We live in a culture that glorifies “staying busy” and demonizes “laziness”. Of course, work, play, exercise, and adventure are all important, but rest is too often left off the priority list. While it may seem like the opposite of productivity, rest is actually critical for both mind and body to function at their best when it is time to be productive. The best, most restorative rest is getting the right amount of sleep, but meditation and relaxation activities count as rest too.
Sleep is still one of the great scientific mysteries for many reasons. Nonetheless, we do know a lot about what is happening in the body and brain during sleep, and the serious detriment caused by lack thereof.
Why does my BODY need rest?
The short answer to that question is “cellular restoration”. Every minute that your body is awake, your cells are working hard to allow you to move, feel, think, and communicate, while you also digest, breathe, circulate, metabolize, and synthesize chemicals. Sleep takes a few of those tasks off the table so that cells can build back energy reserves and rebuild the damage done during waking hours.
Can sleep make me stronger?
Certain hormone levels change based on whether you are asleep or awake. Growth hormone, in particular, is elevated during sleep . Growth hormone plays a major role in the development of new cells, such as muscle. Because muscle tissue is damaged through exercise, rest is imperative to both the repair and growth of new, stronger muscles. This is why “rest days” are incorporated into most workout plans.
Can sleep help me lose weight?
Sleep is also important to your metabolism and appetite regulation. When you are sleep deprived, your body releases more of the hunger hormone ghrelin, and less of the hormone leptin, which signals satiation . Biologically, this makes sense, because your body needs more energy to function while it’s awake. However, if a person is already getting the calories they need during the day, those hormones can trigger unnecessary late-night snacking or bingeing that leads to weight gain.
Aside from caloric intake, leptin is related to energy expenditure . Less leptin means fewer calories will be used, and more energy will be stored as fat. The obesity epidemic in the US has paralleled a sleep deficiency trend, and there is likely a physiological association between these problems.
Can sleep keep me healthy?
Fearing weight gain may seem like a superficial reason to commit to resting, but the associated physical maladies go beyond physical appearance. Sleep deprivation increases your risk of many serious health conditions. Poor sleep has been shown to contribute to dysregulated blood sugar and the development of type 2 diabetes . This is thought to be caused by changes in the secretion of hormones insulin and cortisol, in response to sleep loss .
Poor quality sleep is also an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease, including hypertension, atherosclerosis, stroke, heart failure, cardiac arrhythmias, and even sudden death . That’s not to say one all-nighter is likely to kill you, but poor sleep over many years (perhaps related to a sleep disorder) could take some years off of your life.
Both short- and long-term sleep deprivation have been shown to increase inflammation throughout the body . While inflammation is an important and effective aspect of the immune system, when it gets out of control, it can wreak havoc systemically. Inflammation has been linked to a variety of health conditions from acne and arthritis to heart disease and some cancers.
Why does my MIND need rest?
The brain also needs time to repair and restore function with fewer tasks at hand. Obviously, the brain doesn’t turn off during sleep, as you continue to breathe and your heart still beats. Perhaps less obvious are the other activities of the brain during sleep.
Can sleep affect my memory?
One of the brain’s jobs is to process observations and experiences that occurred while you were awake. Slow-wave sleep is thought to strengthen factual memories (like where you went that day), while REM sleep is thought to help make sense of emotional memories (how each place made you feel) and procedural memories (“how-to” memories, or how did you get from home to each of those places) .
Sleep is also important for connecting all of our memories, piecing them together to build a cohesive picture of “what we know” . When we don’t sleep, these connections don’t take place and our memory suffers. Lack of sleep seems to also affect emotional reactivity, which may be a link between sleep deprivation and mood disorders .
Can sleep help me detox?
Sleep also allows the brain to flush away the toxins and waste products built up during waking hours . All the work that the brain does requires chemical changes to occur in nutrients, neurotransmitters, and other proteins made by the body. Some of these chemical changes result in waste molecules that need to be expelled from the body, making room for the reactions to continue. During sleep, the amount of cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain increases, diluting the chemical waste as fluid from the spine essentially comes in to “wash” the brain . Upon waking, the amount of fluid around the brain is reduced, and it contains less neurotoxic waste than the night before . If we don’t sleep well, this washing does not occur, and neurotoxic waste can build up around the brain, impeding its function.
Can sleep affect my mood?
This one may be obvious. Anyone who has had a single bad night of sleep can attest to increased irritability and difficulty experiencing joy in the face of exhaustion. Unfortunately, there is also a vicious cycle created by mood and sleep, as lack of sleep can lead to a low mood, and mood imbalances (such as depression or anxiety) often make sleeping more difficult.
If you think poor sleep may be contributing to your low or anxious mood, take a look at your daily routines, your sleep habits, and your nutrition. Consider the stimulants and depressants you’re taking in at certain times of the day and how they may affect your energy levels. Are you exercising and when? Exercise in the morning can actually give you endorphins promoting a positive mood, while doing the same activity in the evening may be keeping you from falling asleep. Your body also needs certain nutrients in relative abundance to create signals and neurotransmitters for relaxation.
Folate (vitamin B-9), specifically, is necessary for the healthy production of serotonin which contributes to mood and is also a precursor for the sleep hormone, melatonin. Some people just aren’t getting enough folate from their diet to make and metabolize healthy levels of serotonin. It has been estimated that around 70% of individuals suffering from clinical depression have a genetic difference that interferes with the normal processing of folate . For these people, an L-methylfolate supplement can make a world of difference. L-Methylfolate is the activated form of folate and bypasses the folate processing pathways that a folic acid supplement would have to undergo. You can check with your doctor to find out if a vitamin deficiency or genetic variation may be at the bottom of your sleep and/or mood issues.
What can I do if I need help to relax?
Although they are deeply interconnected, tips for relaxation can be broken up into body and mind too. For some of us, our body is exhausted, but spinning thoughts keep us from getting rest. For others, our brain is ready for rest, but our bodies feel wired, restless, or achy, preventing full relaxation. Luckily, there are some awesome, natural ways to support a sense of calm, no matter where you need it.
What if I have anxiety before bed?
A great place to start with bedtime anxiety is setting yourself up with a healthy, before-bed routine. Good “sleep hygiene” includes a clean and comfortable bed, a cool, dark bedroom, no screens for at least an hour before you plan to sleep. Anxiety is a manifestation of fear of the unpredictable or the uncontrollable, so make sure you have a predictable routine with as many controllable factors as possible. Is there anything proactive that can be done before bed to change the thing you are worried about? If “no’”, “let it go”. Make that your mantra.
Going to bed at the same time every night (regardless of weekday/weekends) is the best way to keep your circadian rhythm on track. Read a boring book to keep your mind occupied (but not excited) until that sleepy feeling sets in. If reading is not your thing there are “sleepcasts” or sleep podcasts available that tell boring, meandering stories to accomplish the same goal. If your brain starts to spin as soon as you turn out the light, try listening to a guided meditation. You can find one specific to anxiety, insomnia, or just a general wind-down for sleep.
There are also some natural anxiolytics that can support the calming pathways in the body and brain. Metabolic Maintenance® has a fantastic mood support formula available called Anxiety Control Plus. This formula is a unique blend of herbal extracts and nutrients designed to promote natural GABA production. GABA is the neurotransmitter that balances out the excitatory signals of other neurotransmitters and is known for promoting a sense of calm.
What if I have a restless body before bed?
A restless body could be a manifestation of anxiety as well, or it could be a symptom of a nutritional deficiency. Magnesium, a commonly under-consumed mineral in the modern American diet, is required for the relaxation of muscles . Although not well understood, magnesium is also known to play a central role in sleep regulation by the brain . Try a magnesium supplement, in the evening before bed to see if that helps your body’s natural relaxation pathways work more efficiently.
What if I’m just not tired?
If you just aren’t ready for bed when you know you should be sleeping, your circadian rhythm could be off. Check out our other blog post “Natural and Safe Sleep Aids, that can help you get your biological clock back on track (supplemental melatonin or 5-HTP, light therapy, etc.).
The other key to the rest-puzzle is movement. If you aren’t using enough energy during the day, you may not feel ready for rest when it’s time to sleep. Aim for at least 30 mins of moderate exercise every day, and try to move around at least once an hour if you have a sedentary job. That is the amount research indicates that a body needs to fend off anxiety and welcome restful sleep .
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