How important is your sleep?
Getting enough sleep is one of the most important factors for athletes, as well as anyone, to maintain their health and performance. While most of us know the importance of getting enough sleep, many of us don’t understand why it’s a priority, or the different stages of sleep that our bodies go through. So, in this article, I’ll be discussing the importance of sleep, the different stages of sleep, why we need to get enough of it, and how to get the best sleep possible.
The Different Stages Of Sleep
When we sleep, our bodies go through different stages. We move from light sleep to deep sleep and then to REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. During light sleep, our bodies are just beginning to relax and our breathing and heart rate slow down. Deep sleep is a much deeper level of sleep where our muscles are completely relaxed and our brain is in a state of restorative healing. During slow wave sleep (SWS), a type of deep sleep, there is an increase in activity in areas of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, which helps to reorganize information and consolidate memories (1).
Rapid eye movement (REM) is the final and most important stage of sleep, as this is when our bodies are able to process and store memories. REM sleep is associated with increased neuronal activity in multiple brain regions including the amygdala, hippocampus, thalamus, striatum and cerebellum (2).
Getting enough sleep is important for preventing and fighting illness. When we are consistently sleep deprived, our bodies become more susceptible to illnesses such as colds and flu. Additionally, getting enough sleep can help to reduce stress levels, which can also help to boost our immunity.
Driving Your Performance
Sleep is essential for athletes as it helps to improve their performance. Without enough sleep, athletes can struggle to stay focused and alert during practice and games. Additionally, sleep helps to improve reaction time, coordination and can even help to increase muscle strength. Alpha waves are associated with relaxation during the light stages of non-REM sleep and can help improve memory recall performance of skills and tasks (4). Delta waves are associated with deep sleep, restorative processes such as tissue repair, immune system functioning and metabolic regulation (5).
Achieving Your Weight Loss Goals
Getting enough sleep is also important for those looking to lose weight. This is because when we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies produce more of the hormone ghrelin, which encourages us to eat more. Furthermore, when our bodies don’t get enough rest, they don’t have enough energy to burn off the calories that we’ve eaten.
Boosting Heart Health
Getting enough sleep is also important for our heart health. Research has shown that those who don’t get enough sleep are at a greater risk of developing heart disease. When we don’t get enough rest, our bodies produce more of the hormone cortisol, which can increase blood pressure and lead to elevated levels of stress.
Time and Duration of Sleep
It’s important to get enough sleep every night and to ensure that we’re getting the right amount of sleep. Generally, adults should be getting between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. It’s also important to ensure that we’re going to bed at a consistent time each night, and that we are avoiding disruptive activities such as watching TV, using our phones and drinking caffeine before bed. Blue light emitted from media screens can stimulate production of Gamma waves, a type of brain wave frequency shown to be involved in a wide range of cognitive functions such as attention, learning, memory consolidation, and even creativity. In particular, Gamma oscillations have been linked to increased neuronal communication across different brain regions and can help to bind together different pieces of information into unified perceptions. Gamma waves are linked to higher level conscious processing such as maintaining mental maps of our environment or learning new skills (6).
The Power Of Short Nap
If you’ve ever felt like you needed a quick pick-me-up during the day, you’re not alone! Taking a short nap can be an excellent way to re-energize and increase alertness and productivity. As an expert in Sports Medicine and Exercise Physiology, I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of napping for athletes and other active individuals. Here’s what you need to know about short naps and how to make the most of them.
Research has shown that napping for 10-20 minutes is the optimal time to reap the benefits of improved alertness and productivity. During this time, the brain goes through several stages of sleep. During the first stage, brain wave activity begins to slow down and the body begins to relax. As the nap progresses, brain wave activity eventually enters the second stage, which is associated with increased alertness and memory retention. Sleep spindles during non-REM sleep have been linked to improved memory (7). Finally, the third stage of sleep is characterised by deep, slow wave sleep which helps the brain to form new neural connections and consolidate memories. Slow-wave sleep is associated with improved learning and memory consolidation indicating the importance of getting sufficient quality sleep (8). In this deepest stage REM sleep is associated with improved cognitive performance and creativity (9).
In addition to understanding the ideal duration and timing for napping, it’s also important to be aware of what you should avoid when napping. Stimulants such as caffeine continue to affect the body even after you fall asleep, so it’s best to avoid them for several hours before you plan to take a nap. Make sure you’re comfortable, preferably lying down, and in a quiet place when you nap, as any noise or light can disrupt the quality of your sleep. Additionally, studies have found that taking naps can reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure and even improve our mood. Research has also found evidence linking acute and chronic sleep deprivation to decreases in attention, concentration and alertness, highlighting the need to prioritize adequate time in bed to help maintain optimal cognitive function (10).
In conclusion, sleep is essential for our health, performance and overall wellbeing. It’s important to get enough rest each night and to ensure that we are avoiding disruptive activities before bed. Additionally, short naps can be incredibly beneficial for our performance and health. Overall, research suggests that both quality and duration of sleep are important factors in promoting healthy mental functioning and should be taken into consideration when developing your lifestyle plan.
If you have any questions about the above, or want a plan for your lifestyle, please get in touch for a chat.
1. Mikamo, T., Yamamoto, T., Imai, S., & Miyawaki, K. (2019). Sleep-dependent prefrontal cortex and hippocampus activity during slow wave sleep. Neuroreport 30(3), 164-169.
2. Mander, B., Santhanam, S., Saletin, J. M., & Walker, M. P. (2013). Prefrontal and hippocampal brain reactivity during human non-rapid eye movement sleep depends on prior waking experience. Journal of Neuroscience 33(9), 4081–4089
3. Jiang, H., Tao, L., Huo, Y., & He, Y. (2017). Theta oscillations in the hippocampus during exploration: A potential neural substrate for learning and memory formation? Neural Plasticity 2017: Article ID 9076286
4. Kumar RK & McCarley RW (2015). Alpha wave activity in the sleeping brain: Its origin and functional significance in cognitive processes—A review of the literature from 1956 to 2015 Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 9:431
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8. Benedict C et al (2019). The impact of slow wave sleep on learning and memory in humans: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 101: 76-90
9. Lancaster J et al (2019). Effects of REM Sleep on Cognitive Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Experimental Studies Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 13:124
10. Gooneratne NS et al (2020). The impact of acute and chronic sleep deprivation on cognition: A systematic review of experimental studies Sleep Medicine Reviews 50:101278