Are you tired all the time? Although many people wouldn’t consider excessive tiredness a major health concern, being tired all the time can greatly impact the quality of your life. Tiredness can cause impaired judgement and decision-making skills, moodiness and irritability, and decreased motivation to do things you enjoy.
While there are many causes of excessive tiredness (including diet, exercise, stress levels, and depression), one of the most common causes is poor sleep quality. That is, you sleep for the recommended 7 to 9 hours each night, but your sleep cycles are disturbed or disrupted, which leads to impaired deep sleep, REM sleep, or both.
Understanding sleep cycles and sleep stages
From the moment you drift off into sleep until you reawaken the following morning, your body and mind are cycling through four stages of sleep in approximately 90-minute sleep cycles.
- Stage 1: Light Sleep (falling asleep)
- Stage 2: Light Sleep
- Stage 3: Deep Sleep
- REM Sleep (dream sleep)
Caption: The image above demonstrates one complete 90-minute sleep cycle.
That being said, you don’t experience all of the sleep stages evenly throughout the night.
If your sleep cycles are healthy and your sleep quality is good, you experience most of your deep sleep during the first half of the night, and most of your REM sleep during the second half of your night. If you suffer from poor sleep quality, however, you might experience little to no deep sleep or little to no REM.
If you’re tired all the time, you could be suffering from poor sleep quality and lacking either deep sleep, REM sleep, or both.
The role of deep sleep
Deep sleep is one of the most important sleep stages for physical restoration, general health, and memory consolidation. Here are some additional benefits of deep sleep:
- Maintaining heart health and reducing the risk of heart disease
- Regulating digestive health
- Regulating reproductive health and sex drive
- Promoting physical well-being
- Reducing diabetes risk
- Preventing sickness
- Helping the body recover from sickness.
- Reducing Alzheimer’s disease risk
- Helping with memory consolidation
The average healthy adult only needs about 1 to 2 hours of deep sleep per night, but many people need more deep sleep than average, including growing children, adolescents, athletes, and people who are fighting off an illness.
How to improve deep sleep?
Some people, especially people who have trouble sleeping in general, have trouble experiencing deep sleep. Instead, they find themselves tossing and turning all night long, transitioning between states of light sleep, REM sleep, and wakefulness. If that sounds like you, here are some tips to improve your deep sleep:
- Engage in intensive physical activity. (Just make sure you do so at least an hour before bedtime, so your body has time to decrease its temperature and heart rate before bed.)
- Cooldown your body temperature by taking a hot bath or shower 1 to 2 hours before bed.
- Listen to pink noise (slightly different than white noise) while falling asleep and throughout the night.
- Avoid caffeine later in the day. Caffeine greatly disrupts deep sleep. Try a caffeine-free herbal infusion instead.
- Make dietary changes that include fewer carbohydrates and more fats.
The role of REM sleep
Scientists hypothesize that REM sleep plays a major role in the following areas:
- Brain development (learning and memory)
- Associative memory and creative problem-solving skills
- Emotional stability
- Our ability to recover from emotional trauma
The average healthy adult only needs about 1.5 to 2 hours of REM sleep each night. Infants and toddlers, however, need a lot more REM. Toddlers should clock in between 3 and 4 hours of REM sleep each night. Infants typically spend about 11 hours of their day in REM sleep (not too surprising considering the importance of REM sleep for brain development).
How to improve REM sleep?
The best way to improve REM sleep is to increase total sleep duration, but sometimes, increasing sleep duration isn’t enough to improve REM sleep. For those instances, here are some additional tips:
- Create a bedtime routine. A consistent and relaxing bedtime routine can help you stick to your sleep schedule and help you fall asleep on time.
- Reduce awakenings during the night. Waking up frequently throughout the night has a significantly negative impact on your REM sleep. If noise or light is disturbing your sleep, try wearing a sleep mask or earplugs to reduce distraction.
- Avoid alcohol before bed. Alcohol is one of the worst things for your REM sleep. In fact, alcohol completely blocks your ability to experience REM sleep.
Excessive tiredness can greatly disturb the quality of your life. One of the most common causes of excessive tiredness is poor sleep quality.
In order to improve your overall sleep quality it’s important to improve both your deep sleep and your REM sleep, as both deep sleep and REM sleep prepare you for your day ahead.
If you’re suffering from excessive tiredness, don’t hesitate to try the tips and tricks above to improve your sleep and improve your life.