Importance of sleep: Powerful recovery by controlling quantity and quality

Sleep is essential every night in order to survive and recover from the day’s events. Sleep is our body's most powerful recovery tool. While we sleep our bodies have the ability to repair muscle tissue, clean out “junk” from our brain and also improve our metabolism.

Additionally, a large portion of our hormone regulation occurs while we are sleeping. Hormones such as cortisol (one produced due to high stress) is regulated during sleep. If this particular hormone is not kept in check it promotes the storage of excess fat which leads to unhealthy weight gain.

Human growth hormones, along with other cellular repair hormones, are released in their greatest concentration while we sleep to repair muscle and soft tissue. As I have touched on previously, we do not get stronger while we work out, it is only after we repair the damage that improvements are made. The majority of this occurs during sleep.

And perhaps the greatest benefit of a good night's sleep is cleaning out the brain “junk”. While we are awake we produce small toxins that attach to receptors in our brain that affect the neurons ability to communicate. This is why when we stay awake for long periods of time we feel sluggish, mental fog or decreased awareness. Sleeping will clean out those toxins to keep our brain refreshed!

There are two important aspects to consider when talking about sleep, they are the quantity of sleep and the quality of that sleep. Improving either of those aspects will help to improve many working systems in the human body. First, let’s touch on sleep quantity.


So how much sleep does an individual need every night?

While the research on sleep duration varies based on age and the individual, one thing is clear and that is that most people have optimal sleep duration “windows”. According to the National Sleep Foundation recommendations they suggest teenagers get 8-10 hours, young adults get 7-9 hours of sleep and older adults should get 7-8 hours for healthy individuals(1).

Sleeping outside these ranges could indicate improper recovery or possible sleeping disorders. Sleeping too little could lead to chronic fatigue which could snowball into greater health issues. Sleeping too much could be an indication of existing health issues that are not well-managed.

It is important to remember that not every individual is the same when it comes to sleep preferences, some may feel better with less sleep or wake up feeling groggy when over sleeping.

I recommend keeping a sleep journal to track the duration of sleep and make notes with varying amounts to find out what works for you and when you feel the best rested!


Moving onto the second aspect, how does one improve the quality of sleep?

Improving sleep quality is much harder to figure out than simply changing the amount you sleep. Numerous barriers may come into play when talking about the quality of sleep a person gets. Barriers such; as mattress or pillow quality, room and body temperature, mental stimulation, screen time, hydration or dependents such as a child or a pet.

Making a checklist and being aware of sleep barriers is one way a person can start to improve their sleep quality. Brainstorming ways that sleep has been or can be interrupted is a useful tool in learning how to prevent those things from happening. For example: are you waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom? Try cutting out liquids 3 hours before bed.

One of the most helpful tips for improving sleep quality is to consider forming a sleep ritual. Make it habitual. Each night before bed follow the same steps. Cut out water 3 hours before bed, no electronics 1 hour before bed, brush your teeth, read or meditate before shutting your eyes and taking 5 deep breaths to calm yourself down.

Improving sleep quantity and quality are controllable ways for us to improve our recovery from daily stressors.

1) Hirshkowitz, M. et al. March, 2015. National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary, Sleep Health, Vol.1 Issue 1, Pg. 40-43

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