We mix elixirs, take supplements, and modify our diet to get fit, feel younger, and have more energy. But most people don’t realize that sleep is one of the best things we can do for our health.

Sleep is extremely important for our health, especially as we age. Most women don’t recognize that sleep profoundly affects our health(opens in a new tab) and ability to remain active and age healthily.

Here’s why sleep is the best remedy there is.

Sleep for Health

Sleep is a vital human function(opens in a new tab) that we cannot live without. Just like food and water, our body needs sleep to recharge our mind and body. After a full night’s sleep, we wake up refreshed and alert and more capable of taking on the challenges of our day.

And it’s not just about getting enough sleep. It’s also about getting healthy sleep, which gives the body time to go through its charging cycle.

Unfortunately, not getting enough sleep can be very harmful to our health. Most people who don’t sleep well will wake up feeling tired and sluggish. These feelings will increase throughout the day, peaking at night until bedtime. Missing sleep disrupts the four sleep stages.

Our sleep drive is believed to be linked to adenosine, an organic compound produced in the brain, and the natural release of melatonin once natural daylight is gone. If the sleep-wake homeostasis gets thrown off, our body might process the sleep-wake homeostasis and still release the necessary hormones, like cortisol in the morning, to improve bodily functions.

Understanding the Sleep Cycle

Each human body has an internal body clock that regulates the sleep cycle. This clock knows the last time we slept, when we’re tired, and tells us when we are tired and need to sleep. The clock operates on a 24-hour cycle and is known as the circadian rhythm.

There’s a lot of science here around the circadian clock(opens in a new tab) and how daylight, our daily work schedules, and what we eat is affected by it. And these factors may inhibit us from getting a good night’s sleep.

There are four stages of sleep(opens in a new tab) (plus episodes of nonconscious waking known as W stages). The first three stages are non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and the final stage is rapid eye movement (REM). And each of these four stages repeats cyclically throughout the night until you wake up. On average, each cycle will last 90-120 minutes, with NREM consisting of 75 to 80% of each cycle.

Stage 1 NREM

This is the transition from wakefulness to sleep and is generally known as light sleep. Here your muscles relax and your natural processes, like brain waves, heart rate, breathing, and eye movement slow down. Stage 1 typically lasts a few minutes.

Stage 2 NREM

Stage 2 is a deeper sleep where your heart rate and breathing continue to slow down and the muscles are more relaxed. Eye movements stop here, and your body temperature can decrease. While you may have some moments of higher brain wave activity, brain waves are generally slower. This is the longest sleep stage.

Stage 3 NREM

Stage 3 is very important in making us feel refreshed and alert. In stage 3, brain wave activity, breathing, and heart rate are at their lowest level. Muscles are the most relaxed. This stage is longer than the first and will decrease throughout the night.

REM

The most well-known stage of sleep is REM, and the first REM stage occurs 90 minutes after you fall asleep. During REM, eye movements move back and forth quickly under the eyelids, while breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure increase.

Dreaming happens in REM sleep and arms and legs are paralyzed—an interesting phenomenon that is believed to stop us from physically acting out our dreams. Studies have linked REM to memory consolidation, a process of converting recent experiences into long-term memories. REM naturally decreases as you age, and you spend more time in NREM stages.

What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep

The amount and quality of sleep we need depends on our age(opens in a new tab). For example, newborns need the most sleep at 14-17 hours. Young adults and adults (aged 18-25, 26-64) need 7 to 9 hours, and older adults (65 ages and older) drop down from 7 to 8 hours.

For the most part, adults can do well on 7 hours of sleep,(opens in a new tab) which provides proper cognitive function and behavioral functions throughout the day. Unfortunately, not getting enough good sleep can lead to harmful repercussions. Some studies have indicated that sleep deprivation can lead to lapses in attention, lowered cognition, mood shifts, and delayed reactions. And these issues can be enhanced for women, too.

It is believed that if you don’t get enough sleep regularly, then you can develop a tolerance to sleep deprivation. With this tolerance, our brains and bodies struggle because of lack of sleep, but aren’t totally aware of the deficiencies that sleep is causing. Instead, they feel normal! This can be very dangerous because lack of sleep has been linked to higher risks of certain diseases.

Not getting enough sleep can lead to:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Poor mental health
  • Early death

With these serious repercussions, it’s important to get enough sleep each night. Not only that, but getting enough sleep can lead to a positive lifestyle, improved mental health, and improved cardiac health.

How Women Can Focus on Getting More Sleep Even As They Age

As we can see, getting sleep is especially important. It gives our body time to heal, process, and recover. It can even allow us to heal from bodily injuries, rest for our mental health, and have more energy throughout the day.

Some studies(opens in a new tab) also suggest that men and women are affected differently by sleep disorders. Since women are more likely to feel depressed compared to men, this means that women are more likely to have severe symptoms of depression, trouble sleeping at night, and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Luckily, notwithstanding serious sleep conditions, most people can dedicate themselves to a certain lifestyle and sleep habits to get the 7 to 9 hours of sleep they need. Try these:

  • Establish a bedtime hour that is realistic and stick to it every night, even on weekends
  • Make sure the temperature in your bedroom is comfortable for sleep and limit low light levels in your bedroom
  • Get the best mattress, pillows, and sheets for your sleep preferences and body types
  • Consider a screen ban in your bedroom
  • Try to avoid large meals, alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine leading up to bedtime
  • Exercise regularly throughout the day as this can help your body wind down and get a good nights’ sleep

With sleep being so important, take steps to make sure you log enough sleep hours. If you struggle to sleep or experience insomnia, try keeping a journal. Monitor your alcohol consumption and exercise levels to see if any adjustments might help.