I recently found the website for the national sleep foundation. www.sleepfoundation.org. There is a wealth of information on this website.
Sleep is a fundamental part of our lives and well being, yet many Americans struggle to get enough sleep. The National Commission on Sleep Disorders research revealed that 40 million Americans have serious sleep issues, while 20-30 million more have intermittent sleep issues.
The cost of not getting enough sleep can be very high. A lack of sleep increases the risk of having a car accident. Multiple studies also show that lack of sleep can raise risk factors for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, depression, and diabetes
So what happens when we sleep? 
There are three stages of pre-REM sleep and then REM sleep
Stage One is known as the pre-sleep stage. It lasts about 5 minutes. It is considered a transition between sleep and wakefulness. If someone wakes during this time they would probably say that they were not asleep.
Stage Two is known as the light sleep stage. It lasts about 25 minutes. Your body temperature drops and your heart rate slows. Most people spend about 45-55% of their sleep time in Stage Two.
Stage Three: is known as the deep sleep stage. People have a harder time waking up from this stage.
REM sleep: is known as your dream sleep. It generally starts 70-90 minutes after you first go to sleep. The first time you go through the REM cycle will be short but it will increase each time until it reaches as long as an hour.
You go through about 4-5 sleep cycles a night.
How much sleep do we need? The National Sleep Foundation has the following recommendations about sleep time
Newborns: 12-18 hours
Infants: 3-11 months 14-15 hours
Toddlers: 1-3 years 12-14 hours
Preschoolers: 3-5 years 11-13 hours
School-age children 5-10 years: 10-11 hours
Teens 10-17: 8.5-9.25 hours
Adults: 7-9 hours
There are of course fluctuations for individuals but these are good general guidelines.
What is the best way to sleep well?
The NY times recently published an article “Simple Rules for Better Sleep” which gave these three fundamental tips for sleep hygiene. [1]
1. Don’t go to bed until you are sleepy
2. Don’t stay in bed if you are not sleeping
3. Get up the same time every day.
Basic self care starts with getting enough sleep. If you have chronic trouble sleeping I encourage you to talk to your doctor or another professional to help you establish a healthy sleep cycle.

[1] http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/23/simple-rules-for-better-sleep/