What happens in your brain when you sleep?

a woman’s eyes

What happens in our brains when we sleep? For the longest time, this remained a mystery.

Wake up your highest potential.

What happens in our brains when we sleep? For the longest time, this remained a mystery. It was assumed that sleep was when our minds and bodies shut down, but recent research has found the opposite.

During the day, toxins build up in your brain. Sleep plays a critical role in clearing them out, so wake up and get some sleep.

a woman’s eyes

Your brain’s a complicated piece of machinery made up of approximately 100 billion neurons. These are special cells that send electrochemical signals to each other with every task and function you perform. At any given moment, one neuron can send a signal to thousands of others (source).

As the day progresses, every one of these cells produces waste, which accumulates the longer you’re awake.
It’s been well documented that the formation of new memories, as well as the shaping of new neuronal connections, occurs during sleep. Only recently has it been shown that sleep may serve a much more physiologically important task (source).

In a recent series of studies published by Maiken Nedergaard, a neuroscientist leading a team of sleep activity researchers at the University of Rochester, she reports that one of the most critical functions of sleep is actively flushing out the day’s accumulated toxins from the brain.
It’s similar to what occurs in your body during exercise. As your muscles tire and your energy depletes, toxic by-products begin to accumulate in your cells.

This is where the body’s lymphatic system comes in handy, clearing these toxins and sparing your body from any permanent damage. But the brain is outside this system’s reach, so how does its cerebral debris get flushed out?

Dr. Nedergaard suggests that the brain may have its own lymphatic system, clearing out toxins with cerebrospinal fluid. She calls it the glymphatic system, and while the idea itself isn’t new – it was proposed about a hundred years ago but lacked the necessary research tools – only now is it being scientifically proven to be crucial in maintaining a healthy brain (source).

The team also notes that this system is particularly active during sleep. While your body rests, the volume of space between your brain cells increases roughly 60%, giving the glymphatic system even more room to do the cleanup and making this system 10 times more effective when you’re asleep than when you’re awake (source, p.5).
So what does this mean for a chronically sleep-deprived society where the majority of people don’t get the 7 to 9 hours recommended by the National Sleep Foundation?

Even over the short-term – Netflix binge watching or the occasional all-nighter – our ability to pay attention and analyze information suffers. And while the human brain is relatively well-equipped to recover from this temporary stumble, a repeated loss of sleep is the equivalent of locking the cleaning crew out of the building every night.

When the cognitive trash is allowed to pile up, key neurons affecting cognitive performance, memory and more begin to degenerate. There is also a buildup of proteins that are normally cleared out during sleep.

One of the more notable of these proteins is beta-amyloid, which can form plaques in the brain strongly associated with Alzheimer’s Disease (source).

It’s a bad cycle. Less sleep leads to more daily stress. Our work suffers, we sleep even less and our brain isn’t given adequate time to clean up our mental garbage.

Thankfully, we have the power to break that cycle. By prioritizing sleep, we can give our bodies the rest they need to refresh, recharge, and revive themselves.

What can you do for better sleep?

Start with setting and respecting a regular bedtime that gives you at least 7 hours of sleep a night.  If you still feel tired, add half an hour at a time. Still have trouble sleeping? Ask yourselves these questions:

  • Are you on your phone or watching TV too close to bedtime? The blue light can impact your ability to fall asleep.
  • Is the room too hot or cold? Humans tend to sleep better in slightly cooler environments.
  • Does your partner toss and turn? Maybe it’s time to upgrade to a mattress with motion isolation.
  • Is your mattress old? If your mattress is older than 5 years, it might be time to replace it.

When it comes to better brain health, getting better sleep is a no brainer. Wake up to your highest potential by prioritizing a good night’s rest.

How does sunlight affect sleep?

sunshine

Move over, moon. The sun has a role to play in sleep too.

Wake up outside.

Move over, moon. The sun has a role to play in sleep too.

It’s been estimated that around 90% of our time is spent indoors (source) with much of that time spent looking at screens. If you’re not sleeping well, it could be because you don’t get enough sunshine. The more sunlight you get today, the better your sleep will be tonight and the better your day will be tomorrow.

sunshine

Your sleep and wake cycles follow your “circadian rhythm”. The Latin word “circa” means “one” and “diem” means “day”, so circadian translates to “one day”. This one-day cycle initiates when your eyes first take in light in the morning.
The light passes through your eyes to your hypothalamus, a group of brain cells behind the optic nerves.  The hypothalamus acts as your body’s hormonal hub – when your hypothalamus “sees” the morning light, it signals the start of its daily hormone production schedule. At set times throughout the day, it releases hormones that control your energy levels, digestion, blood pressure, immune system, fat burning and more.  Inconsistent and inadequate sleep will throw off that schedule.
Sunlight taken in through our eyes and skin when you’re outdoors helps regulate production of cortisol, serotonin, and melatonin – all essential hormones for a good night’s sleep (and a better mood tomorrow). Daylight is 100 times more powerful than indoor lighting. Even on a cloudy day, you get 10 times more light outdoors than inside (source, p.11).

CORTISOL

Morning light stimulates production of cortisol – your “get up and go” hormone that gives you the pep you need to start your day.

SERATONIN

UV taken in through your eyes and skin stimulates production of serotonin – your “happiness” hormone. Serotonin is also linked to better quality sleep.

Here are 6 ways you can get more sunlight every day:

1. Get outside first thing in the morning – the morning rays are their most powerful then.

2. Try to find window seating while working or dining indoors.

3. Take a walk at lunch.

4. Take 15-minute “recharge” breaks. Going for even a 15-minute walk outside can help you clear your mind, improve focus at work, and spark new creative ideas.

5. If it’s nice out, dine al fresco. Not only is it good for sleep, it also makes mealtime more fun for the family.

6. Watch the sunset. We used to wake up and go to sleep with the sun. Thanks to modern day electricity, our internal clocks are on an entirely different rhythm. Get the day’s final sunshine while signalling to your body it’s time to wind down.

How sleep can make you a kinder person.

hug

Sleep improves your ability to regulate, read, and express emotions.

Wake up kindness.

Sleep improves your ability to regulate, read, and express emotions.

A recent study links sleep deprivation to decreased glucose levels in the brain. Your brain needs glucose to perform at its best. After 24 hours, researchers recorded an overall glucose drop of 6%, but the drop in the prefrontal cortex and parietal lobe was even greater – 12-14% (source, p. 2). These parts of the brain help you read facial expressions, understand social dynamics, and tell the difference between right and wrong.

hug

Your prefrontal cortex is your brain’s logic center, helping you discern real threats from perceived ones. Your amygdala is your brain’s emotional control center. MRIs have shown that getting less sleep over-activates the amygdala and skips over the prefrontal cortex (source, p. 36). When your emotions aren’t regulated by logic, you’re far more likely to be short, harsh, and moody.  Sleeping can literally make you nicer.

A wake-up call: the dangers of chronic fatigue.

How Smartphones Impact Sleep

In a world where “time is money”, sleep is considered empty time. We’ve been conditioned to think “sleep is for the weak”; “you’ll sleep when you’re dead”; “you snooze, you lose”.

Wake up what’s possible with better sleep.

60% of Canadian adults feel tired most of the time (source).
30% of Canadian adults get fewer than six hours of sleep a night (source).
The first Google autocomplete result for “why am I…” is “why am I so tired?” (source).

How Smartphones Impact Sleep

It’s no surprise that we’re so exhausted. We’re inundated with screens, notifications, and meeting requests 24/7/365. Our world is busier, faster, and more connected than ever before.

In a world where “time is money”, sleep is considered empty time. We’ve been conditioned to think “sleep is for the weak”; “you’ll sleep when you’re dead”; “you snooze, you lose”. Sleep deprivation has almost become a status symbol. The more you work, the more important and successful you must be. For high-performers and “hustlers”, a 60-hour work week is brag-worthy. This is a clear shift from previous eras where leisure was luxury and work was a necessity for the lower class.

We carry our friends and our jobs in our back pocket at all times. We can’t sit still without compulsively reaching for our phones. We fill every empty moment with noise. We’ve forgotten how to be still, how to pause and reflect, and – we’ve even forgotten how to sleep.

In her best-selling book The Sleep Revolution, Arianna Huffington calls our age “the golden age of sleep science”. Researchers are unlocking the secrets of what happens in our brains and bodies when we sleep – and when we don’t.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) links insufficient sleep to chronic diseases and conditions including: diabetes, cardiovascular diseaseobesityanxiety, and depression (source).  Recent studies link sleep deprivation to early Alzheimer’s Disease (source) and increased risk of cancer (source, p. 43). Then there are the health risks that come with drowsy driving and sleeping pill prescriptions. The more we learn about dangers of insufficient sleep, the harder it is to ignore. This is a global health crisis.

One of the main reasons we neglect sleep is simply lack of education. There’s a certain mystery and magic to sleep. Where do we go when we sleep? What’s happening in our mind? It’s hard to understand something you’re unconscious for.

We’ve been taught about the importance of diet and exercise, but sleep has never reached mainstream health awareness – until now. Mastering healthy sleep habits is one of the most effective ways to improve your health and quality of life.  Science proves that better sleep can make you healthier, happier, and sharper.

Sleep is so good for us, so why do we neglect it?

“Up, Sluggard, and waste not life; in the grave will
be sleeping enough.”
– Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac

In other words, “you’ll sleep when you’re dead”. Franklin is also the man who coined the corporate mantra “time is money”. This was the spirit of the Industrial Revolution – big business never sleeps. Working at all hours became a sign of masculinity and strength.

Thomas Edison also believed sleep was for the weak, bragging that he never needed more than 4 or 5 hours. In 1914, The New York Times published an article with the headline: “THE FUTURE MAN WILL SPEND LESS TIME IN BED.”  In the article, Edison said:

“In the old days, man went up and down with the sun… A million years from now, he won’t go to bed at all. Really, sleep is an absurdity, a bad habit. We can’t suddenly throw off the thralldom of the habit, but we can still throw it off. Nothing in this world is more dangerous to the efficiency of humanity than too much sleep.”
-Thomas Edison
(via The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington)

North America was built on capitalism and capitalism was built on these beliefs. Keep in mind, at the time Edison’s article was published, doctors were still treating various ailments with mercury and heroin was an acceptable form of cough treatment. 1 out of 4 women were diagnosed with “hysteria”, fussy babies were treated with narcotic-loaded “soothing syrups”, and lobotomies and bloodletting were still accepted medical practices (source). Our medical knowledge has come a long way since then. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about our relationship with sleep. Ironically, Edison developed type 2 diabetes later in life – a condition now often linked to chronic sleep deprivation (source).

We sacrifice sleep in the name of productivity and hyper-connection. Ironically, our loss of sleep costs Canada about 80,000 working days a year due to sleep deprivation of our working population (source). 26% of the Canadian workforce has called in sick because of being sleep deprived (source, p. 23).

Here’s the funny (sad) part. We sacrifice sleep for productivity that isn’t really productive and connection that doesn’t really connect us. On top of that, we’re putting our health at risk.

By waking up to sleep, we can reverse the side effects of poor sleep and gain the energy and renewal we need to thrive.
Here on the Beautyrest® website, you’ll find articles that outline many of the benefits of sleep, along with steps you can take to improve your sleep ­– and your life  ­– starting tonight. We’ll reference the latest studies, resources, and experts.
We believe that beautiful sleep is the secret to a beautiful life. Our goal is to empower you to harness the power of sleep for better health, happiness, and success every day.

Here’s to waking up what’s possible.

You snooze you win.

smiling morning person

The first step in transforming your sleep is changing your attitude towards it.

Wake up to better sleep.

The first step in transforming your sleep is changing your attitude towards it.

Sleep isn’t for the weak – it’s for the strong!  It doesn’t get in the way of productivity – it enhances it. By prioritizing sleep, you’re prioritizing better health, better performance, and better relationships.

When you wake up to the immense benefits sleep has on your body and mind, you’ll realize that better sleep can literally transform your life. If you respect yourself and your goals, it’s time you respect your sleep.

smiling morning person

Does sleep affect weight loss?

sleep your way to a healthy weight

No, hitting the hay for five hours or less a night is not advisable

Wake up feeling fit.

Looking to lose some extra weight? Go to bed.

Google “best way to lose weight” and most of the results are based on two things: diet and exercise. Eat more greens, take the stairs, and so on. All good advice, but new research suggests there’s more to it than that. If you feel like you’re doing all the right things but are still struggling to achieve your goals, you may not be getting enough sleep. The recent consensus among experts is that adequate rest is just as important to your health (and weight) as what you eat or how many crunches you can do (source).

sleep your way to a healthy weight

Losing weight overnight might not be possible, but along with diet and exercise, sleep plays a key role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. When we cut our sleeps short, we’re disrupting the natural weight management processes that occur when we’re sleeping.

Here are 5 of our bodies’ natural weight management processes affected by sleep deprivation:

1 & 2. Leptin & Ghrelin Imbalance

Sleep helps regulate your appetite, which is controlled by two hormones: leptin and ghrelin. Simply put, ghrelin tells you when you’re hungry and leptin tells you when you’re full. Both need to be under control to maintain a healthy weight, but when you’re sleep deprived this is next to impossible. Studies have shown that sleeping less than six hours a night increases ghrelin production and decreases leptin, stimulating feelings of hunger but leaving you unable to tell when you’ve eaten enough (source).

3. Cortisol Jumps

Sleep deprivation also disrupts your cortisol production. When you go too long without getting your Z’s, cortisol levels spike, telling the rewards center of your brain that it’s junk food party time. Combined with the heightened ghrelin, you’re left with the impulse control of a 5-year-old, more likely to eat bigger portions of high-carb, high-fat snacks and meals (source).

4. Glucose Drops

One study found that going 24 hours without sleep reduces the amount of glucose going to the brain by 6%. Your body tries to replace that glucose in two ways – first, by looking for more in the form of that extra slice of cake, and second, by burning muscles that contain glucose. That’s right; when you’re sleep deprived, your body is far more likely to burn muscles and save long-term energy (also known as fat).
In another study published in the Annals of Medicine, a group of dieters were put on a strict diet and two progressively different sleep schedules. When their sleep was restricted to 5.5 hours a night, their fat loss was essentially cut in half from when they were allowed 8.5 hours a night, even though their calories remained the same. With less sleep, they also reported feeling hungrier and less satisfied after meals (source).

Insulin Spikes

When your body’s in sleep debt, it’s suffering from “metabolic grogginess,” a term coined by a group of researchers at the University of Chicago. They found that just four days of insufficient shuteye leads to a 30% drop in insulin sensitivity. Insulin, the body’s main anabolic hormone, is essential for absorbing blood sugar and either converting it into energy or storing it.
Is that bad? Kind of. When insulin resistance rises, your body pumps out more, which ends up being stored as fat. This can lead to diabetes, prediabetes, and a host of other health disorders (source).
If diet and exercise alone aren’t working for you, take a closer look at your sleep habits. The good news is, hitting the pillow a couple hours earlier than usual is way more inviting than doing another set of reps.

Consider sleep an active player in your health and fitness program.

Here a few ways you can sleep your way to a healthier weight:

  • Shut it down. Say goodbye to all technology (phone, TV, internet) at least an hour before bedtime. The bright light is telling your brain that it’s time to be alert, so send it the opposite signal.
  • Create a bedtime ritual. Take a warm bath, read, meditate; whatever helps you unwind and prep your body for rest.
  • Skip the snooze. Trying to fall back asleep between alarms isn’t a good idea. It often disturbs your REM cycle, leaving you groggier than if you had gotten out of bed in the first place. Just set the alarm for a bit later.
  • Stay on schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This helps set your body’s internal clock and improves sleep quality. Your body will also get used to the consistency, making you less likely to toss and turn.
  • Create a restful environment. This usually means a cool, dark, quiet room. If you’re in need of a sleep environment upgrade it’s worth investing in blackout curtains, “white noise” machines, eye masks and ear plugs.

Even though sleep feels passive, it’s actually very active.  Wake up a healthier you by making sleep care just as important as diet and exercise.  Sure beats doing an extra set of burpees.

10 ways to master your morning and win the day.

Classic alarm clock on a table

A better tomorrow starts the moment you wake up today.

Wake up your inner morning person.

A better tomorrow starts the moment you wake up today.

Below is a list of 10 habits that will help you transform your mornings. It isn’t all or nothing. Start with a few and add more to your morning routine over time.

Classic alarm clock on a table

1. Set a regular bedtime

Set a regular bedtime and honour your bedtime routine.

2. Get & set an alarm clock

Because your circadian operates roughly on a 24-hour cycle, a consistent wake-time every day will help keep that hormone production on track. Set a consistent wake time that allows you to get a minimum of 7-hours of sleep. Instead of your cellphone, invest in a classic alarm clock with a dim display option. This will help keep distractions and melatonin-suppressing blue light out of your bedroom.

3. Quit hitting snooze

Do you hit snooze often? It may not seem like a big deal, but it can have psychological consequences. By hitting snooze again and again, you’re subconsciously telling yourself that you don’t need to do what you set out to do. Respect your good intentions and follow through.

4. Hydrate

When you go without water for seven or more hours, your body becomes dehydrated. When we wake up, the first cup we reach for is often coffee. While delicious, coffee dehydrates you even more. Dehydration contributes to feelings of fatigue. Drink a glass of water when you first wake up and throughout the day to stay hydrated.

5. Make your bed

Simple enough, right? A decluttered bedroom declutters the mind. Making your bed is also the first task you’ve “accomplished”. Starting your day with an accomplishment, however small, sparks positivity that will continue throughout the day.

6. Get outside

Early morning light has the greatest impact on your circadian rhythm. Try to get at least half an hour of sunlight before 9am. Sunlight stimulates production of your “get up and go” hormone, cortisol. It also stimulates production of serotonin, your “happiness hormone”. Walk to work, journal on a park bench, or have your morning cup of coffee on the porch.

7. Move your body

When people hear “morning exercise”, they often think this means a full-on rigorous sweat session. If you’re into that, kudos. If you’re not, no problem. We need to shift our thinking from all or nothing. Lower your bar for morning exercise and it gets much easier to do. The main goal is to wake up your body and get some mood-boosting endorphins flowing.

Start Small

Commit to doing 5-10 reps of something.

Pushups, sit-ups and jumping jacks are great starters.  If you feel up to it, try an app like Nike+ Training or SWORKIT pro. You can set a duration as short as 5-minutes to start with exercises you can do at home.  Small changes can lead to big results.

Just Move

Walking counts. Stairs count too. Make small changes to add more steps to your morning routine.

8. Meditate

Meditation isn’t just for yogis and monks. In his best-selling book, Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss shares the tactics, routines, and habits of billionaire’s, icons, and world-class performers. At least 80% of the leaders he interviews practice some sort of daily meditation.
When’s the last time you sat in silence? As a society, we’ve forgotten how to be still. Look around the next time you’re on the bus or sitting in a waiting room. How many people are on their phones? With the world at our fingertips, we’re filling the space we need for reflection with distraction.
Not sure where to start?  There are some great five-minute morning meditations you can follow on Youtube. The point isn’t to be perfect. It’s simply to make space that allows you time to reflect on where you are and where you want to be.  Don’t be too hard on yourself if your mind wanders. Gently guide it back.  Seek progress, not perfection.

9. Set your intentions

Journaling is an incredible tool for self-development.  A journal isn’t necessarily a diary of events.  It can be, for some, but for many, a journal is a tool used to develop clarity, keep accountability, and incubate ideas.  One of best uses of morning journaling is setting your intentions for the day.
If you’ve incorporated nightly journaling into your bedtime routine, the morning is a good time to re-visit any to-do lists you’ve prioritized for yourself. It’s also a great time to think bigger picture.

THOUGHT STARTERS

Today I’m most looking forward to ______________.

The most important thing I want to focus on is _________________ because __________________.

I’m feeling grateful for ___________________.

Does my to-do list correspond with my long-term goals?  If no, why not? Is there something I can do today to help move in that direction? ____________________________.

“It’s the repetition of affirmations that lead to belief. Once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”
– Muhammad Ali

Icons like Oprah Winfrey, Jim Carrey, and Muhammad Ali have shared their belief in the power of positive thinking and the use of daily affirmations.
If can picture the beautiful life you want, think about the person you’ll need to be get there. If you want to wake up your best, you need to know what qualities you consider beautiful.
For me, “a beautiful life” is ___________________________.

Living a beautiful life is important because _______________________.

I am ______________, _______________, and ________________.
Repeating these affirmations in your journal every morning can re-wire your brain to fully believe them. Muhammad Ali said, “I am the greatest!” And he was! Take a cue from Ali and make it happen for you.

10. Start doing

We all have those “someday” goals.  A good morning can help make those someday goals happen sooner. Do you have any long-term goals? Is your current path helping you reach them? Progress doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Little things can add up to big changes when you do them every morning.
In your journal, take some time to consider the following:
What are your “someday” goals?  Write a list.
Write out your to-do list. Does your to-do list correspond with your list of “someday” goals?
Does this list correspond with your definition of a beautiful life?
Once you have a sense of your long-term goals, you need to make a little time each day to make them happen. Mornings are perfect for this. You’re not distracted by the world around you. And, progress – however small – is a great way to start the day.
Whether it’s reading a self-help book, sketching, playing guitar, or reading the your favourite blog, taking at least 5 minutes every morning that propels you in the direction of your goals will help you wake up what’s possible.

How does stress affect sleep?

coffee

A better tomorrow starts the moment you wake up today.

Wake up your inner Zen.

Stress is inevitable. The only thing you have some control over is how you respond to it. Researchers are now proving that sleep plays a key role in our ability to handle everyday stress. Here are three reasons why.

coffee

1. Sleep improves your ability to distinguish between real and perceived threats.

Sleep deprivation limits your ability to distinguish between real and perceived threats. This activates your fight or flight response, which has a real physical impact on your body – your heart beats faster, your muscles tense up, and you feel jumpier. This fight or flight response used to help us defend ourselves from real, physical danger. Now, those little devices we carry around in our back pocket 24/7 can activate that stressful response. Getting better quality sleep sets you up to respond to a stressful situation with more mental clarity and calm.

2. Sleep improves mental clarity.

When you sleep, your brain’s cleaning system – the glymphatic system – is ten times more effective than when you’re awake. The glymphatic system functions like a wave that flows through your brain and removes the toxic debris left behind from the billions of functions your brain cells perform each day. Your brain cells shrink by 60% when you’re asleep, making way for that cleaning to take place (source).

When you’re sleep deprived, the cleaning system doesn’t get the chance to do its job properly. Your brain is left with build-up that affects mental clarity and inhibits your ability to multi-task. When you’re foggy-headed, it’s more difficult to handle the stress that comes your way. Sleep helps lift the fog so you can respond at your best.

3. Sleep can make you a more positive person.

Sleep deprivation has also been linked to increased negativity. In a recent study, well-rested and sleep deprived groups were shown two sets of pictures – one set was positive and one was negative. The next day, the sleep deprived group were less likely to remember the positive photos and had much higher recall of the negative photos than their well-rested counterparts (source, p. 38).  Negativity breeds negativity. When you’re chronically tired, negativity can become a hardwired habit.
Make sleep care a part of your everyday routine to wake up a calmer, clearer, more positive mind.

The surprising link between sleep quality and heart disease.

Studies Link Poor Sleep with Heart Disease

Your heart has a very demanding job. It’s constantly circulating oxygenated blood to every organ in your body. Poor diet, inactivity, and high stress put even more strain on the heart.

Wake up a healthier heart.

Your heart has a very demanding job. It’s constantly circulating oxygenated blood to every organ in your body. Poor diet, inactivity, and high stress put even more strain on the heart.

 

During sleep, your heart rate and blood pressure decrease because your heart doesn’t have to pump as much blood to the other organs that also slow during sleep. Sleep gives your heart the rest it needs to recover and prepare for the demands of tomorrow. Giving your heart sleep can keep it stronger, longer.

Studies Link Poor Sleep with Heart Disease

In a recent study, men with sleeping disorders were found to be 2-2.6 times more likely to have a heart attack and 1.5-4 times more likely to have a stroke over the 14-year duration of the study (source).

 

This affects women too. In fact, some experts warn that women are at a higher risk because women are more prone to insomnia (source). A recent study of over 160,000 people showed a clear link between sleep issues and heart disease. According to this research, difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep, and waking up tired increased the risks by 27%, 11% and 18% respectively (source).
So what does that mean for you?  It’s important to think of sleep as an equal player to diet and exercise. To reap the rewards of better sleep, start by setting and respecting a bedtime that gives you at least 7 hours of sleep. Your heart will thank you.

Can sleep make you smarter?

Have you ever stayed up late cramming for a test? Perfecting a presentation? Finishing a paper? Most of us have been there. Studies show, however, that we may have been better off by going to bed.

Wake up better focus, clarity, and memory.

Have you ever stayed up late cramming for a test? Perfecting a presentation? Finishing a paper? Most of us have been there. Studies show, however, that we may have been better off by going to bed.

How Sleep Can Make You Smarter

Studies on the links between rest and cognitive performance were being done as early as 1924, when American psychologists John Jenkins and Karl Dallenbach asked students to memorize lists of random syllables. The students’ memories were then studied one, two, four and eight hours later. They found that the longer the students slept between the learning session and the tests, the better their ability to recall more of the syllables (source).

A more recent study at the University of Exeter in the UK discovered that sleep almost doubles your chances of remembering previously unrecalled material, validating the theory that memory sharpens overnight.
Bottom line: If you’re staying up late cramming for an exam or presentation the night before, your chances of retaining that information are much lower with less sleep.

Simply put, while you rest, your brain is hard at work processing all the information you’ve encountered during the day and encoding them into memories. For this to happen, three functions have to occur:

1. Acquisition– the learning or experience of something new

2. Consolidation– the memory achieving stability in the brain

3. Recall – the ability to access that memory in the future

While acquisition and recall both occur while you’re awake, it’s now widely believed that sleep plays a crucial role in the consolidation of a memory, regardless of what type of memory it is. This new state makes the memory much less susceptible to interference (source).

A good night’s rest also requires the proper balance of both NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement) phases of sleep, as both play separate roles in the stages of learning and memory formation. At the University College of London, Professor Vincent Walsh explains that the slow-wave sleep (NREM) we experience earlier in the night is responsible for the consolidation of information we acquire that day, or declarative memory. This is the knowledge of fact-based information, like remembering what you had for lunch.

The brain spends the later part of the night in REM sleep, focusing largely on procedural memory. This is when we remember how to do something, such as play the piano. This is also the time when our brains perform subconscious creative problem solving (source).

The relationship between REM sleep and procedural learning consolidation, particularly involving sensory and motor related tasks, has been – and continues to be – the topic of many recent studies. One study involving the testing of finger-tapping saw people split into two groups. After training, both groups were tested with or without intervening sleep. The group that was allowed to sleep displayed a post-training increase in both accuracy and speed; the group that stayed awake showed no signs of improvement.

It is also currently being hypothesized that REM sleep additionally plays a role in declarative memory processes if the information is more complex. For example, individuals engaged in an intensive language course experienced a marked increase in REM sleep (source).

These results all give further validation to the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis of sleep, developed in 2003 by scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This hypothesis, known simply as SHY, seeks to explain why our brain needs rest after a day spent learning new information. During waking hours, as we saturate our brains cells with information we strengthen the synapses that form connections between those cells. It’s an exhaustive process, but sleep allows the brain to consolidate those memories (source).

Christoph Nissen, a psychiatrist at the University of Freiburg, conducted a series of tests on both men and women, either after a night of sleep or a night without sleep. In the initial round, Nissen used magnetic pulses to make neurons fire in the volunteers’ brains, causing a muscle twitch in the left hand. When performed on the sleep-deprived group, a far weaker pulse was enough to elicit a muscular response.  The implication is that a sleepless brain is in a more excitable state, with a stronger connection between neurons.

Nissen then used brain stimulation to mimic the firing of neurons that occurs during the consolidation of memories. The neurons were much less responsive for those in a sleep-deprived state, suggesting that the wiring of new memories into the brain is impaired by sleep loss.

When considered together, the test results suggest that rest allows brain activity to quiet so memories can be consolidated.  The sleep-deprived group, by contrast, showed a level of electrical activity that notably blocked the formation of new memories (source).

So what happens when we try to get by on less sleep? Not only are we less able to focus and receive information, but our strained neurons can no longer coordinate information properly, and our faculty for accessing previously learned information becomes largely impaired.

Sleep deprivation doesn’t just hurt your memory – it can also make you more susceptible to false recall and manipulation. In one study, participants who got less than 5 hours of sleep a night were much more likely to claim they had seen a news video they hadn’t than their well-rested counterparts. They were also more likely to incorporate false information given to them by the researchers into their own personal recall (source, p.107)

So the next time you’re tempted to burn the midnight oil, ask yourself – is it worth it? Maybe not.

Do you actually grow in your sleep?

athlete

When you were a kid, your mom probably told you that you grew in your sleep. That’s not just a saying. It’s true.

Wake up stronger.

When you were a kid, your mom probably told you that you grew in your sleep. That’s not just a saying. It’s true.

 

You need to do more than eat your greens to grow strong. Research is showing that developing healthy sleep habits can play an equally important role.

athlete

When you sleep, your body takes advantage of the period of rest by releasing growth hormones that allow your bones and muscles to repair and grow without motion and gravity interfering.  This explains why babies, children, and teenagers need far more rest than adults. A newborn baby needs 17 hours a day that gradually lessens to 10 hours in late teenage years.
For children, the most intense period of growth hormone is released shortly after entering deep sleep. It’s even said that getting more sleep during these growing years can actually make a child grow taller (source).
The benefits don’t end after adolescence. Our bodies require recovery from every day wear and tear, and even more so after rigorous activity. Sleep is like a tune up for your body. It helps muscle recovery by boosting growth hormone and decreasing cortisol production, a stress hormone that breaks down muscle tissue and impairs immunity.  It’s no wonder so many professional sports teams and athletes are now hiring sleep coaches.

The Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Canucks are two examples of a growing number of teams now working with Vancouver-based Fatigue Science, a high-performance sleep consultancy that provides sleep monitoring data for elite athletes, military, and industrial-workers (source).
If sleep is now being prescribed to professional athletes and our country’s first line of defense, it’s safe to say that getting more sleep can benefit the average Joe and Jane.
Sleep renews, strengthens, and repairs. By prioritizing better sleep, you might just wake up stronger.

Can lack of sleep make you sick?

sleep and inmunity

You don’t need the luck of the Irish to fight off your next cold. Better sleep is proven to boost immunity.

Wake up stronger immunity.

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.” – Irish Proverb

 

You don’t need the luck of the Irish to fight off your next cold. Better sleep is proven to boost immunity. Sleep deprivation compromises your body’s ability to defend itself against illnesses and infections. A recent study showed that getting just one hour less sleep a night for a week can compromise immunity by 44%. When sleep deprivation continued for a month, it jumped to 97% (source, p.32).

sleep and inmunity

In another study, researchers compared the immunity of sleep deprived individuals with well rested individuals over two weeks. Participants were given nasal drops that contained the common cold. Those who averaged less than 7 hours a sleep a night were nearly 3 times more likely to get the cold than those who slept for more than 8 hours (source, p. 11).
These studies all serve to further illustrate the importance of a good night’s rest. While we sleep, our bodies are busy creating vital disease-fighting substances. These hormones, proteins and chemicals are responsible for fighting off possible infections. Trying to get by on too little sleep decreases their availability, leaving you susceptible to unfriendly viruses and bacteria (source).
“A lot of studies show our T-cells go down if we are sleep deprived,” says Diwaker Balachandran, director of the Sleep Center at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “And inflammatory cytokines go up… This could potentially lead to greater risk of developing a cold or flu” (source).
Aside from playing a significant role in determining whether or not we come down with a cold, sleep deprivation also influences how our body responds if and when we do become sick. Since we lack the proper resources to defend ourselves against whatever is ailing us, we end up being sick for a longer period of time.

Sleep defends against more than the sniffles.

It also helps us fight off much more serious health conditions.
Researchers found that sleep deprived mice developed more aggressive tumours, had faster cancer growth, and were less able to defend against the earliest stages of cancer than their well-rested counterparts (source, p.112). There are many other studies that link sleep deprivation with cancer. In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has now classified overnight shift work as a Group 2A carcinogen (source, p.63).
Part of our body’s response to a lack of sleep is to send our sympathetic nervous system into overdrive. This provokes an inflammation response from the immune system; some cancer cells can then attract inflammatory components into an already existing tumor, feeding it more nutrients and oxygen.
As research into this area continues, more and more studies reveal how our cancer-fighting cells are affected by even a brief period of insufficient sleep.
Examining healthy young men at the University of California, Dr. Michael Irwin found that just one night of four hours of sleep removed roughly 70 % of the cancer-fighting cells flowing throughout the immune system (source).

So how much sleep do we need?

While adults typically require 7-8 hours a night, it depends entirely on the individual and their respective physiological needs. Some people are simply better able to handle the physical demand of getting by on less sleep, and have a system that allows them to function longer without getting run down. Those with a weaker immune system are more prone to sickness if they’re not getting enough rest (source).
Get to know your individual needs and your immune system will thank you.

The foggy brain and lack of sleep.

how sleep can help you focus

We’ve all had those days when we feel a little out of it. You misplace your keys.

Wake up better focus.

We’ve all had those days when we feel a little out of it. You misplace your keys. A joke goes over your head. You sit through a meeting and can’t remember what it was about afterwards. That’s brain fog.

 

Brain fog happens when your mind is distracted and overwhelmed by stress. As a result, you have less mental energy to focus on the task at hand. You literally don’t have the brain power to support both at the same time.  One major cause of brain fog is poor sleep.

how sleep can help you focus

Every day, your billions of brain cells produce waste with every task and function they perform. This waste builds up until sleep allows the cleaning crew to come in and clear it away. Depriving  yourself of sleep is like locking the cleaning crew out of the building.  You need that waste cleared out in order for your brain to function optimally. That’s why sleep deprivation reduces clarity, focus, and the ability to learn and retain information.
The US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute reviewed the benefits of sleep on emotional health and wellbeing, physical health, and everyday performance. They reported that getting insufficient sleep makes you less productive during the day. In work and school, sleep deprived individuals took longer to complete tasks, had delayed reaction time, and were found to make more errors (source).
The effects were cumulative. Even just losing 1-2 hours a night could add up to having similar effects on performance as going a whole night without sleep.

Protect Yourself from Microsleep

Microsleep occurs when we’re overly tired.
The sleep health site Tuck defines microsleep as the following (source):

Microsleeps are brief, unintended episodes of loss of attention associated with events such as a blank stare, head snapping, and prolonged eye closure which may occur when a person is fatigued but trying to stay awake to perform a monotonous task like driving a car or watching a computer screen.
– Tuck

You could be standing in line at a grocery store, sitting in a meeting, or even driving, and not realize that you’ve had a brief moment of microsleep. This isn’t just embarrassing and unprofessional, it’s also dangerous. For those who work in occupations that require full attention, sleep deprivation can pose serious risks that affect more people than yourself.
Prevent microsleep before it happens and improve focus by getting more sleep tonight. Start by going to bed an hour before you usually do. Gradually set an earlier and earlier bedtime until you’re getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep a night.

 

Not only will you feel more rested, but you’ll see benefits on your focus, concentration, and performance.

How to reset your circadian rhythm

morning coffee

Do you want to have a better sleep? Are you ready to wake up feeling more refreshed?

Wake up more awake.

Do you want to have a better sleep? Are you ready to wake up feeling more refreshed?

The first step doesn’t need to be reaching for sleeping pills. A simpler and more natural solution is reconnecting with the natural rise and fall of the sun. Dimming the lights and ditching the screens before bedtime can lead to better sleep by helping reset your circadian rhythm.

morning coffee

Back in our primitive days, we naturally woke up and went to sleep with the rise and fall of the sun. That consistent schedule helps regulate the circadian rhythm.

What is a Circadian Rhythm?

The Latin word “circa” means “one” and “diem” means “day”, so circadian translates to “one day”. Your circadian rhythm is the internal 24-hour clock that regulates your sleep/wake cycle.
For adults, our greatest energy dip happens between 2am and 4am -when we’re usually asleep. Another dip occurs between 1pm and 3pm (source).  Do you consistently crash in the afternoon? This is likely why.
Not everyone is on the same clock -variation makes some people morning people and others night owls. That said, even night owls and morning people will realize the health and mood benefits of more sleep. How much sleep do we need? Roughly 7-8 hours is the recommended average.

How Does the Circadian Rhythm Work?

Your circadian rhythm is controlled by the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a group of brain cells behind the optic nerves. In the morning, light passes through your eyes to the hypothalamus. This signals the start of your daily hormone production schedule, ensuring the properly-timed release of hormones that control energy levels, digestion, blood pressureimmunityfat burning, and more. Inconsistent and inadequate sleep disrupts that schedule (source, p.10)  As the sun sets, red wavelength light passes through your eyes to your hypothalamus. This stimulates production of sleep inducing melatonin. When the sun rises, your eyes take in more blue wavelength light. This stimulates production of your “get up and go” hormone, cortisol. This is why our internal clocks align with whatever time zone we live in, and why shift workers tend to have difficulty adjusting.

Circadian Rhythm Disrupters

We’ve all had our clocks thrown off from time to time. Travel, social events, or adjusting to newborn sleep habits can all disrupt your circadian rhythm. When this happens, we tend to experience more energy dips throughout the day. When it happens consistently, we can experience longer term consequences. Some of the mental consequences can include moodinesslack of mental clarity, and lower stress tolerance. Some of the physical consequences can include: weight fluctuationweakened immunity, and even a greater risk of heart disease.
The invention of the lightbulb affected more than the candlestick business. It’s affected our ability to wind down before bed. Dim bedtime lighting helps transition us into the relaxed state we need for sleep. False “sunlight” can fool your brain into producing sleep inhibiting cortisol. This throws your circadian rhythm off track.

The lightbulb was only the beginning. Today, we’re inundated with screens from sunrise to sunset, and into the dark hours of the night.

The biggest culprits? Bright lights, smartphones, tablets, and TV before bed (source, chapter 3).

What Can You Do About It? 6 Sleep Cycle Hacks

Keep your circadian rhythm running smoothly with the following better sleep hacks:

1. Mimic nature and dim the lights at least 90 minutes before bedtime. That means turning off your overhead lights at around 9pm to get the minimum recommended 7 hours.

2. Be mindful of alarm clocks with bright lights that glow all night. Consider an alarm clock that mimic a natural sunrise by waking you up with a natural orange glow.

3. Get your digital devices out of your bedroom. Ban blue light and set a digital bedtime at least 90 minutes before bed. Pick up a book instead.Get outside.Even 30 minutes a day can help establish a healthier sleep/wake cycle.

4. If you simply must watch the season finale of your favourite show, minimize blue light. You can buy “blue blocking” glasses for as little as $10. They range from super geeky to kind-of cool, but if you’re serious about sleep, it’s worth it. For all other devices, you can minimize the amount of blue light emitted after the sun goes down with apps. iOS comes with one already installed that you just need to activate. For your other screens, check out the free f.lux app.

5. Invest in black out curtains. If you’re on a budget, try black out paper shades. They’re just as effective and retail for around $30.

6. Get outside. Even 30 minutes a day can help establish a healthier sleep/wake cycle.