Restorative Sleep – When And How To Get It
Managed to get a good number of hours of sleep? But what about the quality?
While various sleep related discussions are centered around quantity, qualitative sleep that covers all 5 phases is equally important.
Welcome to the world of restorative sleep.
What is Restorative Sleep?
Although important restorative functions occur during all stages of sleep, the phases of deep sleep and REM sleep are the two sleep stages during which our bodies and minds undergo the most renewal. Together, deep sleep and REM sleep are often collectively referred to “restorative sleep.”
The Importance of Sleep
Science has shown that we need sleep for our overall health and well-being. While diet and exercise have been often stressed for healthy living, the importance of good sleep has not been much talked about until the last decade or so.
Harvard University recognizes sleep as the 3rd pillar of health, together with exercise and nutrition.
Sleep related problems may often lead to mental health issues like stress, anxiety, depression or create memory loss like symptoms. Poor sleep is also one of the factors fueling inflammation resulting in various diseases like heart disease, cancers, etc.
Restorative sleep allows the brain to work on repair and growth of regenerative cells and hormones within the body.
Better Performance from Restorative Sleep
Sleep is controlled within the hypothalamus, which is a small structure deep inside the brain. Additionally, the brain stem (a structure at the base of the brain) maintains constant communication with the hypothalamus to manage transitions between sleep and wakefulness.
The pineal gland (located between the two brain hemispheres) stimulates the production of melatonin when lights go down, thereby causing sleep arousal. The production of melatonin is, therefore, directly related to the body’s circadian rhythm.
There are four sleep stages identified by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (each listed below with their alternate names) which are grouped by their classification as “non-REM” (NREM) and “REM”:
- Stage 1 (Stage NREM1 or Stage N1)
- Stage 2 (Stage NREM2 or Stage N2)
- Stage 3 (Stage N3, delta sleep, slow-wave sleep, SWS)
- Stage REM (rapid eye movement sleep)
Each sleep stage is categorized by neurological activity:
- Stage 1 features alpha waves and is the period of light sleep, wakefulness, and muscle tone when a person is first falling asleep. Characterised by slow heartbeat, breathing and eye movements. Muscles are slightly relaxed with intermittent twitches.
- Stage 2 features theta waves and transitions between wakefulness and deeper sleep. Characterised by slow heart beat and breathing, a drop in body temperature and no eye movements. Muscles are in deep relaxation stage.
- Stage 3 Restorative Sleep features delta waves and is associated with stabilized glucose levels, testosterone, human growth hormone, and overall physical bodily restoration. Heartbeat and breathing come to their lowest levels with very slow brain waves. This is the stage of deep sleep.
- Stage REM Restorative Sleep features rapid eye movement and rapid low-voltage EEG similar to when a person is awake. This is when a person dreams and is associated with cellular regeneration, cognitive restoration, memory allocation, and memory retention.
- The stage is characterised by faster breathing, increased heart rate, blood pressure.
Adult humans generally progress through sleep cycles every 90 minutes in the following pattern, with more Stage N3 delta sleep found earlier in the evening and more Stage REM sleep found in the later morning hours.
When is Sleep Most Restorative?
Deep sleep occurs mostly within the first third of the night, while REM sleep occurs mostly within the final third of the night. This means that in order to get restorative sleep your body needs contribution from both deep sleep and REM sleep, you should be sleeping regularly for between 7 to 9 hours a night on a consistent schedule that includes regular bedtimes and wake times.
Both deep sleep and REM sleep can be affected by the habits and activities we engage in during the waking day, such as drinking caffeine or alcohol, excessive work stress, anxiety, or exercising. Be sure to keep an eye out for any sleep stealers among your daily habits that could be chipping away at your restorative sleep.
How to get Restorative Sleep?
- Fix a bedtime and an awakening time.
- If you are in the habit of taking siestas, do not exceed 45 minutes of daytime sleep.
- Avoid excessive alcohol ingestion 4 hours before bedtime and do not smoke.
- Avoid caffeine 6 hours before bedtime. This includes coffee, tea and many sodas, as well as chocolate.
- Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4 hours before bedtime. A light snack before bed is acceptable.
- Exercise regularly, but not right before bed.
- Use comfortable bedding.
- Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the room well ventilated.
- Block out all distracting noise and eliminate as much light as possible.
- Reserve the bed for sleep and sex. Don’t use the bed as an office, workroom or recreation room.
- Take 1 capsule of Rilax a day, before bedtime.
- Go to bed at the same time every night, preferably before 9:00.
- Have an age-appropriate nap schedule.
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine.
- Make your child’s bedroom sleep conducive – cool, dark, and quiet.
- Encourage your child to fall asleep independently.
- Avoid bright light at bedtime and during the night, and increase light exposure in the morning.
- Avoid heavy meals and vigorous exercise close to bedtime.
- Keep all electronics, including televisions, computers, and cell phones, out of the bedroom and limit the use of electronics before bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine, including many sodas, coffee, and teas (as well as iced tea).
- Keep a regular daily schedule, including consistent mealtimes.
- Take half a capsule of Rilax a day before bedtime.
What Does Harvard Medical School Say?
While sleeping well is no guarantee of good health, it does help to maintain many vital functions. One of the most important of these functions may be to provide cells and tissues the opportunity to recover from the wear and tear of daily life. Major restorative functions in the body such as tissue repair, muscle growth, and protein synthesis occur almost exclusively during sleep.
Many other conclusions about the role sleep plays in maintaining health have come from studying what happens when humans and other animals are deprived of the sleep they need. For example, scientists have discovered that insufficient sleep may cause health problems by altering levels of the hormones involved in such processes as metabolism, appetite regulation, and stress response. Studies such as these may one day lead to a better understanding of how insufficient sleep increases disease risk.
In the meantime, sleep experts say there is ample evidence that shows that when people get the sleep they need, they will not only feel better, but will also increase their odds of living healthier, more productive lives. Read More…
More information about Sleep and Health:
- Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep
- Healthy Sleep – Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School
- Get Sleep – Steps you can take to get good sleep and improve health, work, and life. – Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School
- The Mysterious Benefits of Deep Sleep | Psychology Today
- How Sleep Works