We get it. There's no better feeling than an extra 10 minutes of snoozing on a warm, cozy bed.

But did you know that it could actually make you more tired?

I know, it sounds counterintuitive. More sleep = more tired doesn't seem like an equation that makes sense, but hear me out.

After launching my language learning company, my sleep pattern was completely out of whack. Some nights I would only get 2 to 3 hours of sleep, while other nights I would get 10 and still feel exhausted.

I eventually realized that it came down to understanding the 5 stages of sleep. If you're struggling to get proper rest at night, read on.

The 5 Stages of Sleep

Our mind and body go through numerous phases while we're sleeping, and are more active than you think. 

Stage 1 (NREM)

In this first stage, you're in a non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stage. This is when you're floating in and out of consciousness. It's that moment when you feel awake but you also notice your mind drifting away. You may also feel a muscle jerk that wakes you up into consciousness.

Stage 2 (NREM)

Stage 2 is when you start to enter the lighter phases of sleep. About half of our sleep time is spent in this NREM stage. This is when your muscles and your heart rate begin to relax, and your brain activity slowly dwindles down.

Stage 3 & 4 (SWS)

These next two stages are combined, as they have very similar effects on our sleep, called slow wave sleep (SWS). This is the deepest part of the sleep cycle, and it's best if we're not woken up during this stage. If you've ever been abruptly woken up and were in a groggy state, you were probably experiencing slow wave sleep.

Fun fact: these are also the stages when children (or adults) experience sleepwalking and bedwetting.

Stage 5 (REM)

This is the final stage of the sleep cycle, and the only stage where we experience REM (rapid eye moment) sleep. We only spend 20 percent of our time during this stage, but it's the stage when our brains are most active.

The majority of our dreams also occur in this final stage of sleep, and our brain waves appear as if we were awake.

How to Improve Your Sleep Quality

But the real question remains: How do we actually sleep better? I'm no expert, but I've spent hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours experimenting with different solutions, and researching what experts recommend. Here's what I've learned.

1. Block blue light

In the digital world we live in today, the majority of poor sleep quality is due to what's known as blue light. Studies show that we spend, on average, about 10.5 hours a day in front of our screens (e.g., smartphones, TVs, laptops). Blue light is known to suppress melatonin, our sleep hormone, and cause eyestrain, which furthers sleep disruption. 

The most effective way to combat this is to invest in a pair of computer glasses (also known as blue-light-blocking glasses) that you can wear throughout the day and night, and use software to minimize the blue light from screens.

2. Adjust your room temperature

Sleep experts have shown that a room temperature between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for the best sleep. A room with extreme temperatures leads to more frequent awakenings and lighter sleep.

3. Optimize for REM sleep

Given how important REM sleep is in our sleep stages, we should optimize our sleep time around it. The best way to do that is to schedule for it.

It turns out that our sleep cycle contains a REM stage every 90 minutes. That means if you know when you want to wake up, then you want to work backward in 90-minute increments to find out when to sleep.

If your goal is to wake up at, say, 6 a.m., you will likely need to fall asleep at either 10:30 p.m. or midnight to meet the 90-minute rule. You can also use a sleep calculator to make this process more automated.

Next steps

I hope this was useful for those of you that struggle with getting quality sleep in your life. As someone who has struggled with insomnia, these tips are dear to my heart.

Like many of you, I procrastinated on taking action to improve my sleep. But I can tell you from personal experience the positive impact putting these tips into action has had on my life.

My recommendation is to try out at least one of these tips. Once you notice the positive effects on your sleep, you can try another, and so forth.

Best of luck!

Published on: Apr 25, 2018