Sleep is the most overlooked and undervalued pillar of our health. It is vital for full body recovery & repair, memory conso...Sleep is the most overlooked and undervalued pillar of our health. It is vital for full body recovery & repair, memory consolidation, active recall, cognitive and physical performance and more.
Often described as the worlds most underutilized performance enhancer. Most of the population will have accrued sleep debt over weeks and months and will be playing catch up. A great rule of thumb for sleep is if you can sleep you probably NEED to.
The first thing we need to understand is a term called circadian rhythms. Put simply, this is an internal set of rhythms that is independent of light/dark cycles, it goes full circle every ~24 hours. What does it control? well, everything. All processes in the body have a rhythm to them. For example, power output on a bike is lowest in the morning and highest in the afternoon. See the image below for other examples, such s body temperature being lowest at 04:30 and highest at 19:00.
Ok, now we understand there is a rhythm to our sleep/wake cycles. Next, is to explore and explain the different stages of sleep. Which are very nicely depicted in the figure below. Rapid eye movement (R.E.M) is an essential stage of sleep for cognitive function and is known as the stage of sleep where dreaming is most likely to occur.
Stage 1 - Drifting off to sleep, normally lasts 1-5 minutes. Body and brain prepare for sleep.
Stage 2 - Drop in body temperature, muscles relax and heart rate slows. Normally lasts 10-25 minutes.
Stage 3/4 - Sometimes referred to as deep sleep. Critical for recovery and growth. Normally lasts for 20-40 minutes and gradually gets shorter with each sleep cycle.
R.E.M - Brain activity is similar to when we are awake. Although, the body is paralysed. REM sleep is essential for cognitive function and creativity. It can last from a couple of minutes up to an hour, as sleep cycles progress throughout the night REM sleep gets longer (Source: NCBI).
Sleep function -
Melatonin is known as the sleep hormone, it regulates our wakefulness and readiness for sleep. It is released from the brain and is controlled by light and dark cycles. Meaning, when it is light out melatonin secretion is minimal. When it is dark, melatonin is secreted and blood concentrations rise. Important to note, blue light from our devices suppresses melatonin and can make it difficult to fall asleep. Interestingly, melatonin is used as an aid in alleviating jet lag and becoming accustomed to new time zones (Source: NCBI).
Most research investigating melatonin in sleep disorders show favourable effects from supplementation. It may improve time to fall asleep, insomnia and also sleep quality (Source: NCBI, NCBI). Studies show supplementation over weeks to months do not affect the bodies own ability to produce the hormone (Source: NCBI, NCBI).
Magnesium inadequacy or deficiency can impair sleep quality. It plays a role in the brain by regulating the excitation/relaxation of the nervous system.
Unfortunately, the research conducted with magnesium and sleep is mostly in the elderly. So we cannot get the full picture. However, these studies showed the elderly have lower magnesium status and supplementation did improve sleep quality (Source: NCBI, NCBI).
Lavender elicits its effects by calming the nervous system and reducing stress, insomnia and improving sleep quality. At least in some research (Source: NCBI, NCBI, NCBI)
If you are super stressed or suffer from anxiety or even insomnia, lavender may prove beneficial for improving sleep quality (Source: NCBI, NCBI). In some studies, it has even successfully increased sleep duration in those with anxiety disorders (Source: NCBI).
Other aspects of our lifestyle play a major role in regulating sleep quantity and quality. Our sleep-habits and environment play a major role in our sleep quality. (Source: NCBI, MDPI)
Achieving a consistent sleep schedule and wind-down routine is most important. See the image below for the top sleep tips (Source: WorldSleepSociety).
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