Adult health

We do it every night, and over the course of our life we will spend approximately a third of our time doing it: sleep. But what is it? Doctors and scientists are really just beginning to understand all the important ways that sleep affects our health and well-being — and all the reasons why we do it.

The National Institutes of Health define sleep as a complex biological process, during which you are unconscious but your brain and body are still active, that’s necessary for learning new information, staying healthy, and feeling rested.

The bottom line is that we need sleep to function, Dr. Pelayo says. It’s a critical process that allows the body to function and stay healthy — and it’s especially important for the brain.

“The entire body takes advantage of sleep,” Pelayo explains. For example, research suggests the kidneys slow down production of urine, and digestion slows in the gut.

“But sleep is really how the brain gets reset for the next day. Sleep restores the brain.”

That means inadequate sleep or poor quality sleep will damage many systems of the body and over time can contribute to a greater risk of chronic disease and health problems. But the most immediate consequences of not sleeping that you’ll notice are those that affect your mind and thinking.

You’re not doomed to toss and turn every night. Consider simple tips for better sleep, from setting a sleep schedule to including physical activity in your daily routine.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Many factors can interfere with a good night’s sleep — from work stress and family responsibilities to illnesses. It’s no wonder that quality sleep is sometimes elusive.

You might not be able to control the factors that interfere with your sleep. However, you can adopt habits that encourage better sleep. Start with these simple tips.

Stick to a sleep schedule

Set aside no more than eight hours for sleep. The recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult is at least seven hours. Most people don’t need more than eight hours in bed to be well rested.

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends. Being consistent reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle.

If you don’t fall asleep within about 20 minutes of going to bed, leave your bedroom and do something relaxing. Read or listen to soothing music. Go back to bed when you’re tired. Repeat as needed, but continue to maintain your sleep schedule and wake-up time.

Pay attention to what you eat and drink

Don’t go to bed hungry or stuffed. In particular, avoid heavy or large meals within a couple of hours of bedtime. Discomfort might keep you up.

Nicotine, caffeine and alcohol deserve caution, too. The stimulating effects of nicotine and caffeine take hours to wear off and can interfere with sleep. And even though alcohol might make you feel sleepy at first, it can disrupt sleep later in the night.

Create a restful environment

Keep your room cool, dark and quiet. Exposure to light in the evenings might make it more challenging to fall asleep. Avoid prolonged use of light-emitting screens just before bedtime. Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, a fan or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.

Doing calming activities before bedtime, such as taking a bath or using relaxation techniques, might promote better sleep.

Limit daytime naps

Long daytime naps can interfere with nighttime sleep. Limit naps to no more than one hour and avoid napping late in the day.

However, if you work nights, you might need to nap late in the day before work to help make up your sleep debt.

Include physical activity in your daily routine

Regular physical activity can promote better sleep. However, avoid being active too close to bedtime.

Spending time outside every day might be helpful, too.

Manage worries

Try to resolve your worries or concerns before bedtime. Jot down what’s on your mind and then set it aside for tomorrow.

Stress management might help. Start with the basics, such as getting organized, setting priorities and delegating tasks. Meditation also can ease anxiety.

Know when to contact your health care provider

Nearly everyone has an occasional sleepless night. However, if you often have trouble sleeping, contact your health care provider. Identifying and treating any underlying causes can help you get the better sleep you deserve.

Sleep Spoiler — Tips for a Good Night’s Rest

Virend Somers, M.D., Ph.D.: When you don’t sleep well, bad things happen.

Vivien Williams: Dr. Virend Somers is a cardiologist who studies sleep.

Dr. Somers: Sleep is very much a multidisciplinary specialty for good reason because sleep affects all the organs of the body.

Dr. Somers: We’ve got bright lights all over the place, and then we switch the lights off, we lie in bed and expect to sleep. The bedroom, the bed is for sex and sleep. It’s not for spreadsheets, it’s not for watching TV.

Vivien Williams: He also suggests keeping your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible. Healthy sleep for a healthy life. For the Mayo Clinic News Network, I’m Vivien Williams.

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Reader Success Stories

As counterintuitive as it may seem, climbing out of bed after about 20 minutes of worrying is the tried-and-true advice sleep doctors tell everyone they help and one of the hallmark steps of therapy for insomnia. If you spend time in bed worrying, your brain will begin to associate the two and not be able to sleep, Chan says. You’ll create a vicious cycle for yourself, whereby your bed increasingly becomes a space where it is difficult for you to sleep.

Instead, get out of bed and do something calming, such as reading a book, doing light chores, or journaling. As soon as you start getting sleepy, head to bed. “The goal is to increase your sleep efficiency, meaning that when you’re in bed, you’re sleeping,” Chan says.

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Slow That Heart Rate

You may have used the 4-7-8 breathing technique or deep muscle relaxation before bed. Now try them again, as your goal is to not only lower that heart rate but also take your mind away from your thoughts, Breus says.

Write Down Your Worries

Keep a notepad and pen by your bed to scribble down worries that are at the front of your mind, Dr. Brodner says. This isn’t the same as pre-bed structured worry time, since you’re not creating solutions; you’re just getting your worries out of your head so your mind can rest.

Turn on the TV (and Half-Close Your Eyes)

This tip may be controversial, but a much-loved movie or TV show can take your mind off whatever is bothering you and potentially help you relax, says Breus.

Now, we know what you’re thinking: Yes, TVs emit blue light, which can mess with your melatonin production and make it harder to nod off. But unlike smartphones and tablets, which you hold close to your face, TVs are usually positioned “so far away that you’re not getting as much blue light as you think,” says Breus. Plus, most people aren’t actually watching TV as much as listening to it with their eyes closed, and blue light can’t penetrate closed eyelids.

Note, though, that most sleep guidelines recommend against TV in bed, including some experts from Sleep, so if listening to the TV isn’t helping you sleep, don’t do it.

It’s also worth stating that everyone has trouble sleeping from time to time. But if restless nights become the norm, rather than an occasional occurrence, tell your doctor. If you’re experiencing symptoms of insomnia, there are ways your doctor or a sleep specialist can help.

Common Questions & Answers

How much sleep do you need?

Adults ages 18 and older should get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, guidelines recommend. Adults over age 65 may need slightly less sleep, and children ages 17 and under need more sleep.

What’s the purpose of sleeping?

If you are not getting enough sleep, the chemical processes that flush out waste and replenish energy in the brain do not happen. This can make it tougher to concentrate, remember things, and have patience, and can make you more emotional than usual.

Does sleep affect your health in other ways?

Consistently sleeping poorly has been linked to worse heart health and increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, and poor immune function. Lack of sleep also leads to a buildup of certain proteins that is linked to greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

What hormones affect sleep?

In addition to our body’s biological clock, cortisol and melatonin signal to the body when to wake and sleep.

How can you get better sleep?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to sleeping better. Good sleep hygiene strategies, however, include sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, monitoring your caffeine intake, exercising regularly, and avoiding bright lights and screens close to bedtime.

Why Sleep Is So Important for Your Health

We intuitively know we need sleep. When you don’t get a good night’s sleep, you’ll likely feel drowsy, you won’t quite be able to think as clearly as usual, and you might be moody and irritable. That’s because one of the key functions of sleep is to restore the brain.

Why the Brain Needs Sleep

“Sleep is something the brain needs,” Pelayo explains. Our brains run on electricity, which means the chemical energy the brain uses to function has waste products (called metabolites) that need to get cleaned out. That’s what happens during sleep, Pelayo says. The brain flushes out that waste during sleep. The brain also experiences a spike in adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule the brain uses for energy and that’s essential for communication between brain cells.

You likely won’t be measuring your daily ATP levels, but they do affect your ability to function in big ways. If you don’t get a good night’s sleep and those chemical processes don’t happen, the next day you’ll likely notice:

  • It’s tougher to concentrate.
  • It’s harder to remember things.
  • You’re moody and irritable.
  • Your judgment might be skewed.
  • You have less patience.
  • You’re more likely to make rash decisions or have a tough time making decisions.
  • You’re more emotional than usual.
  • Your hand-eye coordination is a little bit off.

There’s also emerging evidence that over time, regularly not getting enough sleep leads to the buildup of certain proteins in the brain that are linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological problems.

Why the Body Needs Sleep

Of course, it’s not just our minds that need sleep. Other systems of the body don’t work quite right when they’re too tired, either. Immediately after a poor night’s sleep you might notice you’re hungrier and tend to crave and eat more,

and people are also at higher risk of catching a cold or flu.

Researchers think that’s because sleep deprivation has been shown to mess with how the immune system functions.

Sleeping poorly over time has also been shown to increase the risk of:

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease and hypertension
  • Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders
  • Poor immune function
  • Earlier death

Everything You Need to Know About What Happens When You Sleep

You may not remember everything that happens each night when you’re asleep, but if you’re doing it right, there’s a lot going on in your brain and your body, Pelayo says. “There are differences between sleep and awake for every single body system, but nothing as dramatic as the changes of consciousness during sleep,” he says.

The Different Stages of Sleep

During sleep the brain cycles, repeatedly, through different stages.

Stage 1: Non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep The first stage is when you’re falling asleep — stage 1 non-REM. Your heartbeat, breathing, and eye movement start to slow down, and your muscles relax. Your brain waves also slow down, and it’s still very easy to wake up during this preliminary stage of sleep.

Stage 2: Non-REM sleep In the second stage, your heart rate drops and your body temperature falls even more. Eye movement stops completely and your brain slows way down, except for brief bursts of activity.

Stage 3: Non-REM sleep Next comes deep sleep. This stage is heavy and restorative. Your heartbeat and breathing slow down the most during this type of sleep, and now is the time when it’s hardest to awake.

REM sleep Finally comes REM sleep, when your eyes begin to dart quickly back and forth from side to side (even though your eyelids are still closed). Brain activity speeds way up, closer to the amount of activity that happens when you’re awake. This is the stage of sleep when most of your dreaming happens. Your breathing speeds up and becomes irregular during REM sleep. Heart rate and blood pressure start to climb back to waking levels, but the muscles of your arms and legs become temporarily paralyzed. Sleep experts suspect this paralysis is a mechanism our bodies developed to protect us from injury or other harm that might otherwise ensue if we were to “act out” our dreams.

Each cycle of sleep (a set of all the stages) usually takes about 90 minutes. And most people tend to spend more time during each cycle in deeper sleep earlier in the night — and more time in REM sleep later on. Each stage of sleep is important, and both deep sleep and REM sleep play critical roles in the learning and memory consolidation processes that happen during sleep.

What Drives Sleep

Two internal systems control when we sleep and when we’re awake. First, there’s the sleep-wake homeostatic drive. The longer we’re awake, the more our bodies crave sleep — and the longer we’re asleep, the more the body wants to wake up.

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The homeostatic sleep drive affects how deeply we sleep, too. For instance, if you stay awake for 24 or 36 hours instead of the typical amount of time you spend awake during a day, such as 16 or 17 hours, sleep-wake homeostasis is the mechanism that drives you to sleep longer and deeper once you do sleep.

Then there’s our circadian rhythm, our body’s biological clock, which syncs our body functions with environmental cues. These internal clocks are what drive us to feel sleepy at night and more awake in the morning (even, for instance, if you slept poorly the previous night, or pulled an all-nighter). They’re regulated by hormones, such as the stress hormone cortisol and the sleep hormone melatonin, which get secreted by the brain to send these wake and sleep signals to the body.

“They’re two complementary systems in the brain,” Pelayo says. And when there’s a discrepancy between the homeostatic drive to sleep and the signal to sleep that comes from the circadian system, problems like jet lag and other disordered sleep occur.

“This is why people who wake up at different times every day may feel tired a lot,” Pelayo says. “The brain doesn’t know how to predict when they should be awake. It’s like being constantly jet-lagged.”

The more sleep researchers learn about these two systems that control sleep, the more it is clear why not only sufficient hours of sleep, but also good sleep habits (such as going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day) are important.

How Much Sleep You Actually Need

How much sleep you need each night varies somewhat depending on your age (younger people typically need more sleep than older adults) and our genes (some people are naturally shorter sleepers than others). But typically the sleep target for adults is between seven and nine hours each night, according to guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation.

That recommendation, along with additional recommended sleep times for younger children, adolescents, and older adults, is based on the amount of sleep associated with the best health outcomes in a number of areas, including things like mood, learning, accidents, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and pain.

But Pelayo says not to get too concerned about banking a specific number of hours of sleep each night. “The issue is waking up refreshed,” he says. “You should never wake up tired. If you do wake up feeling tired, something is wrong.”

Waking up sleepy may indicate that the quality of your sleep is poor. Maybe you’re spending too much time in light sleep and not getting enough restorative deep sleep, for example, Pelayo says. If that’s the case, you should ask your doctor about getting checked for a sleep disorder, or see a sleep medicine specialist.

Common Sleep Disorders

Everyone should be able to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, Pelayo says. And if you’re not (and it’s not because you lack the opportunity to sleep), it’s important to be aware of the several sleep disorders that might be interfering with your rest.

Below are some of the more common sleep disorders and some signs that you may have one.

Insomnia Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Cases can be short term, such as those due to a stressful event, like a job change or jet lag; or long term, meaning the sleep trouble lasts for three months or longer, which is known as chronic insomnia.

If you snore or wake up still feeling tired, particularly after a full night asleep, you may have sleep apnea and should get checked out by your doctor. Left untreated, sleep apnea can cause big problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, memory problems, and higher accident risk.

Narcolepsy Narcolepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system in which the brain cannot properly regulate cycles of sleep and waking.

People with the disorder can experience the sudden, sometimes uncontrollable, need to fall asleep throughout the day, as well as trouble staying asleep at night.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) RLS is a disorder that causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them.

Symptoms are most likely to occur when you’re sitting, resting, inactive for a while, or sleeping. The condition is categorized as a neurological sensory disorder because the symptoms come from the brain — though it is also classified as a sleep disorder. It can cause exhaustion and daytime sleepiness that affects mood, concentration, learning, and relationships.

Parasomnias A parasomnia is term used to refer to a number of disorders associated with abnormal behaviors that happen during sleep. Parasomnias include sleepwalking, sleep-related eating disorder, sleep terrors, bed-wetting, sexsomnia, and others. In some cases, improved sleep habits can alleviate parasomnias, and in other cases treatment by a sleep medicine doctor may be needed. You should definitely seek treatment if abnormal behavior associated with sleep is causing harm to yourself or others, or if the behavior is frequent or escalating.

None of these problems should be left unaddressed, Pelayo says. If you suspect you may have one of these conditions, it’s important to get checked out and treated.

How to Sleep Better Tonight

There’s no silver bullet formula for getting a good night’s sleep, but there are several steps you can take that have been associated with better sleep overall if you’re struggling to clock the recommended number of hours you know you need — or if you wake up less perky than you’d like to be.

It’s important to check with your doctor or a sleep medicine specialist if you think you have a more serious problem, or if another medical condition is interfering with your sleep.

But trying these fixes is a fine place to start.

Stick to a consistent sleep-wake schedule. Aim to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time in the morning, including on the weekends — and try not to vary it by more than an hour or so. The times that you regularly go to bed and wake up are the signals you give your body’s natural clock, and when they’re consistent, that clock helps you wake up and fall asleep. If those signals are out of whack, your body clock gets thrown off and you experience the same drowsiness associated with jet lag. You also may struggle to fall asleep at night or wake up when your alarm rings.

Watch caffeine intake. Be especially careful with this later in the afternoon. Pelayo suggests avoiding caffeine within six hours of when you want to sleep.

Exercise regularly. Research shows that regular exercise (at least 150 minutes of activity per week) is associated with better sleep, though it’s worth noting you should try to avoid intense exercise too close to bedtime, as it may make it tougher for some people to fall asleep.

That’s because a workout sends signals to the body, such as increased heart rate and body temperature, that tend to wake you up.

If you can’t sleep, don’t linger in bed. This means at night if you’re having trouble falling asleep for 20 minutes or longer, get out of bed and do something to make you tired, such as reading or some gentle stretching. Staying in bed makes your body associate in-bed time as awake time, and it will actually be harder to fall asleep.

Don’t linger in bed in the morning either, and don’t hit snooze. It can be tempting to wake up slowly, but that drowsy sleep (after you’ve initially woken up) is fragmented, light sleep. If you did get a poor night’s sleep, your best remedy is getting up, going about your day, and hitting your pillow at bedtime that evening, at which point your sleep drive will be strong and you’re more likely to actually reap the benefit of the deep restorative sleep you need.

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Resources We Love

American Sleep Apnea Association

If you’ve just been diagnosed with sleep apnea, connect with this association. It includes resources, such as a CPAP Mentor program, matching you with an experienced sleep apnea patient, a CAP Mask program, which provides equipment to those who can’t afford it, and a library of webinars and podcasts about living with sleep apnea.

Founded in 1986, this longtime national nonprofit provides emotional support and resources to patients, family members, and friends. It includes the latest clinical research on narcolepsy, support groups for various age groups, and details on sleep centers and narcolepsy specialists across the country.

Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation

Established in 1992, this nonprofit is home to science-based education and patient services to help people living with the syndrome. It claims to be the only organization with a dedicated grant program to advance research for new treatments and a cure for restless legs syndrome.

SLEEP is the international journal of sleep and circadian science. If you want to read the latest peer-reviewed research and commentaries, or look up existing research on specific sleep disorders, it has a vast collection of papers to browse through. Topics include circadian disorders, insomnia, sleep and metabolism, and the neuroscience of sleep.

Established by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, this website has a bedtime calculator, sleep diaries, and explainers on dozens of sleep disorders, including sleep-wake disorders, hypersomnias, parasomnias, breathing disorders, and movement disorders.

The Sleep Doctor

Created by the clinical psychologist and American Academy of Sleep Medicine Fellow Michael Breus, PhD, this website calls itself “your ultimate sleep resource center.” It includes tips on how to sleep better, doctor-recommended products to help with your slumber, and sleep quizzes developed by Dr. Breus to help you figure out your sleep chronotype.

The Sleep Lady

If you’re sleep training your little ones, make sure to bookmark this website on your browser. Kim West, LCSW, offers parents with newborns to 6-year-olds sleep tips, including how to handle nightmares and napping and how to develop a sleep schedule for every age and life stage. She’s also written a book aptly titled Good Night, Sleep Tight.

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What to Do When You Can’t Fall Asleep

Sleep doctors have been telling you for years to stop using smartphones, laptops, and tablets right before bed for good reason. Not only does the light from electronic screens mess up your melatonin production, which makes sleep physiologically harder to achieve, but smart devices can also heighten anxiety and worry if you’re reading stressful news on it. This habit makes the cycle of ruminating about bothersome or unpleasant news that much worse, Dr. Chan says.

Plus, the apps, websites, and news you’re consuming on such devices are meant (in large part) to keep you and your brain engaged, he adds. “The internet is designed to capture attention so that you spend more eye time on screens, which can be a detriment to sleep,” says Chan.

To protect your shut-eye, switch off your devices one to two hours before bed, ideally, or at least 30 minutes if you can’t swing that.

Schedule Some “Worry Time”

Just as you schedule time to see friends or get a massage, do the same with your worries. Schedule 15 to 30 minutes a day, at least one to two hours before bed, to write down those worries. In addition, create at least one action item you can do to help deal with the issue. Thinking through those potential stressors earlier in the day should help ease how much you worry about them when your head hits the pillow, Chan says. “Ideal sleep depends on creating routines and schedules, and this is no different,” he says.

Create a Routine to Power Down Your Brain

Most people assume that sleep is like breathing: Your body will just do it. Not true. Modern-day living has created so much stimulation during the day that brains now operate at warp speed, and if you don’t give yours time to rest, it’ll continue going at that speed at bedtime, says David Brodner, MD, founder of and principal physician at the Center for Sinus, Allergy, and Sleep Wellness in Boynton Beach, Florida.

At least 30 minutes before you go to bed, start your preparations and then do something relaxing like listening to music or reading. Keep it consistent, and you’ll train your body to expect sleep after that relaxation period.

Keep a Gratitude List

Now that you’ve dumped your worries, replace the void where those negative thoughts once lived with positive ones by starting a gratitude journal, Breus suggests. The impact of those positive thoughts is greater when you write them down. So try spending a few minutes each night listing three to five things you’re grateful for.

Practice 4-7-8 Breathing

You’ve heard how deep breathing can help combat stress, but it can also help you fall asleep. In order to sleep, your heart rate needs to slow down, Breus says, and breathing techniques are one of the most effective ways to achieve this goal.

One of Breus’s favorites is 4-7-8 breathing: Inhale for a count of four, hold for seven, and then blow out for eight. Do this at least five to seven times to slow your heart rate.

Do Progressive Muscle Relaxation

As you lie in bed, tense and relax all of your muscles one by one, starting at your toes and ending at your head. Not only is this incredibly relaxing, as the name implies, but it also forces you to think about the physical parts of your body, directing your attention away from whatever thoughts or stressors you’re fixating on, Breus says.

Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Going to bed and waking up at the same times each day is one of the pillars of sleep hygiene — those guidelines sleep docs recommend for ensuring a good night’s sleep. It helps the mind, too. “If you try to go to bed early, when your brain’s not ready to sleep, it will focus on other things,” Breus says, which keeps the brain excited and awake.

About This Article

One easy way to improve your sleep quality is to sleep in a cold room, since your brain associates cool temperatures with bedtime. Try avoiding screens at least 2 hours before bedtime or, if you can’t, set your screens to nighttime mode. Then, when you are in bed, use a fan to create white noise, which will help your mind relax as you drift off. Long-term, you should aim to fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day. Doing so regulates your circadian rhythm, which will help your body make the most of your resting hours.

Thanks to all authors for creating a page that has been read 3,909,876 times.

Перевод по словам

adverb: лучше, больше, основательно, полностью

adjective: лучший, больший, более подходящий, высший, чувствующий себя лучше

verb: улучшать, улучшаться, поправляться, превосходить, исправляться, поправлять, исправлять, превышать

noun: держащий пари

verb: получать, попасть, становиться, добираться, иметь, приобретать, сесть, доставать, брать, добиваться

noun: приплод, потомство, дурак, идиот

pronoun: некоторые, одни, другие, некоторое количество, один, кое-кто, кое-какой

adverb: несколько, немного, около, приблизительно, отчасти, немало, до некоторой степени, порядочно

adjective: некоторый, некий, замечательный, в полном смысле слова, какой-либо, какой-нибудь, какой-то, стоящий

verb: спать, засыпать, ночевать, дрыхнуть, почивать, бездействовать, покоиться, предоставлять ночлег, сожительствовать

noun: сон, спячка


  • Start by making small changes to your routine. Turning off the television 30 minutes before you go to bed is better than nothing!
  • Everyone is different and different people need different amounts of sleep.

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preposition: к, в, до, на, для

abbreviation: телеграфная контора, телеграфное отделение

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