New Year’s is the perfect time to make positive changes in your life. And getting restful sleep is one of the healthiest life changes you can make. A lot of people don’t realize that they aren’t actually getting restful sleep, and are may be suffering from sleep deficiency.

Restful sleep has two major phases, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep. During non-REM sleep, your mind is less active, your circulation slows, and your heart rate and blood pressure fall. Your breathing is slow and steady, muscles are relaxed, but body movements can still occur.

After about 45 minutes, sleep shifts into the REM phase. Your eyes move rapidly in all directions. Your limb muscles are completely limp and immobile. Breathing is very slow, but your brain is active. REM sleep is when dreaming occurs. After about 45 more minutes, sleep shifts back to the non-REM pattern. These two states continue to alternate during the course of a typical night's sleep. When you don’t cycle through these two phases, you may end up with sleep deficiency.

Sleep deficiency is linked to many chronic health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression. Sleep deficiency also is associated with an increased risk of injury in adults, teens, and children. For example, driver sleepiness (not related to alcohol) is responsible for serious car crash injuries and death. In the elderly, sleep deficiency might be linked to an increased risk of falls and broken bones.

While you sleep, there is actually a lot more happening behind the scenes than you might expect. According to a few important things occur during quality sleep. 

For one, your brain restores itself while you sleep. Throughout the time you're awake, neurons in your brain produce a chemical called adenosine. As this chemical builds up, it causes you to feel sleepy. While you sleep, your body will clear itself of adenosine, so you wake feeling alert and refreshed, and ready to take on your day.

Proper sleep provides your body the opportunity it needs for rejuvenation. Sleep is a critical time for your body to perform restorative functions like tissue repair and muscle growth. Which means one of the most important parts of your fitness routine actually takes place in the comfort of your own bed. Sleep is also an incredible stress reliever, during REM sleep your muscles can fully relax, which can help relieve built up tension.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, getting enough quality sleep can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety.

Simply put, sleep helps your brain work properly. Studies show that a good night's sleep improves learning. While you sleep, your brain is forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information. Whether you're learning how to play the piano, how to perfect your golf swing, or a new language, sleep helps enhance your learning and problem-solving skills. Sleep also helps you pay attention, make decisions, and be creative.

Sleep also plays an important role in your physical health. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.

Your immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy. If you have ongoing sleep deficiency, it could change the way in which your immune system responds, and you could have trouble fighting common infections.

So, sleeping is great for you, but falling asleep can sometimes feel difficult. The NHLBI offers the following suggestions for helping you get restful sleep that’s healing and restorative:

Take a hot bath or shower before bed. As your body temperature drops after getting out of the hot bath, it may help you feel sleepier. Plus, the bath can be a relaxing and reflective experience so you’re more ready to drift to sleep.

Have a good sleeping environment. Keeping your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark should make falling asleep, and staying asleep, much easier. Get rid of anything in your bedroom that might distract you from sleep—noises, bright lights, or an uncomfortable bed.

Make your bed as comfortable as possible. According to a survey from the National Sleep Foundation, over 90% of respondents said that their mattress was important for their sleep experience. Followed by 70% who said that pillows made an impact on sleep quality, and 53% that said sheets made an impact. 

Here are a few ways you can elevate the comfort of your bed, and get a better night’s sleep: