We all like to think about how life would be if we had more energy. If we could start that new exercise routine, that new project, or even start eating healthier. For some reason, you just don’t get around to doing it. You have probably pushed it because at the end of your day, you are so exhausted. Or maybe you started it and then stopped after a few weeks. There has been study after study proving that chronic sleep deprivation (consistently sleeping less than 7 hours per night) is responsible for this lack of energy, motivation, or will power. We often find ourselves choosing a poor diet with low nutritional value and/or a sedentary lifestyle of no challenging physical activity. Why is sleep so important for managing your diet and exercise? This is the question I will answer today. I will go over the foundation of Deep Sleep and REM sleep that will help shed light on the importance of sleep for an adult.
The Sleep Philosophy of a Sleep Expert
We all have a human need for 5 things in life. Oxygen, water, food, shelter, and SLEEP. After millions of years of evolution, humans have gained new functions and have adapted to new living environments. And whether it’s nature’s way of being stubborn, our bodies give us queues when sleep is needed. You find yourself yawning, rubbing your eye, or notice you become agitated a little more easily. Throughout evolution, humans have always needed at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night to allow for the proper amount of deep sleep and REM sleep.
This will help optimize recovery. From an article by Philip Hunter, he stated that humans have broken the rules when it comes to sleep. We sleep far less than our size would predict. As humans, we sleep deeper and more efficiently than any primate. With the addition of REM sleep and the amount of REM sleep we are able to achieve, humans have been able to evolve faster than any primate (Hunter). Let that sink in. In contrast, biohackers today are constantly exploring ways to live off of less sleep. The US military has done several experiments and spent millions of dollars on trying to create the sleepless soldier. They have all failed. I have found when it comes to self-care, there has been no better place to start then sleep. Making time for a third of your day to be taken away with sleep can feel like a challenge. The majority of us don’t make enough time to sleep at least 7 hours. A lot of us give sleep their last priority of the day, and because of this, our brains are in a constant mental fog and we are tricking ourselves to believe this is the new normal. While our brains can typically function with less than 7 hours of sleep and higher than normal doses of coffee, our bodies are telling us a different story. Our bodies are telling a long term story of
- An accumulation of excess toxins in the brain that are responsible for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimers
- An increase in inflammatory factors that have shown the increase of heart attack and strokes
- Increased calcification in the blood vessels responsible for atherosclerosis
- Also the increase of inflammation has been linked to more aggressive tumor cells and mutated cancers
- Insulin resistance that have led to early diagnosis of diabetic mellitus type 2
- Dysregulation of Leptin and Ghrelin hormones that cause more hunger and weight gain, and eventually leading to obesity
- Destroying healthy bacteria of our microbiome that are useful for creating anti-inflammation factors, producing important hormones and neurotransmitters that are linked to preventing gut disorders, hormone imbalances, and mental disorders
Sleep has come to the forefront of science research in the last decade. From clinical studies on sleep deprivation to the extraordinary benefits of consolidated sleep, there are over 17,000 well criticized peer review studies on the importance of achieving the optimal amount of sleep (Walker).
The mechanisms our body uses to induce sleep and stay asleep
The science behind the Circadian Rhythm and Sleep Pressure
There are 2 mechanisms our body use to induce sleep. Sleep experts call these mechanisms Process C (Circadian Rhythm or Circadian Process) and Process S (Sleep Pressure). Process C controls the time we sleep, and is coordinated by the light - dark cycle of night and day. Process S is the accumulation of sleep inducing substances in the brain that causes us to feel drowsy and ready for bed. This sleep inducing substance has been identified as Adenosine (Bjorness). Once Adenosine builds up to peak concentrations, it causes our eyelids to feel heavy. As indicated in the illustration below, as soon as you sleep, the concentration of Adenosine starts to fall quickly. This allows you to restart your day with very little Adenosine, and therefor not feel as drowsy and sleep.
[Illustration from the book Why We Sleep by Dr. Matthew Walker PhD]
These 2 mechanisms work continuously together to induce and sustain sleep for 7.5 to 9 hours. They also help to maintain our alertness throughout the day. As perfect as these 2 mechanisms are, they are always in danger of being knocked out of sync by bad sleep habits, traveling across multiple time zones, or acute illnesses. These are just a few things that can alter our sleep. Other issues that create sleep problems but are not limited to are bad sleep behaviors, poor nutrition, lack of adequate exercise, bedroom environment such darkness and a comfortable mattress, and having a negative association to your own sleep.
I know the frustration of multiple bad nights of sleep. I have also felt the disappointment of trying multiple things to improve my sleep, only to fail. I have felt unfixable at times because I lacked the knowledge of how our bodies induce and maintain sleep. This is the biggest benefit in hiring a sleep consultant. A sleep consultant skips the unnecessary techniques and focuses on the techniques that will fit you best. We walk you through these techniques and provide continuous feedback to help you cultivate your plan and see improvement faster. If you are interested in what a sleep consultant can do to help you, schedule a free 15 minutes sleep evaluation. Let’s talk about your sleep issues.
We are in a very exciting time in sleep research! In the past 20 years, there have been several studies showing benefits in reducing common diseases like diabetes, metabolic disease, heart disease, and cancer with optimal sleep. The days of focusing on ONLY diet and exercise are OVER! Sleeping 7 to 9 hours every night has been an effective way to improve diet and exercise interventions.
The Importance of Non - Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Deep Sleep
Our brain undergoes a variety of physiological changes every day. These physiological changes produce by-products, brain waste, and other metabolites that accumulate in the brain space. As a result, there have been higher levels of these toxins and waste products that have been shown to accumulate in the brain when we are sleep deprived (Xie L). The importance of sleep has been well documented in removing these toxins from our brain (Xie L). In addition to these amazing brain saving benefits, experts have identified a plethora of other benefits from a full night’s rest.
Let’s break down the sleep stages! Our brain goes through a process of different stages of sleep during the night. From Stage 1 to —> Stage 2 —> Stage 3 & 4, then to Rapid Eye Movement.
Stage 1 Non-REM Sleep
This is the first stage of sleep, and it is classified as a very drowsy or light phase of sleep. On an EEG, you would notice the electric brain frequencies almost mimic the brain frequencies of when you are awake and relaxed. This is a time in your sleep where you would easily wake up from a noise, temperature change, or a stimulus like a touch. You spend very little time in Stage 1, a maximum of 6 to 9 minutes before you drift into stage 2.
Stage 2 Non-REM Sleep
During Stage 2, your body finally goes into an actual light sleep, and the body starts to cool down naturally in order to prepare for deep stage sleep. At this stage, your EEG or brain activity starts to become more rhythmic. While in Stage 2 sleep, you can also observe sleep spindles appearing on an EEG. These are very important for motor skill enhancement (Laventure). Think of learning new skills whether they be related to sports, weight training or learning a new technique in general. Sleep spindles play a key role in remembering and improving these techniques. The majority of sleep spindles typically happen at the end of your sleep (ie. last 2 hours if you are sleeping the full 8 hours), and also during day time naps. Many highly skilled athletes in different professional and Olympic sports make sure to maximize their sleep for this reason alone. The difference between a microsecond can be the difference between hitting a home run or striking out. For this reason, attaining a full 8 hours of sleep becomes extremely important.
Stage 3 and 4 Non-REM Sleep or Deep Sleep or Restorative Sleep
Athletes and workout enthusiasts are always targeting Deep Sleep or restorative sleep. Matter of fact, professional performance trainers use this training tip as a “hidden secret” to recovering faster and more efficiently. As the nickname applies, deep sleep is when the human body restores itself from the previous days’ work load. It’s a physical recovery, but there are several benefits to the brain that are also happening. This recovery is very important for the brain to gear up to learn for the next day.
On an EEG, the brain starts to produce deeper and slower brain waves called delta waves. The majority of the brain is insync, and the electrical activity is firing and resting all at the same time. During this period of slow synchronous brain waves, the Cerebrospinal Fluid is pulsating through the lymphatic tunnels of the brain, and helping to wash out metabolites and toxins that have built up during the day (Xie). This is an important step in removing key metabolites that have been linked in Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimers (Bjorness).
Additionally, your newly formed short-term memories are transferring to your long-term memory bank. So, everything you had focused on, learned, or remembered the day prior to going to sleep is solidified in your memory over night while you sleep. This process allows you to recall the information you learned. However, it is REM sleep that allows you to take those memories and utilize them in your day to day thinking. More to come about the benefits of REM Sleep.
During the first cycle of deep sleep, this is typically when the body releases recovery hormones like Growth Hormone to assist in the recovery of the body (Van Cauter) as well as regulate other hormones responsible for stress and weight management. In addition, the body strengthens its immune system to help fight off infections or common colds.
The release of Growth Hormone at night is so important to the body. Without it, it can lead to more health issues such as
- Increased fat
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Reduced muscle mass and bone density
The Importance of REM Sleep (Rapid Eye Movement)
The last stage of sleep to end our sleep cycle is REM. The name hints on the activity during the sleep stage. During REM sleep, our eyeballs are moving all over the place, and the body is paralyzed by a neurotransmitter in the brain that keeps the body from acting out it’s dream. If woken up in the middle of REM sleep, we can typically remember a weird dream that does not make a lot of sense to us.
On an EEG, the brain is undergoing activity that is very similar to when the brain is awake. It is connecting neuronal activity all throughout the brain. On an MRI, the brain is lit up like a Christmas tree showing electric impulses all throughout the brain. Researchers have hypothesized that when REM sleep was integrated into our sleep, humans were able to evolve quicker (Hunter). In this stage, the brain is taking all of its newly formed long-term memories from deep stage sleep, and integrates them with the your previous long-term memories. This process is extremely useful, as it helps in critical thinking, enhancing creativity, and helping to solve through complex issues.
My previous clients have utilized this unique ability of REM sleep to create different avenues of revenue in their business, design efficient workflow to maximize production, and find creative ways to generate new sales leads. In my opinion, this is why well rested individuals are so effective. They are able to access newly learned information and integrate these memories quicker into their day to day operation.
The Complete Sleep Architecture
If you are wondering how to get more REM Sleep, then this is the most important part. From the start of your sleep, you are going to drift through each stage of your sleep cycle throughout the night. From NREM Stage 1 to REM sleep. You will usually have about 5 to 6 full sleep cycles every night.
This part is important! In the first half of the night while you are asleep, your brain is going to spend a greater amount of time in deep stage sleep in each sleep cycle. Remember, your body is releasing growth hormone to recover, and your brain is consolidating short-term memories to your long-term memory bank. Then in the latter half of the night, you will start to see a transition of the time you spend in deep sleep. You will typically have less time spent in deep stage sleep and more time spent in REM sleep. Along with more REM sleep, you typically see more stage 2 sleep with sleep spindles.
Remember, sleep spindles are very important because of their link benefiting in motor skill memory. This is the main reason why I train adults in getting 7 to 9 hours of deep quality sleep. This allows our body to take full advantage of all the amazing benefits that sleep can offer.
Attaining anything less than 6 hours of sleep is robbing you of a significant amount of REM sleep and NREM Stage 2 sleep spindles. Remember, sleep spindles are important for motor memory functions. Think of activities that require repetition in order to perfect! Music, sports, surgical procedures, or creating new and healthier habits; all of these skills can become easier to learn with getting an average of 8 hours of sleep every night. During REM sleep, your brain is integrating your new long-term memories with the previous long-term memories. More REM sleep allows you to think more effectively, create more easily, and solve complex issues.
So whether you are an executive, a professional athlete, police officer, a doctor, or a mom/dad; a full 8 hours of sleep every night will make healthier lifestyle choices much simpler to maintain.
Sleep Programs for Adults – Customized for you
If you are struggling to get a full 8 hours of sleep, start with small steps. I wrote an article highlighting the 4 most common steps that Shift workers ignore. These 4 common steps have everything to do with healthy sleep in general. If you have struggled with getting to sleep and you want quick results, it may benefit you to work with a sleep consultant. If you need that extra push to stay on task, then you may want to hire a coach. Luckily, I am both!
Just imagine waking up refreshed, energized, and being able to ignore that cup of coffee first thing in the morning. Imagine sticking to work out routines and being able to avoid certain foods more easily. It sounds make-belief, right? It’s a proven science. These are the results that I see from successful clients that have benefited from just a 1 month program with me. This is the most effective way to start your health and fitness journey. It’s time to get more sleep.
To healthy sleep, Zeke Medina PharmD
Zeke Medina is a Certified Adult Sleep Consultant that works with teenagers and adults struggling with insomnia and other sleep issues that interrupt sleep. Zeke has over 10 years of experience in the medical field helping individuals with chronic health issues and preventable health issues like insomnia.
1. Bjorness T, Greene R. Adenosine and sleep. Current Neuropharmacology vol. 7,3 (2009): 238-45. Doi: 10.2174/157015909789152182 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2769007/
2. Xie L, Kang H, Xu Q et al.. Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain.Science. 2013; 342(6156): 373-377. Doi 10.1126/science.1241224 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24136970
3. Kuriyama K., Stickgold R., Walker M. P. Sleep-dependent learning and motor-skill complexity. Learning & Memory. 2004;11(6):705–713. doi: 10.1101/lm.76304. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC534699/
4. Brawn T. P., Fenn K. M., Nusbaum H. C., Margoliash D. Consolidation of sensorimotor learning during sleep. Learning & Memory. 2008;15(11):815–819. doi: 10.1101/lm.1180908. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18984561
5. Laventure S, Fogel S, Lungu O, Albouy G, Sévigny-Dupont P, Vien C, et al. (2016) NREM2 and Sleep Spindles Are Instrumental to the Consolidation of Motor Sequence Memories. PLoS Biol 14(3): e1002429. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002429
6. Van Cauter E, Plat L. Physiology of growth hormone secretion during sleep. J Pediatr. 1996 May; 128 (5 Pt 2): S32-S37.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8627466
7. Hunter P. Sophisticated sleep improves our brains: Our advanced cognitive and social skills might derive from the evolution of improved sleep quality; today, sleep therapy could help with mental health issues and learning. EMBO Rep. 2016;17(3):296‐299. doi:10.15252/embr.201642044 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4772989/