Why Sleep is Important for Recovery & Health

Sleep is one of the biggest factors that can influence our health, where poor quality or inadequate sleep can have negative consequences to our health, but getting the right amount of sleep can have a huge positive impact.

PLEASE NOTE: this is for informative purposes only and is not health advice and does not replace a consult with a health care provider. If you have specific medical conditions, are experiencing pain, or you’re just not sure where to start when it comes to exercise, please remember we’re here for you.

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When it comes to general health, you are probably aware that there are many lifestyle factors that can affect whether or not we might be more susceptible to disease or injury, such as sleep, nutrition and exercise.

Sleep is one of the biggest factors that can influence our health, where poor quality or inadequate sleep can have negative consequences to our health, but getting the right amount of sleep can have a huge positive impact.

person sleeping with book on their face

Why is Sleep important?

Sleep appears to have many important functions for the body:

  • Almost every physiological process and organ in our body has been shown to benefit from having enough sleep
  • Sleep helps us to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions and choices
  • It plays a big role in healthy brain development in childhood and adolescence and has a large impact on emotional regulation
  • Sleep also helps to maintain the health of our immune system which can play a role in preventing illness or infection
  • Adequate sleep is associated with healthy body weight management, can contribute to a healthy cardiovascular system, and can help us recover from injuries

What happens if you don’t get enough Sleep?

So when we don’t get enough sleep, the results don’t look great: All of those processes just mentioned above can be negatively affected. Chronic sleep deprivation can have a big impact on our overall health, and 1/3 of adult Canadians aren’t getting enough sleep.

Being deprived of sleep changes the pattern of how cortisol (a stress hormone) is released in our day, meaning that cortisol gets released more consistently throughout our day instead of the normal peaks and valleys that should occur.

Higher cortisol levels over a long period can negatively impact our immune system, and have been associated with depression, infection, inflammatory conditions, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes, cancer, obesity and even mortality.

Other inflammatory markers that increase in concentration from poor sleep can also change the way pain is modulated and processed, meaning that you may get more frequent episodes of spontaneous pain, such as headaches, or back pain. You may feel more pain after a bad night of sleep, and with chronic sleep deprivation there is an increased risk of developing a chronic pain condition.

cortisol release timeline
high cortisol levels

How much Sleep do I need?

The 8 hour stat that you have likely heard is common knowledge for a reason. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get 7-9 hours to achieve the peak benefits of sleep, but quantity of sleep isn’t the only thing that matters, our quality of sleep is important too.

Main phases of Sleep

We have two main phases of sleep, REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) and Non-REM sleep. These phases cycle throughout the night at different rates and each phase serves a slightly different purpose.

REM sleep is our dreaming phase and is associated with emotional regulation and processing, whereas NREM sleep is strongly tied to learning and memory.

We need both types of sleep to feel refreshed and awake in the morning, which is why cutting off our sleep early or initiating sleep too late can impact our health. Medication or other drugs like alcohol and caffeine can affect the time we spend in each cycle which is why they can affect our sleep quality so much.

person sleeping

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

What is the best time to go to bed?

You might be wondering what the optimal time to sleep is in this case- and the answer is that it can change from person to person and will also change throughout our life.

Our chronotype refers to the pattern throughout the day for times when we feel the most sleepy and the most energetic. The two most common categories of chronotype are:

sun and bird illustration

The “morning type” where people get sleepy earlier in the evening and naturally feel more awake early in the morning.

moon, stars and owl illustration

The other is the “evening type” meaning that these people are most wakeful and productive later at night, and the least awake in the early morning.

sun and moon illustration

Many people are “intermediate” and fall somewhere between these two categories.

The most productive sleep pattern typically happens when you are able to fall asleep when you get naturally sleepy, which will be different from person to person. This can be especially tough for the evening types who might be limited by early morning job or school start times

As we age, our chronotype typically shifts back as we reach older adulthood, meaning that older adults typically get sleepy earlier in the evening and wake earlier in the morning. It is a common myth that older adults need less sleep than younger adults. Medication, increased night-time bathroom trips, disease or other factors can decrease the sleep quality or quantity of older adults, but ideally they should be aiming for the same amount.

How do you get better Sleep?

person dropping blue sleeping pills into their palm

Sleeping pills are not the answer. Sleep medication does not produce the same natural sleep stages and brain activity that unmedicated sleep does, and as a result you often won’t feel rested upon waking. Sleeping pills can also create rebound insomnia, which means that after you stop taking sleep medication you often have worse sleep due to withdrawal effects from the drug.

a pile of melatonin beside melatonin bottle

Some supplements including melatonin or magnesium may be helpful to improve sleep depending on the cause of sleep disruption and do not typically carry the same side effects as sleeping medication. You can talk to your doctor or pharmacist to see if these supplements might be appropriate and safe for you to take.

If you are having difficulty sleeping, try these tips to improve your Sleep!

bed with clock icon

Try to stick to a consistent schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (even on weekends) can help regulate your sleep cycle.

person exercising icon

Exercising at least 30 minutes a day can be really helpful for sleep! However strenuous exercise too close to bedtime (2-3 hours before bed) can interfere with sleep, so aim to exercise earlier in the day if possible.

cup of coffee icon

Avoid caffeine after 12 pm if you are having trouble sleeping: caffeine has a half-life of 5-7 hours, meaning that the cup you drank at 10 am is still in your system at 50% capacity at 4:00pm. If you drink coffee later in the afternoon or evening, it can play a large role in keeping you awake.

wine bottle and glass of red wine icon

Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed if possible. Although having an alcoholic beverage may feel like it helps you sleep, it actually decreases your sleep quality. Alcohol affects your ability to generate REM sleep which means you will sleep lighter during the night and will likely feel less rested in the morning.

person napping on sofa icon

Napping can be helpful to catch up on sleep when needed, but aim for earlier naps if possible. For those who are trying to maintain a regular sleeping schedule at night, napping after 3pm can make it tough to fall asleep. Try to limit naps to 20-30 minutes to avoid feeling extra groggy and to avoid interfering with night time sleep. For shift workers, taking a short nap (less than 40 minutes) before a night shift can help with maintaining alertness.

open book with candle icon

A night-time ritual to help you relax before bed such as reading, or listening to music can be really helpful to relax you before sleep.

person listening to music icon

Don’t immediately reach for your phone if you have trouble sleeping as it can be stimulating. If you find yourself awake for longer than 20 minutes, get up and do a relaxing activity before you are sleepy enough to go back to bed.

For a more comprehensive list of sleep hygiene tips

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