Falling asleep — sounds simple, right? But for people who struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep through the night, or for those who can’t stop hitting the snooze button in the morning, getting good sleep can feel pretty complicated. On this page, Live Science brings you the science behind sleeping more soundly. We’ve rounded up our best reporting, from bedtime tips to the latest studies on the science of sleep, to help you get the shut-eye you need.
For starters, why do we even need to sleep in the first place? The answer is a bit murkier than you simply sleep because you feel tired. In fact, why people need sleep remains somewhat of an unsolved mystery in science. But research has shed some light on the reason for our slumbers, including that sleep may help the brain cleanse itself of toxins at night.
And although the exact reason for sleep remains unknown, scientists do know a bit (though not everything) about what goes on while a person sleeps. Experts break down sleep into several stages, known as the stages of sleep. Here’s what goes on in each of them
Some scientists compare the process of falling asleep to a computer shutting down: The brain goes through a series of steps, “shutting down” certain areas as sleep sets in. But what can help a person fall asleep, and then stay asleep? And how much sleep do you actually need?
All about insomnia
More than 1 in 4 Americans say they don’t get enough sleep from time to time, and nearly 1 in 10 say they have chronic insomnia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But what, exactly, does it mean to have insomnia? People with insomnia may have trouble falling asleep at night, or they may have trouble staying asleep, the CDC says. Some people with insomnia may wake up too early in the morning, and they may be unable to fall back to sleep.
Sleep apnea is another common sleep disorder — but people don’t always know they have it, because the condition often goes undiagnosed, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). People with sleep apnea experience short pauses in their breathing during sleep, often because the breathing tube closes or becomes blocked. These pauses can last a few seconds to a few minutes and typically end with a loud snoring or gasping sound. Although the condition sounds frightening, many people with it don’t realize they have it, simply because they continue to sleep through the night. But sleep apnea takes a toll: The condition causes people to shift out of deep, restorative sleep and into light sleep, the NHLBI says.
How sleep affects your health
Not getting enough sleep can be a drag if it happens once in a while, but if you miss out on it regularly, the effects can build up and take a serious toll on your health. Recent research has shown that sleep deprivation can increase a person’s risk of diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Benefits of a good night’s rest
On the other hand, getting a good night’s rest can do wonders for your health, from improving your mood and appearance to even giving the brain a chance to reset its neural networks to prepare for the day ahead. Here’s the latest on the benefits of sleep.
Seriously — get your tech out of the bedroom
Are smartphones, tablets and laptops ruining your sleep? A slew of science studies point to a pretty clear “yes.” Certain types of light from these devices can trick the brain into thinking it’s daytime, suppressing the brain’s release of the sleep hormone melatonin. Experts agree: The best way to put a stop to this particular sleep obstacle is to simply keep your tech devices out of the bedroom.
Strange sleep conditions
For some people, sleep troubles can stem from conditions beyond insomnia and sleep apnea. These sleep conditions can sound strange and frightening — and, in some cases, such as sleep paralysis or “exploding head syndrome,” they are. Here’s the lowdown on a few of the stranger things that can go wrong during sleep.