Sleeping is a vital activity that is often underestimated, and it’s importance to our health is often neglected.
According to the CDC, the average adult (age 18-60) needs at least 7 hours of sleep per night.  However, according to data from the Sleep Foundation, about 30% of the general population suffers from some kind of sleep disruptions, and 10% of those people may experience difficulty functioning effectively during the day due to such sleep impairment. 
We often think a good sleep means getting 8+ hours, but unfortunately there is more to it than that. It is also important to pay attention to the quality of your sleep. Poor-quality sleep can mean:
- You’re a light sleeper.
- You need medication or alcohol to fall asleep.
- You don’t wake up feeling rested.
- You’re tired all the time.
Getting enough hours of high-quality sleep is crucial for maintaining good mental and physical health.
This article goes over the 4 stages of sleep and 5 easy steps towards optimizing your sleep routine for high quality sleep!
Let’s get started.
What are the stages of sleep?
As you probably already know, when you sleep, you pass through different stages triggered by distinct brain processes. That being said, there are 2 different types of sleep:
- Rapid eye movement (REM)
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders (NINDS) gives an understanding of the different sleep stages that repeat 3-4 times a night  :
- Stage 1 Non-REM: This is the stage of light sleep when your muscles, brain, heart, and breathing start to relax and slow down.
- Stage 2 Non-REM: You get further relaxation of your muscles, brain, ect. This is the stage where people get the majority of their sleep.
- Stage 3 Non-REM: This is the stage of deep sleep, when your breathing and heartbeat reach the slowest pace. People usually spend a long time in this stage during the first part of the night, and it’s difficult to wake up. Exactly deep sleep is the most restful stage.
- REM sleep: REM should start about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. In this stage of sleep you experience rapid eye movement, accelerated breathing and heart rate, and your brain activity is high.
- - Unregulated and chronic stress
- - The natural decline of melatonin as we age
- - Mood disorders such as depression or anxiety
- - Blood sugar issues
- - Hormone imbalances
- - Congestive heart failure
- - Disturbed circadian rhythm
Experiencing interruptions or distributions in the natural sleep cycle can decrease sleep quality.
How do you know if you sleep well?
According to the Sleep Foundation, there are 4 factors that you should look at in order to evaluate the quality of your sleep.  The list below shows you the criteria for effective, high-quality sleep.
- You fall asleep in about 30 minutes.
- Waking up once during the night, or not waking up at all.
- Staying awake for no more than 20 minutes when you wake up during the night.
- Spend at least 85% of your bedtime sleeping.
How to get high-quality sleep?
Getting a good night’s sleep depends on various factors, including health conditions, diet, stress levels, and others. Fortunately, there are habits you can incorporate into your bedtime routine to improve your sleep.
Below are 5 tips for optimizing the quality of your sleep:
- Plan to get about 8 hours of sleep. This means noting the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep and add that to your 8 hours. For example, if it takes you 30 minutes to fall asleep, make sure your alarm clock is set for 8.5 hours after you go to bed. If you are rushing yourself to fall asleep it often has the opposite effect.
- Stay hydrated throughout the day, but don’t drink too much water (or other liquids) before going to bed. This way, you will not disrupt your sleeping cycle due to the urge to pee.
- Don’t eat big meals in the evening (especially high sugar foods). Evidence suggests that overeating before going to bed may decrease the quality of sleep, as it may trigger sleeping disorders like sleep apnea (snoring that wakes you up). 
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom at about 18 degrees Celsius/ 64.5 Fahrenheit. According to various sources, this is the ideal temperature for adults when it comes to sleeping and resting.  Besides, it’s perfect for cuddling your blanket or your partner.
- Turn the night-shift on. It would be unrealistic to suggest letting go of your phone before bed (it’s too difficult). However, all electronic devices emit blue light, which makes you more awake and alert. This can increase your falling asleep time and may negatively affect your sleeping routine and body clock. Blocking the blue light (by using night shift mode) can protect you from such effects and may improve your sleeping routine. 
What are the benefits of good sleep?
Sleep is an irreplaceable activity that is just as important as breathing and drinking water. That’s why having a well-organized sleeping routine is essential for your physical and mental health. The US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion shares a couple of health benefits of regular good night sleep (when you ensure both sleep quantity and quality)  :
- Improved immune system
- Support weight management
- Decreased risk of chronic diseases (e.g., diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, heart disease)
- Reduced stress levels and better mood
- Reduced risk of anxiety and depression
- Better relationships with your loved ones
- Improved concentration and brain performance (e.g., in work/school)
- Being more alert and making better decisions (e.g., when driving or working)
In addition, ensuring high-quality sleep can help you to:
- Be more energetic and less tired 
- Improve your skin condition (by stimulating collagen and elastin) 
- Regulate the body clock (to support proper sleeping routine) 
- Improve regenerative capacity