Written by Yuki Hayashi
3 minute read
Screen time. Caffeine. Non-stop work demands. Social commitments.
There’s a lot that comes between Canadians and our sleep time. According to a Statistics Canada report on sleep habits, one out of three adults aged 18 to 64 averages less than seven hours of sleep. Experts recommend adults get between seven to nine hours of Zzzzs per night.
Many of us also experience sleep difficulties. Other findings from the report state that:
• More than half of women, and 43% of men, have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep;
• 40% of men and 48% of women don’t find their sleep “refreshing”;
• Canadians averaged 7.12 hours of sleep, compared to 8.2 hours in 2005.
While competing interests can keep us out of bed, sleep is a crucial component of healthy living. A bad night’s sleep (ie. not enough sleep, and/or poor quality sleep) is associated with a variety of health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, irritability and even injuries (sleep deficiency is dangerous to your health).
Bottom line: Sleep is as crucial to good health as physical activity and nutritious food. Your body uses sleep to repair your heart, blood vessels, tissues and cells; balance hormone levels; grow muscle mass; and reinforce your immune system. Your brain uses sleep to support proper functioning and form new neural pathways for learning and memory.
Stages of sleep
When humans sleep, we experience two main sleep types: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.
Also known as “active sleep,” REM sleep is characterized by eye movements and is known as the dream stage of sleep because people who are awakened during REM sleep generally recall vivid dreams.
Non-REM sleep is divided into three stages, N1, N2, and N3, which range from nodding off (N1) through a slightly deeper sleep (N2) to a true deep sleep (N3).
Throughout the night, we alternate between both REM and NREM sleep. In adults, a typical night’s sleep starts with an initial NREM and REM sleep cycle of 70-100 minutes, and subsequent cycles of 90-120 minutes. An optimal night’s sleep includes several rounds of the sleep cycle.
Sleep cycles are different in children and adults. External factors such as drug and alcohol use or irregular sleep patterns can alter the sleep cycle in adults.
Tips for a better night’s sleep
To ensure you wake up ready to take on the day, make sure to get your full 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine offers these tips for getting the sleep you need:
• Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol for four to six hours before bedtime;
• Create a restful sleeping environment with a comfy bed, blackout drapes, and a cool, quiet space (an eye mask and ear plugs can help);
• Avoid work, workouts and stressful thoughts/activities before bedtime;
• Maintain a consistent sleep schedule;
• Go for a mid-day stroll (daylight helps regulate a healthy sleep-wake cycle);
Finally, don’t forget the power of napping. A 30-to-60-minute afternoon nap can help you recharge your batteries if you experience a mid-day slump.
Join the conversation: Are you a napper? Where do you get your afternoon Zzzzs?
Read more: Public Health Agency of Canada has a great tip sheet on how to improve your sleep hygiene.