Getting a good night’s sleep is critical to maintaining your health. Lack of sleep (even a slight case of sleep deprivation) inhibits your body’s ability to eliminate toxins, increases cortisol levels, dysregulates blood sugar and insulin and keeps you from shedding unwanted pounds.

The science of sleep:

Sleep is a time of recovery. During sleep, adaptive hormones repair organs, rebuild muscles and rejuvenate body systems. Fat is also burned due to the release of human growth hormone (HGH). Sleep powers the immune system to maintain the balance of healthy flora and helps the brain solidify memories while being flushed of inflammatory toxins.

Preparing for a good night’s sleep begins as soon as the sun sets. Your genes trigger the release of melatonin, promoting the sleepiness that will ready you for optimal sleep cycling. This preparatory phase is called Dim Light Melatonin Onset (DLMO) and is a critical preamble to obtaining a healthy 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Exposure to artificial light and digital stimulation after dark suppresses the release of melatonin and tricks your body into thinking that it’s still daytime. The resulting confusion prompts the release of stress hormones into the bloodstream as your body struggles to keep you alert. Any interference with DLMO can disrupt the natural circadian rhythm and obtrude the regulation of numerous hormones that affect appetite, satiety and metabolism. 

Stage N1 is the first phase of sleep and marks the transition from wakefulness to sleep. During these first five minutes, muscle activity calms, the eyes move slowly beneath the eyelids and you can awaken easily.

During the next 10-25 minutes, or stage N2, your heart rate slows down, eye movement stops and body temperature decreases. In this phase, the brain consolidates complex motor skills and uploads information that is processed later during REM sleep into long-term memory. This is known as long-term potentiation (LTP), which becomes more dependent on good sleep as learning complexity increases. Stage N2 accounts for 50 percent of our total sleep time. 

Our deepest state of sleep occurs during stage N3 when we experience maximum restorative hormone production and cellular repair. During this stage, blood flows away from the brain and toward the muscles. Adaptive hormones flow at peak levels, restoring and repairing muscles, organs and bones. This stage is characterized by slow brain-wave activity and predominates early in the sleeping period, making it important to get to sleep at a reasonable hour. 

Stages N1 through N3 are the non-REM stages of sleep. After moving through these stages for about 70-90 minutes, you enter REM (rapid eye movement) or “dream sleep.” The REM stage accounts for approximately 20 percent of the sleep cycle. During REM, the eyes move rapidly under the eyelids, heart rate and blood pressure increase, breathing becomes shallower and the legs and arms are paralyzed. REM sleep is critical for improving memory, replenishing cognitive processes and boosting the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. 

Moving through all stages of sleep takes approximately 90-110 minutes and repeats throughout the night. If you divide an eight-hour sleep time into thirds, the first third mostly consists of non-REM, deep sleep, while the final third is made up of longer REM cycles and shorter periods of deep sleep. The middle third is more a balance between the other two. 

Because the first third of the sleep cycle is more restorative overall, it’s important to fall asleep early enough to obtain an eight-hour average sleep period. Similarly, because the final third portion of the sleep cycle is dominated by REM, it’s best to awaken naturally and without an alarm clock. In fact, the longer periods of exclusive REM help you to awaken effortlessly and in a more refreshed state.

Even minor amounts of sleep deprivation on a consistent basis can lead to:

  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cardiac events

  • Inability to lose weight and a prevalence for abdominal weight gain

  • Impaired judgement and inability to focus or concentrate

  • Depression, anxiety and a lack of motivation

  • Increased appetite and carbohydrate cravings

  • Exacerbation of all autoimmune disease symptoms

  • Low libido

  • Difficulty learning 

  • Increased risk of accidents and physical injury

  • Suppressed immune function

  • Hormonal imbalance (including low testosterone in men)

  • Increased risk of inflammation, insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes

Even if you are doing everything else right – diet, exercise, stress management, etc. – poor sleep hygiene can hijack all your efforts. In my upcoming eBook, I provide my readers with simple lifestyle hacks to transform their sleep habits. Sign up for your free copy here!