25. March 2022

Sleep Guide – How to Improve Your Sleep

We’ve put together a useful guide with tips for a more restful and deeper sleep. So that you can start your day recovered, refreshed and energised, because one thing is for sure: sleep is essential to our health!

Sleep Guide – How to Improve Your Sleep

Sleep Guide – Tips for Restful Sleep 

Getting a good night's sleep is imperative for good health, and let's face it, an essential part of being an agreeable person. Sleep needs vary from person to person, but it is advised that adults get between 7-9 hours of sleep a day.

Sleep is essential for a variety of reasons. It allows our body to slow down and recover from the tasks and activities of the day before. Important bodily functions take place during sleep. Information is stored, muscles recover, and memories are formed. Without enough sleep, these processes are short circuited, which affects long term physical and mental well being. 

Sleep is absolutely essential for storing memories and learning. This encompasses both pre and post periods of learning. Think of your brain as a blank canvas, ready to learn and absorb information. Studying tired severely impedes your ability to store information. This is because you’re highly distracted and struggle to concentrate because the feeling of fatigue is so powerful and affects your ability to retain information (similar to being very hungry!).

In addition to affecting information storage, sleep deprivation can even cause information or memory loss. It can also increase susceptibility to developing forms of depression and anxiety. Individuals who have extended periods of sleep deprivation, develop chronic fatigue. This can feel very similar to being drunk. Judgment, reactions and performance are heavily impaired which can put you at risk of dangerous accidents.

Types of sleep:

There are 2 different kinds of sleep: Rapid-Eye-Movement (REM) Sleep and Non-REM sleep. These are important to distinguish between, because the bodily functions carried out in these two sleep stages vary considerably. Each sleep cycle takes between 70-120 minutes. 

The first part of sleep is Non-REM and is made up of 3 stages:

  • Transition
    This is the period of falling asleep. You’re dozing off but not fully asleep yet.
  • Early sleep
    You are asleep, but not deeply. Eye movement and breathing slow down and body temperature decreases. It is easy to be woken in this phase.
  • Deep sleep
    Your body and mind slow down even more and begin recovery mode. Very little eye or muscle movement. It is hard to be woken in this phase, and you will likely feel groggy and disoriented if woken.

During NON-REM sleep your body:

  • Builds bone and muscle
  • Repairs tissue
  • Strengthens immune system

Typically, as you age, you need less deep sleep and younger children tend to get more deep sleep than adults.

REM sleep

This is the second, later part of your sleep. Here, brain activity picks up again, which is why this is the stage where dreaming occurs. Our eyes dart around (hence the name) and our breathing rate increases. While the brain is active, muscles are more or less paralysed which keeps us from physically acting out what we dream. Similar to NON-REM sleep, we get less and less of it as we age.

During REM sleep: 

  • Faster breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid eye movement

As we get older, it is common for people to explain that they either don’t sleep well, or don’t sleep enough. Most of our days are so busy and often stressful, that it is difficult to shut down and fall asleep. We are also inundated with different stimuli and distractions that can keep us from getting a good night's sleep. In fact, 50% of adults suffer from insomnia at one point in their lives. 

Getting a good night’s sleep is not only important, but achievable. Similar to exercise, it is important to establish a routine, incorporate certain things and eliminate others.

Here are some helpful tools:

  1. Schedule
    Try to go to bed at roughly the same time every night, and set an alarm at the same time each day. Establishing this routine will adjust your internal body clock and program your body when to roughly expect sleep soon. Body clocks can be really effective, and people often end up waking up naturally at these times, because they’re rested and accustomed to it.
  2. Save your bed for sleeping
    Make your bed your dedicated sleep spot. For other relaxing moments, find a different spot to lounge. Dedicating your bed exclusively to sleep also helps wire your brain and subconsciously get ready for sleep.
  3. Avoid screens
    Try to go screenless 30-60 minutes before bed. Screens emit blue light which interrupts our circadian rhythm. It suppresses the hormone melatonin and gives us the false feeling it is still daytime. This delays natural feelings of fatigue and can cause trouble falling asleep. Taking a bath, reading a book or listening to a podcast is a great way to do something relaxing, get in the sleep mentality and eventually doze off while still being entertained.
  4. Exercise
    Exercising has benefits across the board. Daily exercise, even moderate like a walk, helps induce sleep because in addition to mental fatigue, your body also signals it needs a rest.

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Walker, Matt (2019) ‘Sleep is your superpower’ Ted Talks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MuIMqhT8DM&t=133s

Dana Foundation (2020) ‘How sleep affects your brain’ https://www.dana.org/article/the-sleep-deprived-brain/ 

The Sleep Foundation https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/what-happens-when-you-sleep 

The Sleep Foundation https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia