need 14-17 hours
  • Infants (4-12 months) need 12-16 hours, including naps
  • Toddlers (1-2 years old) need 11-14 hours, including naps
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years old) need 10-13 hours, including naps
  • School-aged children (6-12 years old) need 9-12 hours
  • Teens (13-18 years old) need 8-10 hours
  • Adults (18+) need 7-9 hours

On the flip side, too much sleep is linked to other health problems! Believe it or not, it can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and even death.(1,6) It can also worsen mental health issues, including mood disorders.(7)

What exactly is quality sleep? It’s when you:

  • Fall asleep fairly quickly
  • Sleep for a long enough duration
  • Don’t wake up during sleep
  • If you wake up, then falling back asleep quickly

How to get better sleep – a few helpful tips: 

If you’re not getting your recommended amount of sleep (7-9 hours) every night, there are a few things you can try.

Start by choosing one or two that resonate most with you. If you can, try the number one recommendation below first because it’s the most important.

1 – What’s your sleep schedule?

Having a consistent sleep schedule is one of the most important things you can do. Our society promotes round-the-clock activity. This can affect anyone, not just shift workers and students. Time dedicated to sleep is often consciously reduced due to work demands and social activities.(1,3,10,11)

Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends, as much as possible.(12)

2 – Create a calming bedtime routine and practice it regularly.

Whether that includes bedtime yoga, a relaxing bath, warm herbal tea, and/or a soothing book, do what works to help you wind down for the night.(3,10,12)

3 – Bright light in the day; block the blue at night.

Expose your eyes to bright light during the day, especially in the morning. This also means avoiding bright lights at night wherever possible because it can extend the time it takes you to fall asleep. This includes watching screens before bed. (I know, I love my shows too!)  Why? Because your eyes respond to cues from light. When the light is dimmer and has more red wavelengths (think of a sunset), your brain makes the “sleep hormone” melatonin.(3,12,13)

4 – Is your bedroom comfortable?

Your bedroom should be cool and dark so you aren’t woken by being too hot or cold or when the sun gets too bright.(3,12) Your mattress should be comfortable, too. If sounds bother you, consider blocking them out with a fan or white noise machine.(11)

5 – Regular exercise.

Exercising 20-30 minutes each day can help, particularly aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, or swimming.(11) Try to finish your exercise a few hours before you plan to go to bed so you have time to relax.(1,3)

6 – Can you handle caffeine at night? Are you sure?

Caffeine works to wake you up by blocking the sleep-promoting effects of the compound adenosine. This reduces your ability to fall asleep. Caffeine can also increase the need to go to the bathroom, which can wake you up once you are asleep. The effects of caffeine on your body and brain can last several hours.(14)

7 – Avoid tobacco.

Nicotine stimulates your brain and your heart, making it harder to fall asleep.(14) Avoid tobacco products, including regular cigarettes and nicotine-containing e-cigs.(3,12) If you have a very difficult time quitting, avoid it for at least two hours before you want to go to sleep.(14)

8 – Nix the nightcaps.

You should avoid alcohol before bed because it negatively impacts sleep quality by reducing REM sleep.(14) Having alcohol before bed may seem okay because it can make you feel tired, but you don’t get quality sleep.(3,12,14)

9 – Stomach issues?

Having a large meal before bed can disrupt sleep. This is especially true if you experience acid reflux.(12) Try eating throughout the day so you’re not too hungry when it’s time to sleep.

10 – Nighttime bathroom breaks?

Drinking a lot of liquids before bed can wake you up to go to the bathroom, so try to hydrate throughout the day so you’re not thirsty before bed.(12)

11 – Are you a clock watcher?

Watching your clock when you can’t sleep prevents you from falling asleep. This is because it increases your mental activity (worry), rather than decreases it. This can make falling back asleep more difficult. If you’re lying in bed awake for 20 minutes, try getting up and reading (with low or red/yellow-tinted light) or listening to soft music until you feel tired.(3,11,12)

12 – Naps: yes or no?

Naps are necessary for small children, but if you have trouble falling asleep, try avoiding them. There is one exception, though. A study in the British Medical Journal suggests that if you’re a college athlete, napping may improve your performance.(12)

13 – Calm your mind.

Along with the growing public interest in mindfulness and meditation, there is a growing body of research as well. A recent review of several studies showed that mindfulness and meditation significantly improved sleep quality.(17) You can also try breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation.(18)

14 – Be social.

Feelings of loneliness can affect your sleep. If you feel isolated and have little social support, you are more likely to suffer from the effects of stress and have more difficulty falling asleep and maintaining sleep. If your partner feels lonely and has poor quality sleep, you’re more likely to be affected, too. Loneliness is associated with many sleep disorders, including insomnia, nightmares, and anxiety.(1) Try things to help you feel more connected like thanking people who help you in day-to-day life, reaching out to someone by email or social media, or signing up to volunteer in your community.

15 – Try to sleep along with your natural chronotype.

If you’re an “early bird,” go to bed and wake up early. If you are a “night owl,” then try to create a schedule where you can wake up later in the mornings.


  1. Magnavita, N., & Garbarino, S. (2017). Sleep, Health and Wellness at Work: A Scoping Review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 14(11), 1347. doi:10.3390/ijerph14111347



  1. Besedovsky, L., Lange, T., & Haack, M. (2019). The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease. Physiological Reviews, 99(3), 1325-1380. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00010.2018



  1. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2019, August 13). Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. Retrieved from
  1. Harvard Health. (2018, May 9). Repaying your sleep debt. Retrieved from
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, March 2). Sleep and sleep disorders. How Much Sleep Do I Need?
  1. Henst, R. H. P., Pienaar, P. R, Roden, L. C., & Rae, D. E. (2019). The effects of sleep extension on cardiometabolic risk factors: A systematic review. Journal of sleep research.



  1. Plante D. T. (2017). Sleep propensity in psychiatric hypersomnolence: A systematic review and meta-analysis of multiple sleep latency test findings. Sleep medicine reviews, 31, 48–57. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2016.01.004


  1. Pires, G. N., Bezerra, A. G., Tufik, S., & Andersen, M. L. (2016). Effects of acute sleep deprivation on state anxiety levels: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Med, 24, 109-118. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2016.07.019.


  1. NIH Research Matters. (2013, October 28). How Sleep Clears the Brain. Retrieved from
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  2. Kroshus E, Wagner J, Wyrick D, et al. (2019). Wake up call for collegiate athlete sleep: narrative review and consensus recommendations from the NCAA Interassociation Task Force on Sleep and Wellness. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53, 731-736.


  1. John’s Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). The Science of Sleep: Understanding What Happens When You Sleep. Retrieved from

  1. Harvard Health. (n.d.). 3 simple ways to get more restful sleep. Retrieved from
  1. Drake, C., Roehrs, T., Shambroom, J., & Roth, T. (2013). Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 9(11), 1195–1200. doi:10.5664/jcsm.3170


  1. Pickering, C., & Grgic, J. (2019). Caffeine and Exercise: What Next? Sports Med, 49, 1007. LINK:


  1. Rusch, H. L., Rosario, M., Levison, L. M., Olivera, A., Livingston, W. S., Wu, T., & Gill, J. M. (2019). The effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 1445(1), 5-16. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13996


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