KEY POINTS:

1. During the night, we cycle through 90-minute sleep cycles. 75% of our time sleeping is spent in the Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) stage and 25% is spent in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage. 

2. Both NREM and REM are important. NREM sleep is when we recover our energy levels, when our nervous system recovers and regenerates, and when our tissues are repaired. REM sleep is when we establish new connections between neurons in the brain.

3. Sleeping better has endless benefits. It decreases our risk of a heart attack, improves our immune system, helps manage chronic pain, makes us smarter, helps us lose fat, helps us recover faster from training, and can even help us survive cancer.

“Society is learning how important sleep is and how dangerous sleep deprivation is. We’re teaching our players: Sleep is a weapon.” – Sam Ramsden, Director of Player Health & Performance, Seattle Seahawks.

The foundation of human health and performance is sleeping soundly. This is where we will start to construct a healthy, high-performance life.

What is Sleep?

People often think of sleep as a time of rest where the body and mind shut down. It is a dormant state when the activity of our brain’s cortex reduces by 40 percent. But sleep is not a passive process. While you’re asleep and not moving there is a lot going on inside you that is helping you to recover, restore and rebuild your body and brain. Sleep is a highly active metabolic process that helps to optimize our brain structure, repair damaged cells, and restore energy levels.

Humans are naturally attuned to the 24-hour cycle of light and dark. We have developed what are known as circadian rhythms such as sleep-wake cycles, changes in your body temperature, and times where different hormones are released into the blood. Our circadian rhythms are regulated by a structure in our brains called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), although the SCN can be over-ridden by the light or darkness in our environment. That’s what happens when we fly across time zones and we get jet lagged.

Each night while we sleep we cycle through different stages of sleep in approximately 90 minute cycles. 75% of our night’s sleep is in the Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) stage where our body and muscles relax, temperature and blood pressure drops, heart rate and breath rate comes down and cells and tissues grow and repair. The other 25% is called the rapid eye movement (REM) stage wherein our brain is active, energy is supplied to brain and body and eyes dart back and forth. Both stages are critical for the optimal recovery and regeneration of our bodies and our brains.

NREM sleep is when we recover our energy levels and when our nervous system (our brain, spinal cord and nerves that connect our spinal cord to muscles and organs) recovers and regenerates. During NREM sleep anabolic hormones are released that repair tissues and stabilize our energy levels. REM sleep is equally important and is thought to be when we establish new connections between neurons in the brain.

Sleep and Your Health

Optimal health and performance starts with sleep. You can set yourself up for success in all aspects of your life by sleeping deeply and sleeping enough. Sleeping better decreases your risk of a heart attack. It will improve your mood and energy. It improves the immune system keeping you from getting sick and can even help you survive cancer. It helps manage chronic pain. Imagine if someone developed a drug that could do all that! The drug would be hailed the miracle of our lifetime. Whoever developed it would win the Nobel Prize for sure. Let’s look at some of the specific links between sleep and health.

Sleeping soundly can help you lose fat, recover faster from training, clean your brain, and be better at solving problems. We consolidate memories while we sleep so sleep is when we actually learn! Our immune systems recover and regenerate while we sleep so sleep helps us to fight off disease and illness. If you’re training sleep is when your muscles repair and grow. Regardless of whether you’re an elite athlete, brilliant student, or titan of business sleep is the foundation of your healthy, high-performance life. Let’s explore the relationship between sleep and health in a bit more detail.

Today's POWER-UP: Try Yoga for a Deeper Sleep

Yoga is great for helping you to calm down and sleep better. Start with ujjayi breathing for a few minutes to relax and activate your parasympathetic nervous system. Then move through head to knee forward bend, child pose, and corpse pose. That sequence works wonders for calming the body and mind and setting you up for a deep, restful sleep.

Dive Deeper: Wash Your Brain!

One of the coolest studies I’ve seen in a long time was released last year by Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at Rochester Medical Center. Dr. Nedergaard’s team showed that during sleep, the size of neurons in the brain is reduced by up to 60%. This creates lots of space between your brain cells. Then during sleep, the glymphatic system cleans the metabolic waste from the microscopic spaces between the neurons in your brain.

You wash your body, hair and clothes – now, we know you need to wash your brain. It’s a great image to carry around: wake up every morning knowing that your brains cells have been showered up and your mind is literally cleared for another day!