It’s estimated that humans spend about one-third of their lives sleeping! Unfortunately, many of us feel like we’re probably getting a lot less than that.
So how much sleep should we get each night? It’s recommended that adults get at least 7 hours of sleep per night, but some people may need more.
Our bodies do a lot of healing while we sleep. A good night’s sleep allows your body to refresh and reset itself. Your nervous system can take a much needed break. Your brain is able to process and organize the previous day’s experiences. And your immune system is better able to heal inflammation or ward off a budding cold.
When we get too little sleep, it can cause all sorts of problems, from anxiety and depression to obesity and diabetes.
What are the stages of sleep?
We experience several stages of sleep. In stages 1, 2, and REM we’re in light sleep, while stages 3 and 4 allow us to get into a deep sleep.
Stage 1 is a short phase (around 10 minutes) that begins right after you fall asleep. This is a very light sleep where you can be easily awakened.
Stage 2 is also light, but you’re transitioning into a less flighty stage of sleep. This stage lasts about 30-60 minutes. In this stage, your muscles relax, your breathing and heart rate slows down, and you start to have slow-wave (delta) brain activity.
Stage 3 is deep sleep which lasts from 20-40 minutes. Your body begins to repair itself and your brain starts storing memories. In this stage, delta brain waves increase, making it harder for someone to wake you up.
Stage 4 or REM (rapid-eye movement)
Stage 4 is the deepest level of sleep. Your muscles are very relaxed, and your breathing and body temperature reach their lowest levels. This is the stage where real healing and repairing take place. Your energy is restored and important hormones are released.
REM sleep begins about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. In this stage, most of your dreaming takes place and in this stage, your brain most resembles its activity when you’re awake.
How sleep is disrupted
It’s important to complete a full sleep cycle. Several factors can interrupt your sleep cycles and impair your health. These may include:
- Stress or anxiety
- Frequent urination
- Sleep disorders (sleep apnea)
- Health conditions (obesity, asthma, heart disease, etc.)
- Neurological disorders
- Lifestyle habits: Too much caffeine, smoking, lack of exercise, etc.
Ways to get better sleep
One of the best remedies for poor sleep is exercise. Research suggests that even a single bout of exercise can help you fall asleep faster, wake up less, and increase deep sleep.
This may be particularly true for middle- and older-aged participants as people with health issues.
(Just make sure you don’t exercise too late in the day, because it increases your body temperature. This may delay sleep and result in waking up more oftn throughout the night.)
It’s also important to keep a regular sleep schedule, limit phone or TV use right before bed, and get plenty of exposure to natural light during the day.
For some people, herbs can be helpful. These might include valerian root, theanine, or GABA supplements. Some of our supplements have been shown to help with sleep as well. These include kava, ashwagandha, holy basil, rhodiola rosea, and passion flower.
Kava: For Stress-Induced Insomnia
Kava may help with insomnia, often with fewer side effects than pharmaceutical drugs or over-the-counter sleep enhancers. It’s believed that a specific type of kavalactone, called kevain, may be the reason for kava’s sedative effects.
In a pilot study of 24 patients struggling with stress-induced insomnia , researchers looked at the effectiveness of kava and valerian separately. Stress was measured in three areas: social, personal and life events. Insomnia was measured in three areas also: time to fall asleep, hours slept and waking mood.
According to the findings, total stress severity was significantly relieved by both compounds individually, with no significant differences between them. There was also improvement with the combination, significantly in the case of insomnia.
Ashwagandha: Reduces Stress and Improves Sleep
Ashwagandha is an ancient Ayurvedic herb. It belongs to a class of medicinal herbs known as adaptogens and has been in use for more than 3,000 years to help lower stress, improve stamina and increase concentration levels.
Many of ashwagandha’s health benefits are attributed to its high levels of withanolides, hormone precursors that can convert into human physiological hormones to help bring balance to the body. Studies have shown that ashwagandha can help improve sleep and reduce stress.
In one review, ashwagandha outperformed psychotherapy by reducing anxiety in a group of subjects by 56.5% compared to only 30.5% in the psychotherapy group.
Holy Basil (Tulsi): Reduces Stress and Fatigue and Improves Mood and Sleep
Holy basil, or Tulsi, is native to the Indian subcontinent and widespread throughout the Southeast Asian tropics. Many people consume holy basil as a stress reliever. It features antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.
Research has shown that holy basil can improve mood, reduce fatigue and improve sleep. In addition, scientific studies in vitro, animal and human experiments have shown that tulsi exerts a unique combination of actions that include antimicrobial, anti-diarrheal, antioxidant, anticataract, anti-inflammatory, neuro-protective, cardio-protective, anti-diabetic, memory enhancement, anti-asthmatic, anti-arthritic, adaptogenic and anti-stress activities.
Rhodiola: Reduces Mental Fatigue and Improves Sleep Patterns
In a study which examined the effects of a 20-day regimen of Rhodiola rosea supplements on stressed-out students, researchers found that participants experienced significantly reduced mental fatigue, better sleep patterns and an increased motivation to study. In fact, their exam scores were 8% higher than those in the placebo group.
Passion flower: Reduces Anxiety and Insomnia
Passion flower may help relieve insomnia and anxiety by potentially boosting levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in your brain. GABA lowers brain activity, which may help you relax and get better sleep.
A study of 41 healthy adults found that drinking passionflower tea offered sleep benefits for participants “with mild fluctuations in sleep quality.”