Sleep is critical to overall health and impacts mood, energy level, and even weight. In this article, sleep expert and health and wellness coach Christophor Gaston shares his best sleep tips. Find out which sleep position is best and how to optimize for restful sleep.

*Guest post by Christophor Gaston (read full bio below), post collaboration with Sarah

Why we need sleep

We are active most of the day demanding our body and brain to function at a high level. Sleep is the one time that the body is still, the mind recovers, and muscles relax and repair. Lack of sleep has been linked to weight disturbance, high blood pressure, diabetes, and poor mental health.

While you sleep, the body cycles through different stages or “sleep cycles.” These sleep cycles are important because they release hormones that regulate growth, appetite, and repair. It is during this time that the body forms long-term memories and replenishes the body.

Stage 1 Non-rapid eye movement (NREM)

Stage 1 NREM lasts for just a few minutes. During this time, the body will start to relax and drift off to sleep. Breathing slows down and so does heart rate. The body relaxes.

This is the stage that you may feel “muscle twitches.” During this stage, if someone wakes you, you may tell them that you weren’t actually sleeping!

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Photo by Bruce Mars

Stage 2 Non-rapid eye movement

Stage 2 NREM lasts for about 20 minutes each cycle, but this is the stage that you are in for most of the night (since the body cycles through these 4 stages multiple times each night).

In fact, almost 50% of nightly sleep is NREM stage 2. This is the stage that body temperature drops, breathing and heart rate becomes regular, and you are much less aware of your surroundings.

This is also the stage where memories begin to solidify in the brain.

Stage 3 Non-rapid eye movement

Stage 3 NREM lasts for just a few minutes each cycle, but is the deepest level of sleep. In this stage, your brain and body start the repair process. This is also the stage that is responsible for you waking in the morning and feeling “refreshed.”

In this deep period of sleep, you are unaware of your surroundings. Blood pressure drops, breathing slows, and muscles are completely relaxed.

This is also the stage in which the brain stores general knowledge, facts or statistics, personal experiences, and other things you have learned the previous day.

Rapid eye movement (REM)

REM lasts for just a few minutes as well, but is the stage where your muscles are completely paralyzed and relaxed. However, your brain is functioning as though you were awake! This is the part of the sleep cycle where you dream and the brain is very active. So it’s a good thing that your muscles are paralyzed to prevent you from acting out your dreams!

The body cycles through each of these stages and that cycle lasts for approximately 90 minutes. It is important to get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night to allow for each of these cycles be completed, solidify memories and experiences, balance hormones, and to heal the body.

Results of sleep deprivation

Studies show that sleep deprivation can result in the following symptoms: memory loss, poor coordination, high blood pressure, weakened immunity, weight gain and accidents just to name a few. Moodiness is also a symptom of poor sleeping habits. If any of this sound familiar or someone else comes to mind, maybe it is time to revisit your sleep habits.

Sleep Expert Tip #1 Get enough Sleep

Most humans need about 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep to gain the benefits of healthy sleep. Children need even more sleep and suffer greater presentation of sleep deprivation than adults do. Now, everyone has their own needs, and health concerns, so this is a guideline. Some have learned to function on less sleep and still maintain healthy habits.

Others need more sleep and even then, struggle to function with any resiliency. However, you will find what allows you to feel your best and participate in life with family and friends. Your food intake has a lot to do with how well you sleep. If you are uncomfortable from eating too much food, or in some cases, not enough, the body will struggle to produce the cortisol needed to bring on restorative sleep.

How much sleep you need changes as you age.

Age Group Recommended Hours of Sleep Per Day
Newborn 0–3 months 14–17 hours (National Sleep Foundation)1
No recommendation (American Academy of Sleep Medicine)2
Infant 4–12 months 12–16 hours per 24 hours (including naps)2
Toddler 1–2 years 11–14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)2
Preschool 3–5 years 10–13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)2
School Age 6–12 years 9–12 hours per 24 hours2
Teen 13–18 years 8–10 hours per 24 hours2
Adult 18–60 years 7 or more hours per night3
61–64 years 7–9 hours1
65 years and older 7–8 hours1
Taken from CDC Recommendations

Sleep Expert Tip #2 Which sleep position is best

Being comfortable when you sleep is just as important as how long you sleep. If there are disturbances, or the position is not relaxing, sleep will be fraught with tension and despair. This is counterproductive to the meaning of sleep.

So, what sleep position is the best?

Sleeping on your back is the best as it supports the spine, allows the hips to relax, and the legs are supported. This also allows full circulation and deep breathing which is essential for sleep. However, not everyone is a ‘back sleeper’. Most prefer sleeping on their side, or the stomach. No matter how you sleep ensure that your spine is supported, your legs are free and relaxed, and your breathing is deep. A good mattress and pillow will greatly assist in your sleep (more on these later).

Photo by Joyce McCown

Sleep Expert Tip #3 Setting up your bedroom

A good mattress is one of the keys to getting a good sleep. What is a good mattress though? Here are some key things to consider:

Bouncy Bed – This consists of steel inner springs in various layers which offer good support and cooling.

Firm Bed – Foam and latex mattresses aren’t as bouncy as a spring bed. These have inner springs.

Plush Top – This is an inner spring mattress with a quilted ticking. Most manufactures offer a replaceable plush top. These vary in thickness and in covers.

Which every mattress you choose, be sure it gives you the room to stretch out, gives support no matter your weight and is wide enough just in case there are two in the bed.

Pillows

Like mattresses, pillows are vital to a good night sleep. Nowadays, pillows come in three basic flavours: soft – medium – hard. There are pillows for side sleepers, back sleepers, stomach sleepers and combination sleepers. Pillows for sleep apnoea, snorers, pregnancy, and wedge pillows. Each density has a specific use.

There are many types of fabric or filling for pillow’s: buckwheat, foam, latex, memory foam, down, polyester, again each with a particular use and type of sleep. Research is going to be the best option. Each type also, has its own price.

Temperature

Having a good sleep requires attention to a few things; bed type, pillows, and temperature. If the room is hot or too cold, the body will struggle to rest and bring about the restoration the body needs. This is important and will take a bit to adjust and get correct. This will change as circumstances, seasons, and your body change. Be aware of all of these and be willing to adjust to these as they change.

Light control

Maintaining darkness in your bedroom allows the body to settle into circadian rhythms more easily and produce natural levels of melatonin. These 2 things signal to the body that it is time to sleep and regenerate. And this is critical to repairing the body.

Sleep Expert Tip #4 Seven Step Bedtime Routine

Preparation for sleep is just as important as your bedroom and all your dressings for the bed.

Your energy, your emotions, what you did in the last twenty minutes, all have an effect of how well you sleep. Developing a bedtime routine will allow your body to adapt more quickly to falling and staying asleep.

Getting comfortable

Step 1 – Choose proper sleeping attire. Select sleeping clothes that breathe, are not binding, and are natural fabrics.

Calming activity

Step 2 – Quieting the energy. Allow your body to calm down and relax so sleep follows naturally. Avoiding high energy games, stories, foods.

Dim the lighting

Step 3 – Lighting. Slowly dimming lights will signal that it’s time for sleep. Darkness will trigger the body to produce melatonin naturally which induces that “sleepiness” feeling.

Avoiding Blue light/screens

Step 4- Avoiding screen time 30 minutes prior to bedtime. The effects of blue light impairs the ability for the body to fall asleep because it prevents melatonin production.

Stop eating 2-3 hours prior to falling asleep

Step 5- Eat your last food 2-3 hours prior to bedtime. Eating too close to bedtime can cause the body to be uncomfortable. It also places you at higher risk for heartburn because as sleep begins, the body slows digestion. And if you have food in your stomach to close to bedtime, the extra stomach acids can disrupt sleep.

Limit alcohol and caffeine

Step 6- Alcohol makes us fall asleep but studies show that it increases the chances of night waking; And drinking caffeine can also impair sleep. Did you know that it takes 10 hours to metabolize only HALF of the caffeine that you drink? Which means that if you have coffee at 3pm, it is only halfway gone by 1am.

Stress control and relaxation techniques

Step 7- Where possible allowing time between each step will set a routine to encourage good sleep. Same holds true for adults too. Relaxing and beginning to calm before sleep, can ensure that a restful night’s sleep will follow.

What are you thinking about?

Are the day’s activities still on your mind? Did that last scene in the movie leave you thinking about the movie? Did that last phone call leave you upset or worried? Did your partner leave you seething or feeling down? If any of these resonate with you, it’s probably not time for sleep.

Your mental outlook will bring about a restful sleep, or not. Part of sleep is to consolidate memories. If the mind is active or still processing memories, then not much consolidation will happen.

To promote good sleeping, get in the habit of being quiet 15 to 20 minutes prior to going to sleep. This is not possible always, so allow time before you get into bed, just to sit and begin to unwind. Most of us are so tired that we don’t consider this.

We prepare to exercise by warming up, we prepare to cook a meal by getting all the ingredients together, we prepare to drive by considering the conditions, traffic, the car itself. So, let’s prepare for giving the body what it needs to recover and be healthy – a good night’s sleep.

Let the dreams begin

You have the bed that is comfortable for you. You have the right pillow combination that suits your sleeping habits. You have the best environment for sleeping and you have prepared yourself for a good night’s sleep.

Having all these parts in place, will make a whole night’s sleep possible. The body will find it’s rhythm and sleep will follow the natural circadian patterns. You will wake refreshed and feeling that you can make good decisions, and enjoy the day, regardless of what happens.

The beauty of sleep is, if you feel something is not quite right, you have tonight to change it until you are sleeping peacefully.

GUEST POST BIO: Christophor Gaston

Christophor is a certified Wellness Coach and qualified Nutritionist at A Look Ahead Wellness and Nutrition.

Christophor enjoys helping others reach their goals in life, through targeted sessions. He is an an expert in helping other overcome their fears and their self doubts.

Christophor enjoys meditation, journaling, and walking. He also loves to cook which really helps with learning about taking chances and learning new ways of doing things.

You can reach Christophor by email at lifescape360@gmail.com, or find him on LinkedIn.