Sleep allows our body to rest and to restore its energy levels. Without enough restful sleep, not only can we become grumpy, irritable, inattentive and more prone to accidents. Adequate sleep is essential to good health and quality of life.

Types of sleep

There are two types of sleep: non-rapid eye movement (NREM sleep) and rapid eye movement (REM sleep).

NREM sleep includes four stages, ranging from light to deep sleep. We cycle through these four stages of sleep approximately every 90 minutes. Then we go into REM sleep, the most active stage of sleep when dreaming often occurs. During REM sleep, the eyes move back and forth beneath the eyelids and muscles become immobile.

How is sleep regulated?

Researchers believe that two body systems, the sleep-wake process and our circadian biologic clock, regulate our sleep. They program our bodies to feel sleepy at night and awake during the day.

The sleep-wake process works by balancing the amount of sleep a person needs based on the time spent awake. Our circadian biological clock is a 24-hour body rhythm affected by sunlight. It regulates hormones such as melatonin, which is secreted during the night and promotes sleep, and other processes like body temperature. Sleeping at a time that is in sync with this rhythm is important for healthy lifestyle.

Hours of sleep needed for children

Sleep needs change over a person’s lifetime. Children and adolescents typically need more than adults. Older adults need about the same amount of sleep as younger adults — seven to nine hours per night. The quality of sleep depends on several factors, including type of mattress, foods, illnesses, stress levels.

  • Ages 3-5 years old: 10-13 hours
  • Ages 6-12 years old: 9-12 hours
  • Ages 13-18 years old: 8-10 hours

Melatonin for sleep

Melatonin is the internal sleep facilitator in humans. Both research studies and anecdotal evidence indicate that melatonin supplements can be an effective sleep aid with minimal side effects for both adults suffering from insomnia and children with autism, epilepsy, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other problems that can cause sleep disorders.

Sleep Apps to help fall asleep

Need more sleep? After consulting with your doctor, consider trying a ‘sleep app’.

Sleep apps will track your sleep patterns and help you relax so you can fall asleep. However, even the best app cannot replace good sleep hygiene habits.

Using Meditation Apps to fall asleep

Several meditation apps, including Calm and Headspace offer free meditations to help induce sleep.