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To sleep, perchance to…get sleep.

Understanding sleep and 7 tips to achieve a good night’s sleep.

I am going to date myself here, but I remember as a kid watching cartoons such as G.I. Joe and He-Man. At the end of the episodes, there was a public service announcement for us kids, such as bullying and stranger danger. At the end of the PSA, the kids in the cartoon would tell the main character, “Now we know!” to which the main character would say, “And knowing is half the battle.” Hopefully, this blog provides helpful and insightful information, as that is its intention. The purpose is to provide psychoeducation on mental health and well-being. I have my own issues and struggle with sleep, so this topic is near and dear to me, and these tips have helped over the years.

What is sleep, why is it so vital to our health and well-being, and what are some ways to help achieve a good night’s rest?

Getting a good night’s rest can be elusive. It can be especially difficult with all the things going on in the world, daily life stressors, wars, poverty, and politics. We are constantly thinking about everything, all the time, and this can be an issue. It

would be nice to be able to shut off our brain for a while to rest and relax. Unfortunately, shutting off our brains isn’t an option. Even when we are asleep, various brain regions are active. Other factors to take into consideration which can influence our ability to sleep are genetics, culture, diet, and exercise.

A little bit about sleep

We spend a third of our life asleep (about 25 years on average). It is part-and-parcel and natural to and for life, so sleep must be important. According to Michael Gazzaniga, Psychology Professor and Director of the Sage Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the average person sleeps about 8 hours per night, however, this varies among individuals. Some adults have reported that they sleep 9 to 10 hours a night, while others have stated that they need only an hour or two! We know that adults often sleep less as they age, and sleep will vary from person to person and based on time, place, and context. Sleep patterns are influenced genetically and culturally. But first, let’s rewind and examine sleep so that we can have a better understanding of it and understand why it is so vital to our lives.

What is sleep?

Let us start with some psychoeducation about sleep and what it entails. Sleep can be defined as, a periodic and naturally occurring state of rest that can be characterized by a loss of consciousness, reduced activity, and lessened responsiveness to stimuli (King, 2023; Myers & DeWall, 2015; Ettinger, 2011). Our bodies have an internal biological 24-hour cycle of day and night, it is our circadian rhythm, which is altered by age, genetics, diet & exercise, and even culture. During the night, we cycle through the stages of sleep (Non-REM-1, Non-REM-2, Non-REM-3, REM). The sleep cycle lasts about 90-100 mins, with hopes to achieve the last stage of sleep, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, also known as paradoxical sleep, because the muscles are relaxed (except for minor twitches) but other body systems are active. It is called rapid eye movement because about every half minute or so, our eyes dart in momentary bursts of activity. During the non-REM stages, dreams also occur, but they are more mundane. The REM sleep stage is where our most vivid dreams occur. We must achieve REM sleep to get a good night’s rest; and to feel fully rested.

Why do we sleep?

There are some reasons psychologists believe that we sleep.

  • Sleep protects us. It served as a protective role in human evolution keeping us safe.

  • Sleep helps us recuperate. It helps repair and restore damaged neurons.

  • Sleep helps restore and rebuild our fading memories of the day’s experiences. REM and non-REM-2 sleep help strengthen neural connections that build enduring memories.

  • Sleep feeds creativity. It promotes creative problem-solving the next day.

  • Sleep supports growth. During deep sleep, the pituitary gland secretes a growth hormone necessary for muscle development. Ever notice that babies sleep between 15-17 hours a day…they’re growing!

What is sleep deprivation and how does it affect the body?

Listen to your body. It will tell you what it needs. Sleep is essential. We feel terrible, fatigued, and irritable if we don’t get sleep. Sleep loss is a predictor of depression. When we are sleep-deprived, we function below our peak and potential. Here is what sleep deprivation does to our bodies.

  • Brain. Decreased ability to focus attention and process and store memories; increased risk of depression.

  • Immune System. Decreased production of immune cells; increased risk of viral infections, such as colds.

  • Fat Cells. Increased production; greater risk of obesity. Increased production of cortisol, a stress hormone that stimulates the body to make fat. Moreover, when we are stressed, our cortisol is released to assuage that stress, but in doing so, it weakens our immune system.

  • Joints. Increased inflammation and arthritis.

  • Heart. Increased risk of high blood pressure.

  • Stomach. Increase in hunger-arousing hormone ghrelin; decrease in huger-suppressing hormone leptin.

  • Muscles. Reduced strength; slower reaction time and motor learning.

Seven tips to get sleep

Now that we know a little bit about sleep, what are some tips to achieve a good night’s rest?

  1. Exercise regularly but not in the late evening (late afternoon is best). Establish a daily routine and try to stick to it. This will help set your biological 24-hour cycle and circadian rhythm.

  2. Avoid caffeine in the early afternoon. Try to avoid food and alcohol near bedtime. One exception would be a glass of milk, which provides the raw material for the manufacture of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that facilitates sleep.

  3. Relax before bedtime; stretching before bedtime can help your mind and body relax.

  4. Our bed is for sleeping. Our brains make associations. We must learn to associate our bed with sleeping, not watching TV all through the night, and not doing homework or stuff for work. The best way to make that association is to keep our bed for sleep, and perhaps a little cuddling.

  5. Hide the clock so you aren’t tempted to check it repeatedly.

  6. Reassure yourself that temporary sleep loss causes no real harm.

  7. Reduce screen time (phone, computer/laptop, tv). Use a dimmer light. Culturally, we spend several hours staring at our phones, computers, and the big screen TVs. Those electronic devices emit what is called a blue-light wavelength, which tricks our brain into remaining awake and suppresses the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin. In the morning there is a decreased production of melatonin and an increased production in the evening.

Now you know a little bit about sleep, why we sleep, the effects of sleep deprivation, and some natural sleep aids on how to achieve sleep, and knowing is half the battle.

Want to learn more? Check out these references:

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