Benefits of Sleep: How to Get the Sleep You Need
Want to spend more time in bed? Who doesn’t, but it’s not what you’re thinking. I’m talking about the benefits of sleep! He’s why sleep is called nature’s nurse.
You might think of sleep as the time when the mind and body shut down, but that is not what is happening. While our mind seems to turn off while we sleep, our brain and body are actually going through a very active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening are happening.
How this all works is still somewhat of a mystery, but we do understand some of sleep’s critical functions, and why we need it for optimal health.
The tagline of my Walking for Health and Fitness site is “the easiest way to get in shape and stay in shape.” Yes, I firmly believe that, but as you’ll read, sleep is the easiest way to improve your overall health.
If you need to get healthy, the quickest and easiest is way is to get more sleep!
Getting enough sleep is important for two main reasons:
Sleep helps our body Repair the organ systems including our muscles, immune systems, and other hormones.
Our immune system benefits as immune cells known as T-cells utilize our sleep time to race around our bodies doing vital repairs. Our body requires long periods of sleep to restore, rejuvenate, grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones.
Sleep also has a crucial role in our memory system, helping us to retain what we have learned throughout the day.
Our brain is a storage and filing system. We take in a tremendous amount of information throughout the day and rather than filing the information immediately, we need to process it. Many of these functions take place while we are asleep. Sleep allows our brains to transfer the information from short-term memory to stronger long-term memory in a process called consolidation.
Research has shown that we retain information and perform better on memory tasks after we have slept.
Lack of sleep is related to:
Failure to thrive
Why do we need sleep?
Helps us retain information
Re-pattern neurological pathways
Modulate hormones for growth repair, and balance
Makes you smarter
Snooze or lose: Perfect sleep comes from a clear mind, a healthy body, exercise, and a sleep-supportive environment.
The Sleep Cycle
Our sleep is not constant throughout the night. Sleep is divided into different periods of light and deep sleep across the night Your body repeats the 4 stage sleep cycle throughout the night and each cycle is approximately 90-minutes:
Stage 1- Transitional Phase: the body begins to relax and reach a drowsy state. Arousals and awakenings are common. Hypnotic jerks can happen at this stage. This stage lasts for 5-10 minutes.
Stage 2 - Light sleep: Your heart rate slows and your body temperature drop. This is the first NREM (Non-REM) stage last for approx. 40-60% of sleep time.
Stage 3- Deep sleep: This restorative stage also known as the. During this restorative stage of NREM sleep, the body repairs and regrows tissue, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system. 5-15% of sleep time. Our dreams are more concept-based.
Stage 4- REM Sleep: During REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, your eyes move quickly in different directions. your brain starts to perk up, and its electrical activity starts to resemble the brain when it is awake. You have your most intense, vivid and emotional dreams during REM sleep. Your first REM sleep cycle may last only 10 minutes long, then each subsequent cycle lasts longer and longer.
This 4-stage cycle is repeated several times throughout your sleep period.
What is healthy sleep:
Here is a healthy sleep checklist. If most of these apply to you, it’s a good sign that you are benefiting from a good sleep. If you don’t see yourself on this list it could mean you need to make a change in your approach to a good night’s sleep.
You fall asleep within 15-20 minutes of going to bed.
You often sleep a total of seven to nine hours per day.
You have only short periods of lying awake when you wish to be sleeping.
You wake up feeling refreshed and energetic.
You feel alert and can be fully productive throughout the waking hours with only a few “dips’ in energy level and alertness.
You have no issues with snoring, sleep apnea, or restlessness.
Why do we need sleep?
Sleep Recharges us: Here is a breakdown of how the sleep process works:
Your brain consumes energy to ensure survival.
Your brain tells your body to move, to observe, it processes sensory information, etc.
Your brain needs more energy, this comes from the foods you eat.
The food converted to glucose which is then stored as glycogen (your energy reserve).
Glucose gets converted to an energy-rich molecule called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP).
Most of your bodily cells run on this molecule including those that make up your brain.
As your brain consumes energy in the form of chemical potential energy from the ATP molecules these molecules degrade and Adenosine is produced.
The accumulation of Adenosine is therefore linked with decreased levels of glycogen – (your energy reserve).
The increase in adenosine induces non-REM sleep where the brain is less active and therefore goes into recovery mode.
The brain then resets during our sleep where little mental energy is consumed.
The brain is allowed to clear Adenosine, Adenosine deaminase is an enzyme that metabolizes Adenosine.
The lower levels of Adenosine induces less non-REM sleep, therefore you feel more revitalized.
Walking (exercise) and Sleep
Of the handful of studies on the effects of exercise on sleep, they suggest that exercise significantly improves the sleep of people with chronic insomnia. The only study that looked at the effects of a single exercise session found that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (walking) reduced the time it took to fall asleep and increased the length of sleep of people with chronic insomnia compared to a night in which they did not exercise.
Exercise triggers an increase in body temperature, and the post-exercise drop in temperature may promote falling asleep.
Sleep helps us retain information
Healthy sleep puts us in the right state of mind to take in information as we go about the day. The brain is a filing and sorting system; we need a good night's sleep to process and retain that information over the long term. Sleep triggers changes in the brain that solidify memories—strengthening connections between brain cells and transferring information from one brain region to another.
Sleep helps us perform tasks
After sleep, we retain information and perform better on memory tasks. Research has shown people that write out a to-do list the night before complete more of the tasks the next day. More importantly, people that wrote down future task before bedtime fell asleep faster. Writing down your to-do list the night before helps you start the day with clarity and allows you to hit the ground running! After sleep, we retain information and perform better on memory tasks.
Sleep helps us develop insights
Sleep assists in the restructuring of new memory representations and leads to facilitating extraction of explicit knowledge, which in turn leads us to more insightful behavior.
Sleep helps us process emotions
Emotional memories are unique because of the way they activate the amygdala, the brain’s emotional core. Sleep plays a key role in encoding information based on experiences from the day, making sleep critical for preserving memories.
Amygdala (emotional) activation is what allows your wedding day or a trip to the hospital to be a day better remembered, more than just any other day of work.
The amygdala tags these memories as significant so that during sleep they’re processed for longer and reiterated more than more trivial memories. The upshot is that the memories of emotional significance become easier to retrieve in the future.
Sleep helps us re-pattern neurological pathways
Sleep helps restore the signal strength of brain synapses. Sleep directly affects our ability to learn, retain information, perform tasks, develop new perspectives, and re-pattern neurological pathways.
Sleep helps us modulate hormones for growth repair.
During sleep, there is an increase in the release of growth hormones; Children grow, our skin regenerates, and our hair gets longer.
Sleep also plays an integral role in regulating the body’s immune system, which is responsible for fighting off all sorts of problems from the common cold to more serious chronic problems like cancer
Sleep helps us makes you smarter
It turns out you also need to sleep before learning.
Volunteers who took a 100-minute nap before launching into an evening memorization task scored an average of 20 percentage points higher on the memory test compared with people who did the memorization without snoozing first.
How much sleep do we really need?
Healthy sleep is critical for everyone since we all need to retain information and learn skills to thrive in life. But this is likely part of the reason children—who acquire language, social, and motor skills at a breathtaking pace throughout their development—need more sleep than adults.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following amount of sleep for varying age groups:
Newborns: 14–17 hours
Infants: 12–15 hours
Toddlers 11–14 hours
Preschoolers 10–13 hours
School-aged children: 9–11 hours
Teens: 8–10 hours
Adults: 7–9 hours
Older adults: 7–8 hours
Benefits of Napping
Let’s not forget about catching a few “Z’s” during the day. A short nap (20-30 minutes) is recommended for short-term alertness and provides significant benefit for improved alertness and performance without leaving you feeling groggy or interfering with nighttime sleep.
Negative Effects from lack of sleep:
Lack of sleep causes accidents
Lack of sleep dumbs you down
Lack of sleep can lead to serious health problems
Lack of sleep kills sex drive
Lack of sleep can contribute to depression
Lack of sleep ages your skin
Lack of sleep makes you forgetful
Lack of sleep contributes to weight gain
Lack of sleep impairs judgment, especially about sleep
Lack of sleep may increase the risk of death
Keys to getting a better night’s sleep
Eat to Sleep:
Eat a light meal at least 3 hours before bedtime.
Avoid alcohol as it inhibits deep sleep
Reduce caffeine, sugar, nicotine, and high-tyramine foods such as smoked meats, chocolate, spinach, wine, and cheese
Eat a high-protein snack several hours before bedtime. These include milk, potatoes, sunflower seeds, and tomatoes
Create a better routine:
Fall asleep before 10 pm: the initial non-REM sleep phase is the most restorative due to its decrease in cortisol, memory is consolidated, learning is integrated, and parasympathetic rest/digest is at its peak
Avoid strenuous exercise, disturbing discussions, work and screen time as these stimulate the nervous system
Go to bed and arise at the same time
Get straight out of bed and splash cold water on your face
Create an “unwind hour” before your bedtime.
Organize yourself for tomorrow
Sip soothing tea
Listen to mellow music
Brush your teeth
Wash your face with warm water or take a shower
Massage your feet
Maximize the benefits of sleep by making your bedroom a stress-free sanctuary with soothing sounds.
Design your sleep zone
Keep your sinuses clear: use steam inhalation, nasal irrigation, and eat minimal mucus-forming foods
Sleep on comfortable bedding
The room should be quiet, dark, and comfortable.
Use an eye mask and earplugs to eliminate disturbing stimuli.
Sleep is a vital component of good health and is truly the easiest to put in place. If you’re like me, you scrutinize all areas of your workout; you plan your “get out the door routine”, hydration needs, nutrition, body-weight exercises to boost our overall fitness, plan your post-walk meal, create shopping lists for the foods you need, plan out routes to walk, etc.
If you approach the importance and benefits of sleep as you would approach your workout routine you will greatly boost your fitness level the in the easiest way possible.