Unlock The Secrets Of Restorative Sleep For Better Health

Welcome to The Project – Weekly episodes to add 10-20 quality years to your life in <5mins.

This episode in a snapshot:

  • Sleep 101: Know Your Cycles
  • The importance Of Quality Sleep
  • What Affects Our Sleep Skills
  • Most Common Sleep Disorders
  • Quick Tips: Improving Sleep Quality
  • Get Started In The Next 7 Days

sleep 101: know your cycles

sleep cycle overview
Graphics were sourced from The Sleep Foundation website.

We’ve all slept before, but weirdly enough most people don’t understand much about it!

Sleep is a complex process consisting of multiple stages that cycle throughout the night. These stages include non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and REM sleep, each playing a crucial role in physical and mental restoration (Journal of Sleep Research).

To get more specific, there are four total sleep stages, including one for REM sleep and three that form non-REM sleep. We know the different stages based on an analysis of brain activity during sleep, which shows distinct patterns that characterise each stage.

NREM Sleep Patterns (N1-N3):

The higher the stage of NREM sleep, the harder it is to wake that person up. Remember when you wake up and forget what day it is?

Stage 1 (N1): 1-7mins

  • The falling asleep phase. Whilst not fully relaxed, your body and brain start to slow down.
  • It’s easy to wake somebody up in this phase and they can be easily disturbed.
  • If not disturbed, they can move quickly into stage 2.

Stage 2 (N2): 10-25mins

  • Drop in body temperature, relaxed muscles and slower breath and heart rates.
  • Brain waves show a new pattern and eye movements stop.
  • The brain activity slows down, but can actually spike up when actively resisting being woken up.
  • The first cycle is 10-25mins but each subsequent cycle might be longer, you might spend 50% of your night in N2.

Stage 3 (N3): 20-40mins

  • Welcome to “deep sleep” territory. This is where it’s hardest to wake somebody up.
  • The body continues to relax; muscle tone, pulse and breathing rate continue to decrease.
  • This part of the sleep cycle is “restorative” meaning it’s important for body recovery and growth.
  • Even though brain activity slows down, there’s evidence that this part of the cycle helps boost thinking, creativity and memory.
  • Opposite to N2, these phases of the cycle actually get shorter throughout the night. Most deep sleep occurs in the first half.

Stage 4 (REM): 10-60mins

  • Brain activity picks up in REM sleep, nearing the same levels as when you’re awake.
  • You actually get paralysis of major muscles, with two exceptions; the eyes and breathing muscles.
  • This is the “vivid dream” stage of sleep and is believed to help memory, learning and creativity.
  • Normally you’d hit REM sleep every ~90mins in the cycle. As the night goes on, REM stages get longer.
  • You might spend ~25% of your night in REM sleep.
Graphics were sourced from The Sleep Foundation website.

the importance of quality sleep

Now we’ve outlined what sleep looks like, let’s recap why it’s so important.

Sleep is where we regenerate and develop our brain and body. Sleepers who wake up frequently during the earlier stages (sleep apnoea) may struggle to get into the deeper sleep stages, whilst those with insomnia may simply not get enough total sleep to accumulate enough time in each specific phase. I’ve often tread that deep sleep

Currently I use a WHOOP fitness tracker, and they use a metric “Restorative Sleep”. This is a combination of my DEEP (N3) and my REM stages. Ideally we spend 40-50% of our night in these stages; N3 attributing to physical restoration, and REM attributing to mental restoration.

Physical Health

Quality sleep is essential for maintaining physical health. It supports immune function, muscle recovery, and cardiovascular health. Lack of sleep is associated with increased risk of chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease (Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine).

Mental Health

Sleep is vital for cognitive function, mood regulation, and mental well-being. Poor sleep quality is linked to anxiety, depression, and impaired cognitive performance (Sleep Medicine Reviews).

Overall Well-Being

Adequate sleep improves overall well-being, enhancing energy levels, productivity, and quality of life. It is a cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle (Journal of Health Psychology).

what affects our sleep skills

Environment:

  • The sleep environment, including factors like room temperature, noise, and light, can significantly impact sleep quality. A comfortable and quiet environment promotes better sleep (Journal of Environmental Psychology).

Lifestyle Habits:

  • Habits such as caffeine and alcohol consumption, exercise, and screen time before bed can affect sleep quality. Healthy lifestyle choices support restorative sleep (Journal of Sleep Research). ****If a person gets irregular or insufficient sleep over a period of days or more, it can cause an abnormal sleep cycle.

Alcohol:

  • Alcohol and some other drugs can alter sleep architecture. For example, alcohol decreases REM sleep early in the night, but as the alcohol wears off, there is a REM sleep rebound, with prolonged REM stages.

Stress & Anxiety:

  • Stress and anxiety can interfere with the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Managing stress through relaxation techniques can improve sleep quality (Journal of Behavioral Medicine).

Age:

  • Time in each stage changes dramatically over a person’s life. Newborns spend far more time in REM sleep and may enter a REM stage as soon as they fall asleep. As they get older, their sleep becomes similar to that of adults. Older adults tend to spend less time in REM sleep.

common sleep disorders

Insomnia

  • Insomnia is characterised by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early. It can lead to daytime fatigue, mood disturbances, and impaired functioning (Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine).

Sleep Apnea

  • Sleep apnea is a disorder where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. It can cause loud snoring, daytime sleepiness, and serious health complications if untreated (American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine).

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

  • RLS involves an uncontrollable urge to move the legs, usually accompanied by uncomfortable sensations. It can significantly disrupt sleep and lead to insomnia (Sleep Medicine Reviews).

quick tips: improving sleep quality

Establish a Routine

  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps regulate the body’s internal clock (Sleep Health).

Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment

  • Optimise your sleep environment by keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. Use blackout curtains, earplugs, or white noise machines if necessary (Journal of Environmental Psychology).

Limit Stimulants

  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and large meals close to bedtime. These can disrupt sleep patterns and reduce sleep quality (Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine).

Practice Relaxation Techniques

  • Incorporate relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or gentle yoga before bed to reduce stress and promote relaxation (Journal of Psychosomatic Research).

get started in next 7 days

Consistency and routine is probably the fastest way to improve sleep hygiene.

Here’s just ONE example of creating your very own sleep routine.

The 10-3-2-1-0 formula:

 
  • 10 hours before bed: No more caffeine. This helps ensure that caffeine doesn’t interfere with the ability to fall asleep, as it can stay in your system and affect sleep quality for up to 10 hours after consumption.
  • 3 hours before bed: No more eating or heavy meals. This allows time for your body to digest dinner and helps prevent discomfort or indigestion, which can disturb your sleep.
  • 2 hours before bed: No more work. This gives your brain time to wind down from professional or academic activities that can make it hard to relax and prepare for sleep.
  • 1 hour before bed: No more screen time. Turn off all electronic devices, as the blue light emitted from screens can inhibit the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep.
  • 0: The goal is to hit the pillow and go to sleep.
 

If you’re somebody who consistently struggles with sleep, it might be worth investigating for underlying medical conditions ie. sleep apnoea. Otherwise I can highly recommend getting the support from a sleep specialist or sleep coach such as; Carla Butler HERE

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