Sleep = underrated. We have so many responsibilities theses days – job(s), family, friends, errands, self care, etc. Life is busy and we do the best we can to make the most of our time, but this often leads to staying up way too late to fit it all in. Sleep is incredibility important and lack of sleep can affect us in a multitude of ways.
I always hate being the bearer of bad news, but prioritizing healthy eating and exercise isn’t going to cut it without proper sleep. We actually need sleep just like we need food & water. The saying, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is definitely not one you want in your vocabulary!
Why is sleep so important?
While we’re sleeping your body is actually working really hard. There are multiple theories about why we sleep which I will touch on below, but within each of those theories there is researched backed information that explains why sleep is vital to our health and well being.
How you feel during your waking hours can be indicative of your sleep quality. When you sleep your body is working to support a lot of the functions that you use on a daily basis. Getting enough quality sleep can make a big difference in your mental and physical health as well as your overall quality of life.
“Sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness and mood”
While we sleep our brain is hard at work cleaning, sorting & “taking out the trash” (so to speak). Research suggests that sleep helps to integrate memories from short-term to long-term and also forms and creates new pathways so you can learn and create new memories. While we’re sleeping our brain also gets rid of unnecessary information so that we can wake up rejuvinated and with a clear mind.
When you were a kit did your parents ever tell you always get a good nights sleep the night before a test? Mine definitely did – before every single test! Now I know why – we need sleep to function optimally. A good nights sleep can help with cognitive function the next day – things like learning, concentration and attention, memory, creativity, decision making, and problem-solving.
A shocking (to me anyway) study found that fatigue caused by sleep deprivation can actually have a negative impact on some aspects of brain function similar to that of alcohol intoxication!
When I get behind on sleep, even for just a day or two, I feel like I can’t keep up with life! I’m more sluggish, less motivated and always feel like I’m a step behind where I should be throughout the day. I’m more likely to forget things, I have trouble concentrating and staying on task, and I get stressed out over little things. All of this makes sense when you take into account all of the important tasks that our bodies take care of for us while we’re sleeping. If we don’t give our body the chance to properly work it’s magic every night, we are bound to feel those negative effects. 
This is connected to brain function in many ways, but while we are sleeping brain activity increases in areas that regulate our emotions. This allows our brain to process our emotions while we are sleeping. Have you ever been told to “sleep on it”?
When we get adequate sleep, we are better equipped to respond to stressful situations the next day. On the flip side, without adequate sleep we are more likely to overreact and experience overwhelm.
Sleep and our mental health can be a bit of a double edged sword. Mental health issues can contribute to difficulty sleeping, but difficulty sleeping can also contribute to mental health issues.
Overall Health (catch all)
Health – heart disease, strokes, diabetes & insulin regulation, immunity, etc.
High blood pressure can (overtime) increase your risk of heart disease. When you’re sleeping your blood pressure goes down which gives your heart and blood vessels time to rest. If you aren’t getting enough sleep your blood pressure stays at a higher level for a longer amount of time each day which can cause problems down the road. Other risk factors for heart disease that are associated with lack of sleep are increased sympathetic nervous system activity, increased inflammation, weight gain, insulin resistance and elevated cortisol levels. 
Elevated cortisol levels, insulin resistance and increased inflammation can also cause a host of other issues. There is actually an increasing body of evidence that shows chronic inflammation causes and advances many common diseases. 
Have you ever been sick or had a cold and just wanted to sleep? When you do have a night or two of solid rest when you’re sick have you noticed that your symptoms improve quite quickly? I have. I rarely get sick anymore, but when I do I try my best to rest and sleep as much as I possibly can. This pretty much always has me back on my feet in no time. The few times I have tried to “power through” and continued on as if I wasn’t sick, my sickness actually lingered for much longer than it should have. This is because sleep can help to boost our immune function. It has been proven that even a very small loss of sleep can negatively impact our immune function. 
In doing the research for this post there was a lot of research out there finding that good sleepers are less likely to experience obesity.
This is largely due to the fact that while you are sleeping a hunger hormone called ghrelin that increases appetite actually decreases since you are using less energy than when you are awake. However, lack of sleep elevates ghrelin and suppresses leptin – another hunger hormone that increases the feeling of being full after you eat. This imbalance of hunger hormones caused by lack of sleep may cause you to eat more and therefore gain weight.
In saying this, a 2013 study found that although there was a significant association between short sleep and obesity, there was no association between short sleep and being overweight. 
All this to say, I know when I don’t get enough sleep I’m more likely to turn to takeout or processed foods and much less likely to have to motivation or energy to workout.
Speaking of working out – your body needs a good night sleep for muscle repair. Further, we know from the “brain function” section above, that our reaction times, overall cognitive function and motivation are best when we have a good nights rest. To get the most out of your workouts and avoid injury, getting a good night sleep is definitely important.
Why do we sleep?
The inactivity theory is based on the concept of evolutionary pressure where creatures that were inactive at night were less likely to die from the predation of injury in the dark, thus creating an evolutionary and reproductive benefit to being inactive at night.
The energy conservation theory posits that the main function of sleep is to reduce a person’s energy demand during part of the day and night when it is least efficient to hunt for food. This theory is supported by the fact that the body has decreased metabolism of up to 10% during sleep.
The restorative theory states that sleep allows for the body to repair and replete cellular components necessary for biological functions that become depleted throughout an awake day. This is backed by the findings many functions in the body such as muscle repair, tissue growth, protein synthesis, and release of many of the important hormones for growth occur primarily during sleep.
The brain plasticity theory is that sleep is necessary for neural reorganization and growth of the brain’s structure and function. It is clear that sleep plays a role in the development of the brain in infants and children and explains why it is necessary that infants sleep upwards of 14 hours per day.Joshua E. Brinkman; Vamsi Reddy; Sandeep Sharma.
It is important to note that sleep is still a concept that experts do not fully understand and that these theories are not exhaustive. It is more likely that a combination of these ideas explains why we need to sleep.
Stages of Sleep
Sleep is broken down into 5 phases: wake, three stages of non-rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and one stage of REM sleep.  We usually cycle through these phases about 4 to 6 times per night, averaging 90 minutes each.
Phase 1: Wake
Eyes can be open or closed. If your eyes are open there are alpha and beta waves present, but predominantly beta. As you become more drowsy and your eyes close, the alpha rhythm is more predominant.
Phase 2: Non-REM Sleep
The first and lightest phase of sleep, lasting 1 to 5 minutes. Your breathing and heart rate slow down and your muscles begin to relax. Alpha waves are replaced with low-amplitude mixed-frequency (LAMF). [19, 20]
Phase 3: Non-REM Sleep
A deeper phase of sleep where your heart rate and body temperature drop. Phase 2 lasts around 25 minutes in the first cycle and lengthens with each successive cycle thereafter, eventually consisting of about 50% of total sleep. Long delta waves only lasting for a second occur and as you fall into a deeper sleep towards phase 4 all brain waves will be replaced with delta waves. [21, 22]
Phase 4: Non-REM Sleep
The deepest stage of sleep where delta waves are present. Your heart rate and breathing are the slowest during this phase and your muscles are relaxed so you may also be more difficult to wakeup. Your body repairs itself most during this phase so you really want to hit phase 4 to feel refreshed in the morning. As we age we spend less time in phase 4 and more time in phase 3. [23. 24]
Phase 5: REM Sleep
Usually happens 90 minutes after you fall asleep, REM sleep is associated with dreaming. Your first phase of REM usually lasts about 10 minutes, but each of your REM cycles gets longer as the night goes on, with the last one lasting up to an hour.
The REM phase stands up to is name – you experience rapid eye movement. Your heart rate and brain activity also increase and your breathing increases and becomes more irregular. Your muscles also actually become temporarily paralyzed, but you can experience twitching. This is interesting – maybe it’s so we don’t act out in our dreams! [25, 26]
How much sleep do we really need?
As recommended by the CDC: 
|Age Group||Recommended Hours of Sleep Per Day|
|Newborn||0–3 months||14–17 hours (National Sleep Foundation)|
No recommendation (American Academy of Sleep Medicine)
|Infant||4–12 months||12–16 hours per 24 hours (including naps)|
|Toddler||1–2 years||11–14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)|
|Preschool||3–5 years||10–13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)|
|School Age||6–12 years||9–12 hours per 24 hours|
|Teen||13–18 years||8–10 hours per 24 hours|
|Adult||18–60 years||7 or more hours per night|
|61–64 years||7–9 hours|
|65 years and older||7–8 hours|
Tips for a good nights sleep!
When I was at the peak of my hormonal issues I had MAJOR sleep issues – insomnia, night terrors, etc. You name it and I had it. These are my tried and true methods:
💤 Stick a regular sleep schedule as much as possible and even on weekends if you can swing it. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day readjusts your body clock. The more regular your schedule, the easier it is for your body to fall into a restful rhythm.
💤 Try to expose yourself to sunlight early in the day. This will help your body align with it’s natural circadian rhythm.
💤 Regular movement/exercise throughout the day can really improve sleep quality.
💤 If your mind races when you get in bed try meditating and/or journalling before bed. It can be as simple as taking 5 minutes to sit and calm your mind or brain dump on a note pad.
💤 Use blue light glasses and night time settings on your laptop & phone in the evenings. Better yet, put away your electronics an hour before bed.
💤 Take magnesium bis-glycinate before bed (I swear by Canprev* & have been taking it for years now). I also take taurine before bed 50% of the time. It helps calm my mind and also helped with my night terrors when that was an issue. As always, do your own research or consult with a professional before adding supplements to routine. *Affiliate link.
💤 Stop drinking water a couple of hours before bed if you’re known to wake to use the bathroom throughout the night.
💤 Create a nighttime routine, even if it’s as simple as mindfully washing your face and brushing your teeth. The point is that your mind & body associate this routine with winding down for bed and it will help you relax.
💤 Try to avoid any important conversations or tasks that might stress you out or get you thinking before bed.
💤 Try not to use electronics while in bed (or even in your bedroom) if possible. This will help your body to only associate sleeping with lying in bed.
💤 Take three long, slow deep breathes in and out of your nose when you get settled in bed. This doesn’t directly help you fall asleep, but it will help tell your body that it is time to relax and calm the mind, but in turn will hopefully indirectly help you to fall asleep.
💤 Avoid caffeine in the afternoon/evening and either avoid or cut out alcohol (depending how serious your sleep trouble are!)
💤 Wear a sleep mask to block out light.
💤 Make sure that the temperature in your bedroom is cool as we sleep better with a cooler body temperature.
💤 Use a diffuser to diffuse relaxing and calming oils (lavender is a great one!).
💤 A noise machine can be really helpful!
💤 Extras: epsom salt baths, calming teas, reading.