The Better Sleep Guide

How to Sleep Better, Faster & Longer

Better Sleep Guide

Sleep Overview, Statistics, and Research

The quality of your sleep plays a vital role in your total health picture, and it has a profound effect on your overall quality of life. It’s an unfortunate fact, however, that millions of people around the world suffer from some form of sleep deficiency. The problem of poor sleep has reached epidemic proportions, which has driven researchers in a variety of cultures and scientific specialties to devote their careers to answering some of insomnia’s most pressing questions and finding solutions that will improve the world population’s ability to get an adequate amount of rest.

This incredible volume of research has helped us gain a better understanding of how sleep deprivation affects our lives, not the least of which is a general decline in our ability to perform well in our daytime tasks. Studies have shown that poor performance as a result of sleep loss is experienced universally, and the consequences include a significant negative impact to our social and financial well-being. Just a few of the countless other negative outcomes that arise from poor sleep quality include:

According to the Great British Sleep Survey, 49% of men and 56% of women suffer from some degree of sleep deprivation. It’s a significant problem that should not be ignored.

Healthy Sleep

It is commonly understood that most adults require between six and eight hours of sleep in order to function appropriately. If you know that you are not currently getting enough sleep or that the quality of your sleep is poor, you should begin taking steps to correct this immediately.

Healthy sleep habits include:

  • A minimum of 6-8 hours per night
  • A regular sleep-wake schedule
  • Sleeping when you are truly tired
  • Minimizing daytime naps

Most often these can be accomplished by creating a calming sleep environment, establishing a relaxing pre-sleep routine, avoiding stimulants before bed, and exercising regularly.

Stages of Sleep

The stages of sleep fall into two categories: REM sleep (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep. The bulk of your sleep falls into the category of non-REM sleep, which currently includes 3 stages. (Note: Until recently, there were thought to be five total stages of sleep. Extensive research, however, has led experts to combining the form stage three and stage four into a single stage. Thus, we now understand a normal sleep cycle to include four total stages.)

Non-REM Sleep

Stage One - During the first five to ten minutes of your sleep cycle, your eyes are closed, but you are easily awoken.

Stage Two – During stage two, your body is preparing for deeper sleep. During this time, your heart rate begins to slow down, and your blood pressure and body temperature decrease.

Stage Three – Stage three is when your body experiences deep sleep. It is harder to wake up during this time, and if you are awoken, you will often feel very out of sorts. Stage three sleep is especially important to your health, because it is during this time that your body undergoes the healing process, cellular regeneration, and many essential immune functions.

REM Sleep

REM sleep is said to take up about 20-25% of a person’s total sleep time. However, this figure varies significantly by age. As the name would suggest, you know that a person is experiencing REM sleep if their eyes are moving back and forth rapidly. Other indicators of REM sleep (which are not always noticed by the casual observer) include muscle paralysis and increased activity of the brain’s neurons. This is an interesting period in the sleep cycle, because although the brain is functioning as actively as it would during waking hours, the body is almost unresponsive. During this time, people experience their most vivid dreams, and studies show that this sleep stage is vital for the development of the human brain in babies.

Sleep Positions

The position in which you sleep directly affects the quality of sleep that you are able to achieve. While there are countless variations to these, there are said to be six common sleeping positions:

  1. The fetal position – While lying on your side with your legs curled up toward your chest, you are said to resemble the way a fetus typically sits in the womb. Approximately 40% of the world’s population sleeps in this position on a regular basis.
  2. The log position – This is another very common position, wherein the individual is sleeping on his or her side with the arms and legs straight down (resembling a log).
  3. The yearner position – The yearner is another variation on side sleep, wherein the individual is sleeping on his or her side with the arms out in front of the body (sometimes held as if in prayer).
  4. The free-fall position – This is a position that involves sleeping on your stomach with your arms under or wrapped around a pillow and your head turned to the side.
  5. The soldier position – People who prefer the soldier position lie on their backs with arms down and kept close to the body. This position is most commonly associated with snoring and poor quality sleep.
  6. The starfish position – Starfish sleepers lie on their backs with arms up near their head or the pillow. This position is also known to reduce the overall quality of a person’s sleep.

Sleep Disorders

Although sleep is one of our most basic human needs, almost all of us will experience some form of sleep disorder at some point in our lives. It’s important to understand the difference between the occasional bad night of sleep and chronic sleep disturbances that can be labeled as a disorder. Sleep disorders are defined as long-term changes in sleep patterns or sleep habits that have a negative effect on a person’s health. There are more than 100 known sleep disorders and all of them fall into one of four primary descriptions:

  1. Problems with falling asleep and staying asleep
  2. Difficulty with staying awake during normal daytime hours
  3. Inability to adhere to a normal sleep schedule or rhythm
  4. Unusual behaviors that occur only during sleep

Some of the most commonly diagnosed sleep disorders include the following:

  • Insomnia
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea
  • Sleepwalking
  • Narcolepsy
  • Night Terrors
  • Restless Leg Syndrome

If you or your partner believe that you are showing signs of a sleep disorder, it’s important to understand that this is a legitimate medical condition, and it is absolutely a cause for concern. Speak with your healthcare provider about your symptoms and discuss your diagnostic options as soon as possible.

Better Sleep Aids and Natural Remedies

If you have been suffering from insomnia for any amount of time, you are probably feeling as though you are willing to try anything that offers a potentially better night’s rest. Unfortunately, many prescription sleep aids are accompanied by some rather nasty side effects that most people would prefer to avoid, if possible. If you’re not quite ready to take the leap into the world of prescription sleep medications, you’ll be pleased to learn that there are a variety of herbal supplements that have been proven to be effective in the fight against insomnia.


Melatonin is produced by your pineal gland, and it is largely responsible for regulating healthy sleep-wake cycles. Fortunately, if you find that you are not producing enough of this vital hormone on your own, it is also available from a variety of other sources. Melatonin is produced by humans, other animals, plants, fungi and bacteria, and it has been derived from these sources so that insomnia sufferers can take it in pill form.


Valerian extract is derived from plants, and it is often made available in combination with melatonin in a single tablet. Multiples studies have indicated that valerian extract is able to reduce the amount of time it takes for a patient to fall asleep, and it has also been proven to help individuals sleep for longer periods of time. The best part, though, is that you may be able to enjoy these benefits without the risk of harmful side effects.


Researchers think L-tryptophan brings on sleep by raising levels of serotonin, a body chemical that promotes relaxation. This may explain why some people feel drowsy after drinking warm milk, which is full of L-tryptophan. It’s an amino acid that is most easily attained by adding more poultry to your diet.

These three remedies may not work for everyone, but if you suffer from the inability to sleep, it’s worth trying them for a period of time before moving on to prescription medications.

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