Do you often wake up feeling tired? Do you feel pain or
discomfort while sleeping? If so, you’re not alone. A major problem
affecting many in today’s society is a lack of quality sleep. Not only
does not getting enough sleep bring you down physically and emotionally,
it has also been linked to many health issues.
The human sleep cycle
To understand why sleep is so important, it’s worth learning what
happens to your body during a night’s sleep. The human sleep cycle is
divided into cycles of two main phases, non-REM and REM
(rapid-eye-movement). Non-REM sleep is then divided into four stages.
Stages 1 and 2 occur when the person is just closing his eyes, and
eventually preparing for deeper sleep. Stages 3 and 4 are characterized
by deep sleep in which the person will feel disoriented if awakened from
this stage. These stages are important for strengthening the immune
system, and for repairing and regenerating tissues such as bones,
muscles, ligaments, and skin. REM sleep is characterized by rapid eye
movement, and paralysis of the rest of the body. During this stage is
when most memorable dreams occur.
How much sleep do you need?
On average an adult requires 7-8 hours of undisturbed, quality sleep
each night; teenagers and young children require even more. Disturbances
to quality sleep can include extraneous noises, chemically altered
sleep (medications, caffeine, alcohol, etc.), watching television prior
to sleeping, inconsistent sleep-wake times, temperature, or pain.
To avoid pain during sleeping and increased strain on joints and
muscles, one must be aware of his sleeping position. In general,
side-sleepers should use one supportive pillow under the head, and one
between the knees. Some prefer to use a body pillow between the knees,
and to support the arms. A back-sleeper should also have one supportive
pillow under the head, and one or two under the knees to relieve strain
on the lower back. Many shoulder and neck problems stem from sleeping
with arms overhead.
Not enough sleep can be deadly
Lack of sleep has been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular
disease, type II diabetes, motor vehicle accidents, occupational
accidents, and psychiatric disorders such as depression, alcoholism, and
Proper sleeping habits are important for our overall health and
well-being. Our bodies need good sleep for healing and regeneration, and
to prevent injury and disease. For even more information about how you
can get better sleep, consult with your doctor or therapist.