What is sleep?

Sleep: an essential part of your day

Sleep? It’s a biological function there is simply no substitute for, and one that we understand better every day. Once shrouded in myth and mystery in tales like Sleeping Beauty and Rip Van Winkle, we now understand how important sleep is to our health and well-being. Good sleep is never a waste of time, and sleeping extra hours doesn’t mean you are lazy or unmotivated.

Our bodies talk to us! Our stomachs signal (sometimes loudly) when we’re hungry; our mouths become dry when we are thirsty, and our bodies want to slow down when we are tired. Why does this happen?

Tick-tock. We have a “sleep clock” that regulates when we are sleepy or awake, in part by increasing the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep, when exposed to darkness.

Are you getting any?
If you cannot sleep, you are not alone—everyone sleeps badly sometimes, and some people sleep badly all the time. More than half of all Canadians (58%) over the age of 15 report difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep, with 18% sleeping fewer than 5 hours per night.

Please explore our website. We’ll explain how sleep works, why it’s important, what the consequences of poor sleep are, how to improve sleep hygiene—and when it’s time to consult your pharmacist or physician.

Canada map

of canadians report difficulty going to sleep


According to Statistics Canada…

  • The more hours we work, the less we sleep
  • More than 25% of Canadians work shifts—a big contributor to sleep difficulties
  • Married Canadians sleep less than singles
  • Canadians with no children get more sleep than those with children
  • Almost half of us cut back on our sleep when we are too busy
  • We use our snooze buttons more often on weekends

How does sleep work?

Defining sleep isn’t that simple. There are different kinds of sleep, divided into two distinct types—non-REM (no rapid eye movement) and REM. There are four stages to non-REM sleep. In a good night of sleep, your body will experience each of these stages in a cycle lasting approximately 90 minutes.

Non-REM Sleep


A period of very light sleep (about 5 minutes long), in which eye and muscle activity slow down. During this time, we may be easily awakened.


Our eye activity stops, our brain waves slow down, but other small bursts of brain activity begin. This sleep stage lasts about 10–25 minutes.


There is no eye or muscle movement during this stage, at which deep sleep begins. Our brain waves slow down more, and we are difficult to awaken at this stage.


This is our period of deepest sleep. Our physical energy is restored so that we can feel well rested the next day.

REM Sleep

It is during REM sleep that we begin to dream. Our heart and respiration rates rise, as does our blood pressure, and our breathing is shallow. Eye movement is rapid and irregular, and the muscles of our arms and legs become paralyzed. Our first period of REM sleep generally begins about 90 minutes after we fall asleep.

It is not just how long we are asleep but how much of each stage of sleep we get that determines how rested we feel in the morning and how well we are able to function. When we enjoy a good night’s sleep, we are likely to feel more energetic the next day. Deep sleep is the time when the body repairs itself; it contributes to helping repair muscle and tissue and also helps to boost our immune system. REM sleep renews the mind and plays an important role in learning and memory.

How much sleep do I need?

It’s different for everyone…but on average, adults should try to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Age matters, and here are some suggestions for different age groups:




Children and adolescents






Other factors play a role. For example, older adults may experience a lighter quality of nighttime sleep, which may result in a greater need for daytime naps, and pregnant women may need additional hours of sleep. Women are more likely than men to report insomnia. For more on women and sleep, click here.

Still, what you really want is to wake up feeling refreshed and energized, ready to take on the world. Here is some information on how to help determine what amount of sleep is right for you.

When should you seek help for a sleep problem?

If you find that you frequently feel sleepy during the day, or that your lack of sleep is affecting your quality of life, even though you think you’re getting the right amount of “quality” sleep, talk to your pharmacist or physician. We all deserve a good night’s sleep.

How much sleep did you get last night if you’re feeling like this?

You need to listen to your body in order to figure out exactly what’s right for you. Do you know how much sleep it takes for you to feel completely rested? Here are some hints:

  • You find it easy to get up in the morning
  • You don’t feel sleepy during the day
  • Your concentration is great
  • Your mood is good

How many hours of sleep did it take you to achieve that?
Now look at it the other way. Some days you may feel a little sluggish during the day, and you may also:

  • Have had a hard time getting up
  • Feel irritable or moody
  • Can’t concentrate
  • Feel particularly sleepy after eating lunch or dinner, watching TV or driving the car