Though it may not seem like it, sleep is a very active process. While we sleep, our brain is busy cleaning up waste that build ups throughout the day as we learn and make memories. Sleep also facilitates the function of transferring memories from the short-term to the long-term memory.
This is why getting enough good quality sleep is beneficial for studying!
Stages of Sleep
Sleep falls into two types: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and non-REM. Non-REM sleep has three different stages, which progress deeper into sleep into REM and back out of REM sleep into wakefulness. You will cycle through each stage multiple times during a regular 7- to 9-hour nighttime sleep. Each stage of sleep is connected to certain types of brain waves and activity.
Stage one of non-REM sleep occurs when the body is going from wakefulness to sleep. Your body and brain begin to calm, your muscles relax, and your brain waves and heart rate slow down. This stage takes the shortest amount of time.
Stage two of non-REM sleep begins after stage one of non-REM and is considered light sleep. Your body continues to fall deeper into sleep, as your body temperature begins to drop, your breathing slows, and your muscles continue to relax.
Stage three of non-REM sleep provides the deep sleep you need to feel awake and restored in the morning. In this stage of sleep it is most difficult to wake a person, as their body is the most relaxed.
REM sleep begins about 90 minutes after falling asleep. This stage is called Rapid Eye Movement sleep because in this stage, eyes move rapidly while they are closed. Dreaming occurs during Rem sleep and bodily functions such as breathing and heart rate near levels of wakefulness.
Alcohol is a depressant drug, meaning that it slows down, or depresses, bodily functions. The more alcohol you consume, the sleepier you will feel. While alcohol may facilitate falling asleep through its depressant function, alcohol impairs the quality of sleep. Consider avoiding alcohol and other recreational drug use at least a few hours before falling asleep to sustain a higher quality of sleep.
Caffeine & Sleep
Caffeine is naturally found in many foods and drinks, such as coffee, tea, soda, cacao beans and some nuts. Caffeine helps us to feel awake and alert by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain, which build up throughout the wakeful day to make us feel sleepy. Consider avoiding caffeine at least six hours prior to bed time, or the time that you usually fall asleep, for a higher quality of sleep. If you find that caffeine is still keeping you awake six hours after stopping consuming caffeine, you may stop consuming caffeine earlier in the day.
If you find you are constantly having trouble falling or staying asleep, waking up and/or staying awake, and/or getting quality sleep that leaves you feeling rested and alert, you may have a sleep disorder. Consult your doctor or primary care provider to learn more and receive care.
Going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day keeps your sleep routine consistent and therefore makes it easier to fall asleep and wake up each day. Try to avoid staying up and sleeping in more than one hour later than you would typically fall asleep or wake up.
But what about naps? Some people find napping restorative and others find napping unhelpful. If you enjoy naps, it is recommended to nap at the rate of the stages of sleep. This means that to get the most out of your nap and wake up feeling refreshed and alert, aim for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or a full 90 minutes (one sleep cycle). Napping for other lengths of time will still help you feel more awake after napping, however you may feel groggy upon waking.
Tips for Good Quality Sleep
Sometimes our sleep environment can make all the difference in getting good quality sleep. Consider these tips:
Sleep in a space slightly colder than typical room temperature
Sleep in a dark room, as light can make it difficult to fall or stay asleep
Run a fan or white noise machine in the background if you need sound to fall and/or stay asleep
Wear earplugs if your sleep environment is too noisy
Sleep in a comfortable bed with comfortable pillows
Avoid going to bed hungry or thirsty, and after very heavy meals
Sticking to a bed time routine tells our bodies that we are ready for sleep very soon. Doing the same thing before bed every night, such as taking a shower, reading, or stretching, helps your body wind down at the end of the day. Your body should adjust to this routine and get sleepy around the same time every night if the routine is consistent.
Just like with a bed time routine, having a morning wake up routine can help with feeling alert and ready for the day upon waking. Whether it’s waking up by the natural morning light, having a morning cup of water, coffee or tea, or engaging in exercise, doing the same thing each morning around the same time each morning helps your body get ready for the day.
Save the Bed for Sleep & Sex
Try to use your bed primarily for sleep or sex (or other physically intimate activities). Other activities like studying or doing homework in bed may discourage to your body from recognizing your bed for as your primary space for sleep.