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How to hack your sleep cycle and get better sleep

Jamie is a personal trainer and health coach with a degree in Kinesiology and Food and Nutrition. Read full profile

How to hack your sleep cycle and get better sleep

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If your health and wellness are important to you it’s critical to be aware of your sleep cycle. Neglecting your sleep can have some pretty damaging spill over effect on your health. Sleep is when your brain and body spring into action. Understanding the importance of sleep and the sleep cycle can allow you to take control of the rejuvenating and healing power of sleep.

How Your Sleep Cycle Works

So you’ve nodded off while watching a House Hunters marathon and are slowly off to la la land. No, not the charming movie with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling but you’ve started a 4 stage process that happens to our bodies each night.

Stage 1: Within minutes your brain starts to produce alpha and theta waves which help to slow things down and your eye movements also slow down. This is a light stage of sleep that can last around 7 minutes and you can be easily woken up. This length is usually the best for a quick cat nap or if you’ve fallen asleep in the bathroom at work.

Stage 2: This is also a pretty light stage of sleep but your brain starts to spring into action creating sleep spindles which are burst of brain activity. Waking up at the end of this stage works for the classic power nap as it’s not too deep which can result in grogginess.

Stage 3 & 4: Now you’re getting into deep sleep and the body starts to slow down and really relax with very little muscle activity or eye movement. You’re less likely to be woken during this stage. As you move into stage 4 you now begin to produce more brain waves and fall into real restorative sleep. When it comes to your health and wellness this stage is critical as it’s when you repair muscle and tissue, stimulate growth and development, boost immune function and set up your energy for the next day.

Eye movement determine when we will dream

I was never a big fan of the band REM but am a big fan of it’s function in the body! REM stands for rapid eye movement and you enter into it around 90 minutes into sleep. This is where your brain becomes super active and you start to dream. Along with dreaming your body also springs into action as your heart rate and blood pressure are increased and breathing becomes faster and shallow. Each REM phase can last around one hour and you can have 4-5 of these cycles each night.

The REM stage isn’t just about dreams of you showing up naked to school but serves an important role in memory and learning function. This is when your brain processes and consolidates information from the day before so it can be stored in your long term memory such as information that I’m very handsome…

Non-REM sleep on the other hand involves no eye movement and dreamless sleep. Breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure will become lower in non-REM sleep. Brain activity also becomes slower or as I like to call it, the ‘Kardashian phase’ of sleep…

Mental Notes To Keep If You Want To Sleep Better

Getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night is still a good rule of thumb to get that true restorative sleep. It’s important to recognize that during times of sickness or stress that you allow yourself to get more sleep. This is the time where your body burns off those stress hormones and can fight illness so make sleep a priority. With that in mind how do you get the best quality sleep each night?

Sleep experts say that the most important thing in getting a good night sleep is to create a consistent wind down routine and stick with it starting at the same time each night. This may involve having a shower and then reading and listening to music but the main thing is that consistency as your body will recognize that sleep cycle is about to begin. This will help you fall asleep quicker and get deeper and more restorative sleep each night.

Here are 4 other tips to get better sleep:

1. Keep Your Room As Dark As Possible

Darkness helps to stimulate melatonin in your brain which helps to control you circadian rhythm and sleep cycle. It helps in you getting that deep sleep but it needs darkness to activate. A good tip is to buy black out curtains to keep your room as dark as possible.

2. Your Sheet Should Feel Cool When You Touch

Your body goes through temperature fluctuations throughout the day and when you fall asleep your body naturally cools off. Helping your body get to that lower temperature quicker can encourage deeper sleep. There’s not a specific temperature but your sheets should feel cool to the touch when you lie down on them.

3. Cut Out Blue Light At Least 1-2 Hours Before Bed

In the same way darkness stimulates melatonin in the brain blue light disrupts it. Blue light is what comes from the screens of our electronics and can cause a real disruption in your sleep so try to avoid them the few hours before bed. If you have to be doing work on a lap top or scrolling Facebook to the wee hours there are at least some steps you can take. F.lux is a program that gives your laptop screen a warmer glow taking out the harsher blue light. If you use an iPhone you can activate the night shift mode which also has a similar effect.

4. Avoid Caffeine After 3-4 P.M

This might seem obvious but you’d be surprised how long caffeine can last in your system. The noticeable effects of caffeine can ware off in a few hours but it has a half life which extends its effects in your blood stream. This half life can last anywhere from 5-6 hours and possibly even longer. So if you have a coffee at 5-pm and try to go to sleep at 11 and wonder why you’re not nodding off it may be due to the caffeine.

You’re going to have to experiment when the best cut off time for yourself is as people have different tolerances and sensitivities to it.

Hopefully you can see how understanding your sleep cycle can have a massive benefit for your health and wellness. If you’re fit and active sleep is crucial for getting healthier and stronger. It’s when you recover and rejuvenate and with these sleep tips hopefully you can improve your sleep starting tonight.

And if you dream of Ryan Gosling, so much the better.

How to hack your sleep cycle and get better sleep

Quality sleep is one of the most important variables to improve your brain function, longevity, and performance in all aspects of life. We all know this but so many people have trouble learning to sleep better. If you’re struggling with getting enough rest, I’ve come up with 9 ways for you to measure and hack your sleep for the best performance.

1. Sleep Better With The Sleep Cycle App

As we sleep, we go through different cycles. When you wake up at the top of your sleep cycle, you’ll feel great, whereas when you wake up in the middle of a deep sleep, you’ll feel groggy for hours. SleepCycle can also solve this problem. It will act as an alarm clock and wake you at the top of a sleep cycle instead of letting your alarm jerk you awake when you’re in a deep sleep. This will leave you feeling more refreshed and awake all day.

2. Fill Up With Fat At Dinner

Fat is a long-burning fuel for your mind and body. Grass-fed butter, animal fat, and coconut oil are all good choices, but extra concentrated MCT oil is my personal favorite. The shorter fats of MCT oil are converted into ketones that are immediately used as fuel for your brain, and MCT oil also helps you burn body fat while you sleep. I’ve noticed that I think more clearly the next morning if I have 1-2 tablespoons of MCT oil the night before, with dinner or even right before bed.

3. Prime With Protein

Our bodies use protein for muscle repair and immune function. The muscle repair happens at night during deep sleep, so you want to make sure your body has all the raw materials it needs at night to heal and grow new tissue. The problem is that most forms of protein are not well digested before bed. A lot of protein powders and even most sources of animal protein take a lot of work to digest and can leave you with a heavy feeling during the night.

Too much protein also raises an alertness chemical in the brain called orexin, which can disrupt your sleep. The solution I recommend is taking 1-2 tablespoons of hydrolyzed grass-fed collagen peptide before bed. Hydrolyzing the proteins makes them more digestible so they don’t cause the problems listed above.

4. Turn Down The Lights

For at least a half-hour before going to bed, try to avoid bright lights. Dim your office lights if you absolutely must be working this close to bedtime and kill the unhealthy fluorescent ones. Don’t stare at your TV, phone, or tablet until you’ve dimmed it all the way, either. Even five minutes of white light from a screen shuts off your melatonin production for four hours and can wreck the quality of your sleep, so it’s best to avoid screens in the evening entirely.

For the final five critical sleep enhancing tips and to watch a video explaining sleep hacking, read on.

According to sleep specialist.

April 15, 2020 12:56pm

That time of the month can leave you feeling totally blah. Here’s are some natural ways to treat period pain.

That time of the month can leave you feeling totally blah. Here’s are some natural ways to treat period pain.

A sleep specialist shares 5 top tips that’ll help you get a good night’s rest at any stage in your cycle.

Many women experience sleep issues like feeling fatigued during the day or restless at night during the days before and/or the first few days of their period.

Before ovulation, you may feel less sleepy because oestrogen levels are high. Conversely, after ovulation you may find you ‘need’ more sleep because your progesterone levels are spiking.

How to hack your sleep cycle and get better sleep

Your sleep patterns change with your cycle. Image: iStock Source:BodyAndSoul

“There aren’t different ways to support sleep depending on which part of the cycle you’re in,” says sleep specialist Dr Kat Lederle. Instead, she advises you “take time to listen to what your body really needs”, throughout your cycle.

Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this.

How to get a good month’s sleep

Here are Dr Lederle’s best tips for better sleep at any stage in your cycle.

1. Keep a diary

How to hack your sleep cycle and get better sleep

Keep track of your cycle with a diary. Image: iStock. Source:BodyAndSoul

This will help you work out how your cycle is affecting your sleep patterns. “Knowing in advance at what part during your cycle you’ll need more or less sleep can help you plan around this — like scheduling meetings for late morning or saying no to late nights.”

2. Go outside

How to hack your sleep cycle and get better sleep

Head outside for a walk or run. Image: iStock Source:BodyAndSoul

The sun is a great mood lifter and as the double whammy of poor sleep and PMS can negatively affect your mood, make sure you get enough sunlight during the day — especially during self-isolation.

3. Stay cool

How to hack your sleep cycle and get better sleep

Wear light pyjamas. Image: iStock. Source:BodyAndSoul

Night sweats keeping you up? “Wear pyjamas that wick away the excess moisture quickly.”

4. Cut down on coffee

How to hack your sleep cycle and get better sleep

You’ll want to cut down on the coffee. Image iStock Source:BodyAndSoul

“Be mindful of when and how much caffeine you consume. A cup in the late morning is fine,” says Dr Lederle, but try to cut out your afternoon fix.

5. Eat well

How to hack your sleep cycle and get better sleep

Nourish your body with good foods. Image: iStock. Source:BodyAndSoul

The relationship between diet and food is a complex one, but common-sense rules apply. “Make sure you [eat a balanced diet], don’t eat too late and be mindful of sugary foods and alcohol.”

How to hack your sleep cycle and get better sleep

This article is the first in a series I’ll write about how to safely(ish) hack your sleep. I’m a biohacker, not a physician (although I’m married to one of those), and even my die-hard 80 year old antiaging friends who attend Smart Life Forum and look like they’re 60 will shake their heads at some of the techniques that let you sleep less. So, be warned before you read further: the rewards of sleep hacking are many, but the risks are higher than many other biohacking projects. And for God’s sake, don’t try to add massive muscle mass or lose tons of weight while cutting sleep. That’s a recipe for disaster.

I tend to post at 2 in the morning because I have a very demanding day job as a VP level technical evangelist for a large internet security company that just doesn’t allow time for recreational blogging. In Silicon Valley, you have to kick ass in your day job just to keep up with your colleagues. But as biohacker who is obsessed with getting more time and energy everyday, I still blog, and I use biohacking to get an unfair advantage in my career – more time, more energy, and less stress.

Sleep Hacking is Risky

Hacking sleep is one of the many ways to get more productivity out of your every day routine, but it comes with a lot of risk, as explained in this awesome chart. It’s wasteful to go without enough sleep (like almost everyone) while ignoring the simple things you can do to make that sleep count.

If you’re too tired to click that link, the bottom line is that lack of sleep can make you fat, substantially increase your risk of dying, give you cancer, or give you heart disease. It’s much safer to hack your fat, or muscle. I did that first (losing over 100lbs) and THEN I started sleep hacking. If you want to have more time, it is possible to preserve your health, mental function, and energy while trimming sleep.

It’s also possible to break your adrenal function, or your thyroid gland if you go for long periods without sleep. Your body can literally begin to die and cortisol levels spike dangerously high. On the bright side, you’ll feel so foggy and tired that you’ll sleep more and hopefully recover over a period of time. According to Dr. Wilson, the foremost adrenal function physician who twice presented at my antiaging/biohacker non-profit Smart Life Forum, it can sometimes take several years to recover full adrenal function if it’s compromised. It did for me. You can get a copy of Dr. Wilson’s write-up from our 2009 meeting here (and join the nonprofit mailing list for more cool stuff while you’e there).

A good biohacker counters the things that happen from bad sleep fortifying adrenal and thyroid function, and even controlling the blood sugar spikes that happen from lack of sleep. For the last 18 months, I’ve slept an average of five hours per night without gaining weight, and without a drop in mental performance (on most days anyway…). I have a 6 pack, and you can see visible veins in my abdomen, yet I did not exercise at all during this time. I’m adding 40 minutes a week back to my regimen soon, but that’s another topic. All of my antiaging blood parameters (19 vials of blood, every 6-12 months!) show I’m doing well with hacked sleep.

To get sleep data, I’ve tried to use my EEG – the one I’ve used on and off for 13 years to hack my brain – while sleeping, but the annoying electrodes come off, make a mess, and the wires get tangled. It sucks, and even for a biohacker like me, the inconvenience isn’t worth the questionable data.

How to hack your sleep cycle and get better sleep

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Sleep and performance go hand in hand. Just ask any professional athlete how important rest is to having a good game. Not getting enough sleep can impair your cognitive abilities, and this will show up in your work sooner or later.

When my clients come to me feeling frazzled and burnt out , the first thing I ask them is how much sleep they’re getting each night. Science has proven that seven to nine hours is the optimal amount of sleep needed for the average adult. If you’re not regularly getting enough sleep, you’ll undoubtedly experience the effects of sleep deprivation, impacting your health, sanity, and performance at work.

Do I have your attention yet? Are you still awake?

Here are five hacks to help you get better sleep and better performance at work.

1. Sleep seven to nine hours each night. Let’s cut straight to the chase. If you aren’t sleeping at least seven hours each night, you aren’t sleeping enough. Schedule time in your calendar to sleep if you have to. Consider this a non-negotiable so you can start to have way more energy at work.

2. Put away all electronic devices at least one hour before bed. Turn off your laptop and put your iPhone where you can’t be tempted by it. Put it on Airplane mode if you have to. Just leave all devices out of sight, out of mind, for at least one hour before getting some shuteye. Using these devices before going to bed delays and reduces REM sleep, and compromises alertness the next morning. Over time, these effects can add up to a significant, chronic deficiency in sleep.

3. Reset your sleep cycle. We all have a built-in sleep schedule. This schedule can get thrown off if you’ve pulled an all-nighter or if you’ve done a lot of traveling between time zones on a business trip. It’s important to get it back on track and keep it there, so your body can receive optimal rest.

4. Invest in sleep aid technology. The sleep aid market is projected to reach $80.8 billion by the end of 2020. Cleary there’s a need here. Do your research and see what works for you. The market offers everything from sleep monitoring devices to sleep acoustics and breathing apps. If you have a serious problem, consider consulting with a sleep doctor

5. Meditate before bed. According to this Harvard study , a mindfulness meditation helps to fight insomnia and improve sleep. How often do you go to bed with your mind racing, unable to make your worries about tomorrow’s meeting go away? A way to combat a mind that just won’t quit is by eliciting a relaxation response. First, choose something calming to focus on, like the word “peace.” Second, let go and relax. That’s it. Just focus on the word you’ve chosen and continue to breathe until you drift off to sleep.

Remember, getting enough sleep pays — literally. Take your sleep seriously, and get some shuteye tonight! You’ll thank me for it in the morning, (and your boss will thank you for it later).

When you get the proper amount of rest night after night, you’re able to perform to your full potential. Invest those seven to nine hours of sleep into yourself each night, and start each day with a recharged brain.

The alarm goes off. You groggily open one eye and slam down the snooze button.

When we wake feeling tired and sluggish, most of us blame it on a lack of sleep — but often the cause of our sleepy mornings is that we’ve woken in the middle of one of our sleep cycles. This disruption can lead to a feeling of grogginess through the rest of the morning.

During the night, your body goes through several sleep cycles. Completing a sleep cycle is the key to waking feeling refreshed and rejuvenated — even if you’ve had less sleep than normal.

How to hack your sleep cycle and get better sleep

But what are sleep cycles? What is a good sleep cycle? Let’s examine the typical sleep journey we go through each night to find out the answers.

What are Sleep Cycles?

Let’s start with the question, what are the cycles of sleep?

There are five sleep phases in a complete cycle. Stage 1 is your lightest sleep phase and stage 4 is the deepest. The first four stages make up your NREM (non-rapid eye movement sleep) and each stage can last between 5 and 15 minutes. During NREM sleep, your eyes do not move but your muscles can still function.

Stage 5 is the final phase of your sleep and when REM (rapid eye movement sleep) occurs. This is usually characterized as the dreaming phase of sleep and is accompanied by greater eye and body movements.

The five stages of sleep happen in cycles with stage 1 starting over again when you enter your first REM stage. Each sleep cycle lasts around 90 to 120 minutes and you can experience up to five cycles in a typical night’s sleep.

How to hack your sleep cycle and get better sleep

The Different Phases of the Sleep Cycle

Now we come to what differentiates each stage of the sleep cycle — let’s take a detailed look.

Stage 1

The first stage is when your head hits the pillow and you close your eyes for a good night’s rest. Your eyelids may be slightly open and your breathing will start to slow down.

NREM stage 1 sleep is your lightest sleep phase when you can easily be woken up and it lasts for between 1 and 10 minutes.

Stage 2

In stage 2, it’s a lot harder to wake you up.

Your heart rate will slow down and your body temperature decreases to prepare you for a deep sleep phase, which usually lasts for around 20 minutes. That said, stage 2 is still characterised as a light sleep stage. You will spend around 45% of the total duration of your sleep in stage 2.

Stage 3

Around 35 to 45 minutes after you fall asleep, you’ll enter NREM stage 3 in your sleep cycle.

It’s also during this stage when REM sleep begins to kick in. You’re unlikely to show any reaction to noises and disturbances as it’s the transitional period between light sleep and very deep sleep. Slow brain waves (delta waves) also begin to emerge in stage 3 sleep, showing the relaxation of body and mind.

Stage 4

Some experts refer to stage 4 sleep as delta sleep because it’s at this point that the delta waves are fully present.

Stage 4 is classed as a deep sleep phase where things like sleepwalking and sleep talking can happen. NREM stage 4 sleep typically lasts for about 30 minutes.

Stage 5: REM sleep

REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the final stage of the sleep cycle. You’ll also experience more dreams during this phase. Although you won’t know it at the time, your eyes will move rapidly in all directions while you are asleep. Your respiration rate and brain activity will also increased and your voluntary muscles will relax to a paralysed state.

The first REM sleep of the night happens after being asleep for at least 90 minutes and usually lasts around 10 minutes. REM sleep stages get longer and longer as we enter each cycle and the last one can last for anything up to an hour.

How to hack your sleep cycle and get better sleep

But it’s not quite so simple as that…

We should point out that your sleep doesn’t progress through all five stages in sequence.

The cycle begins in stage 1 and progresses to stage 2, 3 and 4. Stage 3 and then 2 are interchangeably repeated before eventually you’ll emerge into the REM sleep phase. Once the cycle is complete, you will return to stage 2 sleep, and your next sleep cycle will begin.

What is the Best Sleep Cycle?

Rather than ‘what is the best sleep cycle?’, the question should be ‘what is a good sleep cycle?’

How to hack your sleep cycle and get better sleep

In reality, there’s no such thing as a ‘best’ sleep cycle as their quality and duration can be affected by so many individual things, such as:

  • Sleep disorders
  • Stress
  • Environment
  • Inconsistencies in your sleep schedule

If you want to know what is a good sleep cycle, however, you’ll find that it’s simply one that you complete, rather than waking up in the middle of.

Sleep hackers committed to waking up feeling rested and refreshed usually invest in a smart alarm — either a wearable device or a mobile app.

Smart alarms wake you up in your lightest sleep phase (within a predetermined time frame) so you can avoid any feelings of sleep inertia. When your standard alarm wakes you in the middle of a deep sleep cycle, you could experience sleep inertia – and that could lead to you having a terrible day.

Final word

Asking yourself ‘what is the best sleep cycle’ is a good place to start if you’re committed to getting a better night’s sleep.

Remember, the best way to do that is to simply ensure that you wake up at the end of a sleep cycle, rather than in the middle of it. Sleep well!

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How to hack your sleep cycle and get better sleep

While all of the sleep stages are important, REM sleep plays a specific role in processing and storing information, allowing you to retain memories and lock down what you’ve learned during the day. Most of us require between 90 to 110 minutes of REM sleep each night, but it can be an elusive sleep stage to reach sometimes. Why is that? In this article, we’ll explore a few possible scenarios for why REM sleep is escaping you, as well as some tried and true tips to up your minutes in REM sleep, so your mind feels rejuvenated and refreshed in the morning.

Why am I Not Getting Enough REM Sleep?

While the exact science of sleep is still somewhat murky, there are studies that suggest a few reasons why you’re not getting enough REM sleep. Time change fatigue is known have an adverse affect on sleep quality. Having a few alcoholic beverages in the evening may be contributing to your lack of REM. Alcohol has been found to both reduce overall REM sleep at night, as well as delay the first REM cycle. Nicotine is another known culprit for suppressing this stage of rest according to a 2009 study.

Not getting regular physical activity could be another reason for interrupted REM sleep, as one study found that the REM cycle was positively affected among subjects who worked out on a consistent basis. There’s also growing evidence that times of stress or depression lead to decreases, disruptions, and delays in REM sleep. The answer is not always clear, but if one of these causes resonates with your own situation, resolving it could be the answer to getting in a solid REM cycle.

How to check how much REM sleep you are getting?

If you’re not sure how much REM sleep your getting, try tracking your sleep using SleepScore App (it’s free!) You can see how many minutes you were in REM sleep, how you compare to others your age and gender, and more. Download for free app today from the App Store and Google Play Store!

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How to Achieve More REM Sleep

There are a multitude of things you can do to enter all the necessary sleep stages, including REM, every night like finding a light to sleep better or regular exercise. To increase your time in the REM stage, you’ll need to think about your sleep cycle as a whole. These tips will allow you to enter light sleep, deep sleep, and REM stages more easily and consistently, resulting in improved sleep health and a brighter tomorrow.

  • Make exercise a daily priority. As research tells us, a single day of exercise likely won’t make a difference in REM sleep, but physical activity on a regular basis can yield improvements. Try adding a 20-minute walk into your day, and slowly increase it to 30 minutes, and then 40. There’s also yoga, swimming, jogging, or any other light to medium physical activity. Just do what you enjoy most! Be sure to plan your workout no later than 3 hours before bedtime. This ensures your body has time to wind down. To find the energy you need to exercise each day requires good sleep. Check out these sleep products tested and scored by sleep experts to help you feel more energy.
  • Plan your sleep and wake times. Keeping your sleep schedule intact every day is critical to entering the necessary sleep stages regularly. Try to get to bed at the same time each night, and allow for at least 7 hours to pass before you need to wake up. Over time, your body will acclimate to the schedule, you’ll more easily enter light, deep, and REM stages in full, and you may even find waking up to be easier!
  • Find creative outlets for stress. If stress is consuming your life, it can impede your ability to get the rest that you need. Some people like to workout, write in a journal, practice meditation, and gratitude. Others utilize methods like aromatherapy and essential oils to manage stress appropriately.
  • Be mindful of your beverage intake. Hydrating during the day will keep your body healthy, and reduce wake ups to use the restroom. And while that second glass of wine is so tempting, maybe think twice about it. We recommend having your last drink at least three hours before bed. A nighttime smoothie is a good healthy alternative that can actually help you fall asleep faster.

No two sleepers are the same. We all have different challenges in life that can negatively influence our nightly rest. You can take proactive steps like these to improve your sleep health. You may find yourself getting the necessary REM sleep your mind needs!

Download the free SleepScore App for insights on how well you sleep, the quality and quantity of your sleep cycles, and sleep improvement progress with science-backed tips and insights. Personalized advice, goals and challenges are available with an optional premium upgrade, but you can try SleepScore Premium for 7 days free (for a limited time).

Many of us struggle to get enough sleep every night, but is the sleep we get any good? While it’s important to get enough sleep, better sleep is a greater ally than more hours of sleep. We sat down with a sleep expert and a stack of studies to help you get a better night’s sleep and need less in the process. Here’s how.

This post was originally published in 2013. In honor of World Sleep Day , today we’re reviving this old feature on how to get better z’s.

Most of Us Have a Hard Time Getting Enough Sleep in the First Place

Let’s make sure we’re on the same page from the start: You need sleep, and odds are, you may not be getting enough as it is. This guide will help you improve the quality of your sleep, so you can survive on less, but it’ll be useless if you don’t know how much sleep is right for you to begin with. The truth is, each of us needs a different amount of sleep to be productive, and the whole “8 hours” thing is more of a guideline than a rule. In fact, some research suggests that sleeping too much can actually be harmful to your health. Photo by Toshiyuki IMAI .

We’ve discussed how to get on a good sleep schedule and ditch a dysfunctional relationship with sleeping, so if you’re having trouble sleeping, make sure to follow that guide first. Our goal in this post is to walk you through improving the sleep that you get to the point where you can fine tune and dial back the amount that you get to match what you really need. You’ll spend less time tossing and turning, and more time getting truly restful sleep.

How to Reboot Your Sleep Cycle

Nothing can stand in for a good night’s sleep, so instead of discussing how we might scrape by with

Why Better Sleep is More Important than More Sleep

We frequently hear about the dangers of too little sleep , but there’s also research to suggest too much sleep is a problem too . One study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research concluded that quality of sleep is more important than quantity of sleep when it comes to feeling rested and rejuvenated.

How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Really Need?

The general rule of thumb for what counts as a full night’s sleep has been eight hours for as long…

So where does that leave us? First, start tracking your sleep , and find your perfect bedtime . There are great apps that can help . Eight hours of sleep is worthless if you spend all of it tossing and turning, or you only sleep for about 3-4 hours of it. Trying to fix poor sleep habits by going to bed earlier is like trying to lose weight by spending more time at the gym without actually changing the duration of your workout. Once you’ve learned to optimize your time, you’ll see better results.

How I Achieved Better Sleep with the Help of Technology

Once upon a time—a very long time—I used to sleep well. After too many restless nights, I decided…

The Keys to Better, Quality Sleep

Optimizing your sleep depends heavily on three things: preparation (building good sleep habits), environment (tweaking your surroundings for optimal sleep), and timing (getting the sleep you need when you need it). We sat down with Dr. Nitun Verma, MD, a Stanford University trained specialist in sleep medicine and Medical Director of the Washington Township Center for Sleep Disorders in Fremont , to come up with some tips to help you improve the quality of your sleep so you’ll need less in the long-term. Photo by Joi Ito .

Preparation

The first step is to build the habits that will help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and be more comfortable while you rest. For example:

  • Exercise regularly. The goal here isn’t to wear yourself out, but The National Sleep Foundation has said exercise in the afternoon can improve sleep in the evening . Specifically, morning or afternoon exercise helps you fall asleep faster with less trouble. Just be sure not to exercise right before bed, as that had the opposite effect.
  • Set a kinder, gentler alarm. Ditch your incredibly loud, annoying alarm clock and try something new that will make waking up easier and more natural. Grab an alarm clock app that will wake you to music or soothing sounds, or try a wake-up light that slowly rises the light level in the room as you approach your wake-up time.
  • Ditch the alcohol, cut out the caffeine, and watch the cigarettes. This one study , published in 1994, approached all three topics, and concluded that alcohol can be relaxing and help you get to sleep, but it’s damaging to the sleep cycle once you’re out. The end result is a choppy, restless night where you wake more frequently than you would. Caffeine has a different effect. It lengthens the 2nd phase of your sleep cycle (where your brain starts reorganizing itself and processing the day)—which is great for naps, but not for a night of deep sleep. Caffeine shortens phases three and four, where REM sleep and dreaming occur. Cigarettes on the other hand, or specifically nicotine, can be relaxing in small doses, but too much keeps you awake and prevents the onset of sleep entirely.

Whether you’re dealing with jet lag, night shift work, or insomnia, an inconsistent sleep schedule can impact your mood, concentration, and weight.

But you can re-tune your sleep cycle to get better rest and more of it.

Your Internal Clock

This is also called the circadian rhythm, and it tells your body when to sleep and wake up. Many of the important things going in your body rely on this sleep-wake cycle. That’s why an out-of-whack sleep schedule can hurt your overall health while robbing you of shut-eye and leaving you groggy during the day.

Get the Rest You Need

Fall asleep faster and snooze better by following these tips:

1. Ban blue light. The light that comes from your electronics and energy-efficient lightbulbs, called blue light, has a powerful effect on your “master clock,” says Michael J. Thorpy, MD, director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at the Montefiore Medical Center.

At night, blue light keeps you from being able to wind down and fall asleep, he says. Turn off your TV, phone, and tablet, and dim the lights at least an hour before you hit the sack.

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Night workers can buy glasses that block blue light during their daytime drive home to “trick” their brain into thinking it’s night time.

2. Skip naps. Avoid taking them if you can, Thorpy says. But if you feel so tired you can’t function, he says it’s OK to give in to a brief snooze. “But keep it to less than 20 minutes. It will refresh you but won’t take away from sleep later.”

3. Get out of bed if you can’t sleep. If you’re still awake 20 minutes after turning in, get up and do something relaxing instead of staring at the ceiling. Staying in bed and tossing and turning trains your brain to stay awake night after night, he says.

4. Wake up at the same time every day. “You can’t always control when you fall asleep, but you can decide when you start your day. Having a regular routine sets the tone for your body for the whole day,” he says.

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If you typically work the night shift but have the day off, go to bed later than normal, and wake up later, too. This will help you adjust more easily when it’s time to be up all night again.

5. Practice good bedtime habits. These can go a long way to helping you fall asleep faster:

• Filter out noise. Use a white-noise machine to block sound when you sleep.

• Keep a cool room. The best temperature for good sleep is 67-68 degrees, Thorpy says.

• Avoid caffeine. Drinking coffee, soda, or tea after lunchtime can make you toss and turn at night.

• Exercise daily. Get your heart rate up during the day to boost your odds of good sleep, or do yoga before bed to relax.

Sources

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: “Sleep Disorders.”

National Institute of General Medical Sciences: “Circadian Rhythms Fact Sheet.”

Nathaniel F. Watson, MD, president, American Academy of Sleep Medicine; co-director, University of Washington Medicine Sleep Center; director, Harborview Medical Center Sleep Clinic, Seattle, Washington.

Michael J. Thorpy, MD, director, Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at the Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, New York.

National Sleep Foundation: “What to do When You Can’t Sleep,” “Sleep Hygiene.”

Sleep is complex, and understanding it can help you get better rest.

Now more than ever, we can quantify exactly how good or bad our sleep patterns are. You might already have a hunch that you’re tossing and turning or waking up too often, but there’s loads of tech to help you find out more. Smart beds , sleep trackers and wearables of all sorts help us track our sleep .

Each morning you can review your heart rate, breath rate and sleep graphs with information about how much light, deep and REM sleep you had the night before. But all that data only makes sense if you know what you’re aiming for and what it all means.

Here’s how to decode your sleep cycles so you can make the most of your shut-eye.

What are sleep cycles?

Humans sleep in cycles. The best known is REM, which stands for rapid eye movement, because your eyes move rapidly during this stage of sleep. In general, scientists and researchers divide the cycles into two broad categories: non-REM and REM sleep. I’m going to break down non-REM sleep into two further categories that are often used by sleep trackers.

Light sleep

Light sleep is the beginning of your sleep cycle and your body’s way of winding down. Breathing, heart rate and muscle changes prepare your body for the deeper sleep to come.

Light sleep is broken down into stages 1 and 2. The first stage is simply the act of transitioning from awake to asleep and makes up less than 3% of your nightly sleep cycles.

Stage 2 is where light sleep gets to work. Fully asleep, your brain activity slows but includes bursts of electrical activity. Neuroscience research suggests that these spurts of electrical activity are a crucial part of your brain’s process of transferring information from short- to long-term memory. That’s why many scientists agree that sleeping after studying or learning new material helps you retain information at a higher rate.

Most people spend more time in stage 2 during long periods of sleep than any other stage, and that’s a good thing since it’s such an important part of brain health and emotional processing.

Deep sleep

Deep sleep is often confused with REM sleep, but the two are actually very different. Deep sleep is the part of your sleep cycle in which your body recovers from the day. Your body secretes growth hormones associated with cellular repair and rebuilding.

When you get enough deep sleep, you wake up feeling refreshed. Without enough, you’ll feel tired even if you got a full night of rest.

Typically, you’ll see deep sleep on your sleep-tracking devices in the first half of your night. It happens in relatively long segments, while your heartbeat and breathing slow to their lowest levels.

This is also the stage of sleep where it is most difficult to wake you up. Deep sleep is as important, if not more important, than REM sleep when it comes to physical rest, so keep an eye on this stage if you’re tracking your sleep patterns.

The BeautyRest Sleeptracker graphs REM, light, deep and awake segments.

Screenshot by Molly Price/CNET

REM sleep

Perhaps the most famous of the sleep cycles, REM sleep is interesting and almost the stuff of sci-fi. Most people experience REM sleep around 90 minutes after falling asleep.

REM sleep goes even deeper into brain recovery, dreaming and processing memories and emotions. This is the sleep stage in which your eyes move rapidly. If you’ve ever caught your dog or cat in a REM stage, you’ll recognize the darting eyes.

Your brain waves in REM sleep are closer to wakefulness than deep sleep, and your breathing becomes irregular and speeds up. Blood pressure and heart rates also increase to near awake levels in REM sleep.

It’s not surprising that with so much near-wakefulness, this stage is when most of your dreaming occurs.

Fun fact: In REM sleep, your arm and leg muscles are temporarily paralyzed by two chemicals in your brain that prevent you from physically acting out your dreams and punching your partner in the face instead of that alien bad guy.

Why it matters

Sure, you could do just as hundreds of generations of humans before us did and fall asleep without any sleep trackers and trust Mother Nature. In fact, I encourage you to do that, especially if large amounts of data about your body doesn’t ease your mind.

If you’re interested in sleep data though, understanding and correlating how you feel with how well you progress through the sleep stages can help you make informed decisions about your bedroom environment or schedule. Learn how to track your sleep schedule here .

More sleep advice

  • Four fancy smart beds for a better night’s sleep
  • How to turn your Apple Watch into a sleep tracker
  • Best alarm clock for 2020

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.