Sleep isn’t something we should take for granted. Our bodies rely on the hours we lay dormant each night to recuperate from the trials of the day.The sleep patterns we maintain on a regular basis can have a tremendous effect on the quality of our waking lives.Science has found distinct patterns within human sleeping patterns that can help better understand how our body sleeps and also what we might be able to do to help.If you’re having trouble sleeping there are some simple steps you can take to better facilitate quality sleep without resorting to prescription medications. The Science of Sleep We all sleep in different stages throughout the night—each stage representing a different state of mental and physical activity. Generally speaking, we can separate these stages into two categories; Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep.During REM sleep, people often have their eyes moving rapidly behind their eyelids as if their attention is darting around from subject to subject.This stage of sleep is the period when dreams take place. During REM sleep, our bodies are also paralyzed by a natural system. Scientists believe it's there to help keep our bodies from acting out our dreams.Imagine swinging your arms around every time you were trying to swim in a dream! You’d probably thrash your partner bloody, bruise yourself silly and knock everything off your nightstand. Getting to know a bit more about the stages of sleep can help better understand how to better support them naturally. Stage One This stage involves alpha and theta wave production, and is often what people are referring to when they say ‘cat’ naps. Stage one sleep only lasts for a brief period of time during which someone or something can easily wake you up.This stage is how our bodies transition from waking to sleeping. It allows heart rate and blood pressure to begin their descent. This stage lasts around 7 minutes. Stage Two This stage consists of a further slowing of heart rate and lowering of body temperature. It's mostly characterized by brain activity referred to as ‘sleep spindles’. This is the first stage that should actually be considered sleep. It's when the outside world begins to fade away completely. This stage lasts anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes. Stage Three Stage three sleep is often referred to as deep wave sleep, where the brain transitions to a delta wave state.This period is the first stage of deep sleep where sleepwalking, night terrors, and other parasomnias such as bedwetting occur. These events are thought to be triggered by the transition from sleep states. Stage Four During this stage of sleep, we’re in our deepest cycle of the entire night.People that are woken from this state often feel disoriented. They take several minutes to adjust. This stage of sleep is almost exclusively marked by Delta brain waves.Technically speaking, stage four is now officially considered to be stage 3, which was consolidated by scientists around 2008. Sleep Cycles Now that we’ve got a bearing on the different stages of sleep, we can begin to discuss the different sleep cycles we go through each night. In healthy individuals, each sleep stage is experienced incrementally several times per night.A complete succession of cycling typically lasts around 90 minutes, and occurs 4-5 times per night—depending on how long one sleeps.It’s generally considered good practice to attempt to time your waking time in the mornings to a 90-minute interval from when you woke up. For example, if someone went to sleep at 12am, their ideal waking time might be 6:00am or 7:30am.If they were to wake up at 7:00am—it would be in the middle of a sleep cycle and they're likely to be groggy. Supporting Sleep Naturally Understanding there are different stages of sleep, and that we cycle through them each night, can help us to understand how one might better support sleep throughout the night. For example, helping the body fall asleep is only part of the battle.Once asleep, it’s also important to help provide support to the body to help stay asleep. Below, you’ll find some easy tips to help support sleep naturally. Natural Sleep Aids There are several supplements on the market that are well-connected to helping the body fall asleep, as well as stay asleep. These compounds are naturally derived, but you should still discuss them with a licensed professional before use.Melatonin is a hormone that’s naturally released by our brains in response to low-light conditions. This natural compound is sold in most health stores in supplement form. It can be useful in helping to trigger natural sleep cycles as well as overcome jet-lag.Another powerful natural sleep aid is Gama Aminobutyric Acid (GABA). Our brains use this compound to naturally calm down and counterbalance racing thoughts.Once asleep, compounds such as magnesium glycinate can be used to help relax the body and maintain a state of physical relaxation. This two-fold approach can help support all the sleep cycles throughout the night. Start a Routine Repetition is one of the most effective ways to make lifestyle changes. Adding a bit of repetition into your evening routine can help more effectively trigger your body’s natural sleep cycles.This may include reading, drinking tea, doing yoga, or simply taking 15 minutes to mindfully meditate on your day. Regardless of what activity you’ve chosen to do, doing it on a predictable schedule can help support your body’s natural sleep cycles. Drink Herbal Tea Herbal teas help facilitate natural sleeping patterns in two ways. Firstly, they often contain compounds such as GABA to help signal our natural sleep cycle. Secondly, their warmth can help relax the muscles.By drinking a warm herbal tea before bed each night you can help support natural sleeping patterns and help promote natural relaxation of muscles and nerves.This can be an effective and very low-cost addition to any evening routine. Just avoid caffeinated teas such as green tea! Do Yoga or Meditate Yoga and meditation are different experiences for every individual. No one can tell you what you might get out of these experiences until you try them.Generally speaking, however, these types of practice can help to calm the body and mind.Meditation can help to put the day’s experiences into perspective, which may help calm any stressful thoughts you have lingering. Yoga can do this as well, though many tend to look to it for physical relaxation more than anything.These activities are excellent ways to signal your body that a transition is about to take place—hopefully right into a restful night of sleep. Consider Your Mattress As simple as it may sound, many people don’t often realize how uncomfortable their mattresses are until they sleep on one that’s comfortable. The next time you’re around one of the million mattress stores, pop in and lay on a few.It’s hard to truly get an idea of what a better mattress might bring to the table like this, but it can let you know if you’re heading in the right direction.If you end up believing that your mattress might be causing you issues, there are a lot of really affordable options these days.However, considering the relative expense of buying a mattress, this is usually the last idea you want to consider. Final Thoughts Sleep is essential to maintaining long-term health. It’s necessary for our bodies to integrate the experiences from the day and to prepare for the upcoming day. Each night, we go through different stages of sleep.Helping to support these natural sleep patterns through supplements and restful activities can help us achieve better sleep.Above all, setting a routine for your body to follow in the evenings is one of the most powerful ways to unwind from the day and signal that it’s time for some shut-eye.