There’s been much written about the importance of sleep, and rightly so. Far from being a luxury as some people seem to think, it is actually an essential requirement for the body and mind to recover and recharge from the day’s activities, for cell repair and renewal and for the brain to flush out toxins.

Good quality, restorative sleep is important to balance our immune, nervous and hormonal system functions, and getting enough good sleep is a virtuous circle that affects every part of our health. Not enough sleep, on the other hand, has been linked to an increased risk of a range of illnesses, from chronic pain to heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and stroke, among many others.

So, how much sleep should we all be getting? And is the recommended 8 hours all there is to it, or should we delve beyond the headline figure to find out what’s really important when it comes to good sleep? And are there some myths about good sleeping that need to be addressed?

Our night’s sleep is actually made up of <a href=”” “>different types of sleep – REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep – which alternate in approximately 90 minute cycles though the night, with about three quarters of our nightly sleep spent in NREM. Here’s how it works.

NREM Sleep

Light Sleep makes up about half of our total sleep and starts with that relaxed in-between stage that you go through as you drift off to sleep. Twitching is quite common at this stage and you can still be woken easily. Once you become disengaged from the external environment, your heart rate, breathing and body temperature drops and your muscles relax. You are now asleep.

Deep Sleep is the next NREM phase. This is the most healing and rejuvenating sleep stage, where most restorative processes occur. It’s where your body repairs and detoxifies itself and builds up energy for the next day. It’s difficult to wake someone from deep sleep – they will feel groggy and disoriented at first. Deep sleep takes up about 15-20% of your night’s sleep, depending on your age. As we get older, we naturally spend less time in deep sleep.

REM Sleep

The remaining 25% or so of your night’s sleep will be spent in REM, and again this also decreases with age. REM sleep plays an important role in re-energising the body and mind. Regulated by your body clock, it’s associated with dreaming, memory consolidation, creativity and learning. Avoid artificial stimulants before bed and make sure you have a regular sleep schedule to increase your chances of getting REM sleep

Awake Time

Time not asleep is called Awake Time. This includes the time you take to drop off to sleep at bedtime, and night time wakings, and both are important indicators to help evaluate your sleep quality. Not surprisingly, difficulties with falling asleep or waking during the night can cause daytime sleepiness.

How can you improve your deep sleep?

Deep sleep is your body’s best chance to heal itself at a cellular level, so it makes sense to get as much of it as you can. Especially if you’re suffering from chronic pain or illness, deep sleep is essential to help you repair the damage and build new tissue, from muscle to skin or bone cells.

Without this opportunity to address your ailments and to help keep your body tissues and organs strong, it will become increasingly difficult to fight off illness and disease, and you will age at a faster rate. Here are three things you can do to increase the amount of deep sleep during the night:

  • Check your mattress

One of the most common reasons for interrupted sleep is an unsuitable or uncomfortable mattress. Did you know that mattresses should be replaced roughly every 8 years? If you’re suffering from poor sleep, you should check that your mattress is still fit for purpose.

Check for optimal spinal alignment and distributed support across key pressure points for your individual body shape and size, and preferred sleeping position. Whether you opt for a pocket sprung, memory foam or latex mattress, or a combination of all three, don’t skimp on <a href=”” “>investing into your health.

  • Cultivate good sleep hygiene

Keeping a consistent sleep schedule including regular bedtimes and at least 7 hours’ sleep per night will promote healthy sleep patterns, especially if you also make an effort to create a relaxing sanctuary in the bedroom. In addition to a soothing interiors scheme, ensure electronic devices are kept out of the room, which should be reserved for sleep and sex only.

Adjust your bedroom temperature to cool yet comfortable and make sure you reduce your fluid intake an hour or so at least before you go to bed. Finally, avoid naps and caffeine in the afternoon, heavy meals and alcohol in the evening, and increase the amount of physical exercise you do on a regular basis.

  • Consult your GP

If you’ve tried every trick in the book and nothing seems to makes a difference to your quality of sleep, a trip to the GP may be in order. Sometimes, sleep disturbances can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, so let your doctor investigate and advise accordingly.

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