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You wouldn't think to associate weight gain or the inability to cope with stress with how much sleep you get at night. Not getting enough sleep can be detrimental to more than just your productivity throughout the day. Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders can contribute to a variety of health problems, including weight gain, which can in turn lead to diabetes and an increased risk for heart disease.

Before you jump to solutions such as sound machines or prescription medications to help you fall asleep, you should understand how your sleep cycle works and how it affects you. Sleep is much more than crashing in your bed and getting up a few hours later. There are four stages your brain goes through as you sleep. This is called the sleep cycle.

During the first three stages of sleep, you gradually get more tired and fall into deeper sleep. As you do so, the wave patterns in your brain start to change. When you finally hit stage 3 in your sleep cycle, it becomes difficult to wake up. The fourth stage of sleep is called REM sleep, or Rapid Eye Movement. It is during this stage that dreaming occurs. After REM sleep has concluded, you start back at stage one, which is light sleep.

A total sleep cycle can last anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes. If the whole cycle isn't completed, you can wake up feeling as if you haven't slept at all. This is why snooze buttons on alarms clocks can be detrimental. The extra nine or 10 minutes of sleep that your snooze button allows you only lets you to slip back into the early stages of your sleep cycle. This is why you generally feel more tired after hitting snooze.

When you go to sleep also affects how you feel when you wake up. Your internal clock, or circadian rhythm, adjusts to the time you go to sleep every night. If one night you fall asleep at 9 p.m. and the following night you fall asleep at 3 a.m. and especially if you keep such an erratic schedule long term, your body's internal clock will never get set. This can lead to restlessness and the inability to fall asleep at night. Shift and graveyard work cycles can really mess with your quality of sleep. Setting a consistent sleep schedule will drastically improve your quality of sleep.

Since you can't just set an alarm clock and hope that it goes off right at the end of REM sleep, there are a few things you can do to help you wake up feeling refreshed and alert. First, let your body wake you up in the morning, not an alarm clock. Your body will naturally wake you at the end of your sleep cycle in the morning. If you are worried about sleeping in and not getting up in time for work, go to sleep earlier in the night. When you get into a routine schedule for your sleep pattern, you can set your internal clock and wake up naturally.

When you evaluate your sleeping habits, you can take full control over your internal clock and the quality of sleep you get at night. When you get the right amount of quality sleep, you will notice vast improvement in your productivity throughout the day and also in your health.

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