Get a Good Night's Sleep

Like eating well and being physically active, getting a good night's sleep is vital to your health and wellbeing and necessary for survival.

Although we know that a number of vital tasks are carried out while sleeping to help maintain good health and enable people to function at their best, the purpose is only partly clear and the subject of intense research.

Your brain stays active throughout the night while moving through distinct stages that cycle with different things happening during each stage.

Certain stages are needed for us to feel well rested and energetic the next day, and other stages help us learn or make memories.


Sleep needs vary from person to person, and they change throughout the life cycle of each person.

Most adults need 7-8 hours of rest each night. Newborns, on the other hand, need between 16-18 hours per day and children in preschool between 10-12 hours. School-aged children and teens need at least 9 hours each night.

The quality of rest is just as important as the quantity, affecting three main areas:

  • Performance: Allowing us to think clearly, react quickly, and create memories.
  • Mood: Insufficient rest can make you irritable and is linked to poor behavior and trouble with relationships, especially among children and teens. People who suffer from insomnia are also more likely to become depressed.
  • Health: Studies have shown that not getting enough quality or quantity on a regular basis increases the risk of having high blood pressure, heart disease, and other medical conditions. Valuable hormones are also released during deep stages of rest fueling growth in children, building muscle mass and repair cells in children and adults, and working to fight against infections.


During the night, two slower brainwave patterns called theta waves and delta waves take over. Theta waves have oscillations in the range of 3.5 to 7 cycles per second, and delta waves have oscillations of less than 3.5 cycles per second.

As a person falls deep asleep the brainwave patterns slow down and the person falls into a deeper state where he/her is hardest to wake up.

At several points during the night, something unexpected happens - rapid eye movement (REM) occurs. Most people experience three to five intervals of REM per night, where brainwaves during this period speed up to awake levels.

Periods other than REM are referred to as NREM (non-REM). Dreaming occurs during the REM sleeping periods and if you wake up a person during REM the person can vividly recall dreams. You must have both REM and NREM sleeping periods with about 25% of the night time rest spent in REM. A REM session - a dream - lasts 5 to 30 minutes.


Here are a few tips to help in getting a good night's rest:

  • Stick to a consistent schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day - including on weekends.
  • Exercise is great but avoid it within 2 hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine. The stimulating effects of caffeine in coffee, colas, teas, and chocolate can take as long as 8 hours to wear off fully. Nicotine is also a stimulant.
  • Avoid alcohol drinks before bed. A "nightcap" might help you fall asleep, but alcohol keeps you in the light stages of NREM and also tends to wake you up in the middle of the night when the sedating effects have worn off.
  • Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. A large meal can cause indigestion and drinking too many fluids at night can cause you to awaken frequently to urinate.
  • Don't take naps after 3 p.m.
  • Relax or wind down before bedtime.
  • Take a hot bath before bedtime.
  • Have a good bedroom environment. Get rid of the TV, make the room dark, adjust temperatures, and get rid of noise.

See a doctor if you continue to have trouble sleeping. If you consistently find yourself feeling tired or not well rested during the day despite spending enough time in bed at night, you may have a sleep disorder.

Your family doctor should be able to help you.

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