Sleep is essential for life, longevity, and disease prevention. According to the CDC, adults need at least 7 hours of sleep per night and if you hit this recommendation you are sleeping about a third of your life, how crazy!

Roughly 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders with insomnia being the most common affecting up to 30% of adults in the United States.

Getting adequate sleep is just as important, if not more important than eating a healthy diet and getting movement throughout the day when it comes to chronic disease prevention.

Side effects of sleep deprivation may include, but are not limited to:

  • Depression
  • Weight gain
  • High blood pressure
  • Weakened immune system
  • Trouble focusing
  • Poor reaction time
  • Early aging
  • Decreased libido
  • Blood sugar imbalances/Diabetes
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Decreased exercise endurance

There are four to five stages of sleep depending on what source you look at. These cycles rotate between non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). So lets take a deeper dive into sleep cycles and why they are important.

Sleep Cycles

Stage 1: Light Sleep

This is where you start drifting asleep. Your body becomes more relaxed and you may even twitch as you transition into stage 2. This is very light, NREM sleep that should not last very long; depending on the person it may only last a few minutes. During this stage, your heartbeat, breathing, and eye movements begin to slow down.

Stage 2: Light Sleep

During this stage, your body is still in light sleep. Your breathing and heartbeat are nice and slow, your temperature is decreasing, your eye movement has stopped, and your brain waves are less active. We spend the most time per night in light sleep with about 45-55% of our nightly sleep here.

Stage 3: Deep Sleep

You are entering into deep sleep. It is during this stage that you are the most difficult to wake up. Your breathing, heartbeat, body temperature, and brain waves have all reached their lowest levels. This stage is also referred to as slow wave sleep.

Stage 4:  Deepest Sleep

This is the deepest sleep you will get. This stage is also known as the “healing” stage because tissue repair and growth occur, essential hormones are released, and cellular energy is restored. Deep sleep also helps consolidate memories and improves our ability to recall information.

Adequate deep sleep (stage 3 and 4) is essential for you waking feeling rested and your overall wellbeing. Deep sleep accounts for about 13-23% of our nightly sleep.

Stage 5: REM Sleep

Your first REM cycle occurs about 90 minutes after you fall asleep and should repeat every 90 minutes. During this stage (AKA rapid eye movement), your eyes move quickly behind your eyelids and your brain waves are moving similar to when you are awake- how crazy! During this stage, your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure increases close to your wakening levels.

Most of your dreams occur during REM sleep, although it can occur during other stages of sleep. During this stage, your muscles become limp and temporarily paralyzed which is why you can’t act out your dreams.

Yes, sleep is important but you may be one of the 70 million American’s that suffers from sleep disorders. You may try to get 8 hours of sleep per night, but you spend several hours each night just trying to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Here are some tips to help increase sleep, specifically deep sleep which we now know is the most important stage.

Tips to Increase Deep Sleep

  • Reduce stress/cortisol with meditation, deep breathing, stretching, epsom salt baths, yoga, etc. It really is about whatever YOU find relaxing and de-stressing
  • Establish a good night time routine and keep consistent sleep and wake cycles whenever possible
  • Invest in black out masks or shades to make your bedroom dark
  • Sleep in a cool room (70 degrees or less) and if you still get warm consider a chiliPAD or something similar to keep your body temperature low.
  • Exercise regularly- preferably in the morning if you struggle with sleep trouble
  • Eat a healthy diet avoiding sugar and especially late night eating/snacking
  • Avoid technology for 60 minutes before bed and wear blue light blocking glasses or change the setting on your phone/laptop to block blue light. You can download apps such as f.lux or Night Owl Screen Dimmer.
  • Avoid caffeine, especially later in the day if you have trouble sleeping
  • Avoid alcohol (I am sorry I know!) but it has been proven to decrease your sleep quality. Try limiting to 1-2 drinks on the weekend only.

If you have implemented all of these sleep tips and are still having trouble sleeping, you may need to add some natural supplements to help with sleep or better yet come see one of us at STAT Wellness.

There are several herbs that have been shown to help with sleep including valerian root, magnesium, l-theanine, and lavender.

A few of our favorite combos are:

At STAT Wellness, we want to figure out the WHY behind your sleep trouble whether it is elevated cortisol or adrenal dysfunction, anxiety, blood sugar instability, or nutritional deficiencies. If you want to take a deeper dive in your health, you can book an appointment here to work with one of our Functional Medicine trained Healthcare Providers.

In good health,

Kristin Oja, DNP, FNP-C, IFMCP