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The Science of Sleep

Wake Up on the Right Side of the Bed

One daily activity that has the most profound impact on our health, productivity, mood, and memory is sleep. Yet, more than one-third of U.S. adults get less than the recommended amount (7–9 hours), limiting their potential to succeed both academically and professionally. It’s time to get inside our heads to understand why a good night’s rest is critical to our success.

Your Brain on Sleep

Sleep is made up of several stages — each lasts about 90–110 minutes. While we rest, our bodies turn off, but our brains continue to work throughout the night.

Stage 1: Just Drifting

Stage 1 is a period of light sleep. In these first few moments of dozing off, many people experience the falling sensation and involuntary muscle jerks.

Stage 2: Sawing Logs

You become fully asleep in stage 2. Brain waves slow down as spurts of activity — called sleep spindles and k-complexes — help suppress any to outside stimuli.

Stage 3: Total Relaxation

During this restorative period of slow-wave sleep, your breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure reach their lowest levels. Memory consolidation of facts and events also takes place.

REM: Deep in Dreamland

During rapid eye movement sleep (REM), your muscles become paralyzed while your brain works overtime. This period involves intense brain activity, such as dreaming, memory consolidation, and information processing.

If You Don’t Snooze, You Lose

It’s easy to push aside sleep in favor of school or work commitments, but it may end up causing more harm than good. 45% of Americans say that poor or insufficient sleep negatively affected their daily activities at least once in the past week. And when a lack of sleep or disruptive sleep becomes habitual, it can have even longer-lasting effects.

Cognitive Ability

Sleep deprivation can impact learning, attention, decision-making, and memory, especially if you’re not getting enough slow wave or REM sleep.

Poor Performance

Sleep problems is one of the top 3 factors that negatively impacted college students’ academic performance.

Mood

Sleep quantity and quality have a huge impact on mood. When you’re not feeling well-rested, you can be more irritable, angry, overwhelmed, and stressed.

Stressed Out

91% of Americans report that too little sleep was a stress trigger.

Health

Since sleep contributes to our health and well-being, a lack of it is correlated with problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and depression.

Sleep Bad, Feel Bad

67% of Americans who reported “less than good” sleep quality also reported “poor” or “only fair” health.

The REMedy to your Sleep Problems

You owe it to yourself to get the right amount of sleep each night. Now that you understand why sleep is so important, here are some tips from the National Sleep Foundation on how you can catch some of those precious z’s.

Create the ideal environment

Set the scene for a good night’s sleep. In the evening, keep the room dark and set your thermostat to a cooler temperature. In the morning, let natural light come in to help signal when it’s time to wake.

Avoid electronics

Working late on your computer or texting on your iPhone may be keeping you up. Blue-light screens can suppress the hormone (melatonin) that helps regulate your sleep patterns. Be sure to set aside enough time to turn off before you turn in.

Stick to a Schedule

When the weekend comes, it may be tempting to stay up late or sleep in. But this can disrupt your natural sleep cycle and make you feel like you’re experiencing jet lag. When planning your weekend activities, try to stick to your weekday sleep schedule.

Sleep is more than just letting our bodies rest; it’s about making sure we feel great, think clearly, and perform to the best of our abilities. So turn off the lights, hit the hay, and start slumbering.