The Neuroscience of Sleep: How Consistent Sleep Habits Can Improve Brain Function
“Sleep is not a disposable luxury, it’s a non-negotiable biological necessity ~ Matt Walker”
Sleep is the mystifying force that fuels our very existence! As we drift off into the realm of slumber, our bodies and minds embark on a journey of rest, renovation, and restoration. The biological processes that occur during sleep are like the symphony of an orchestra, with each instrument playing a unique role in the grand performance for creating neurological and neurobiological balance. From repairing and rejuvenating our bodies to processing and consolidating memories; sleep is the conductor that harmonizes the intricate workings of our physical and mental health. Sleep is more than just the simple act of closing our eyes and squeezing in between a busy schedule; it’s a vital aspect of our overall physiological and mental prosperity.
In this article, I explain the neuroscience of sleep and how consistent sleep habits can enhance brain function, awaken our minds and invigorate our well-being. My intention is to show you why sleep is our greatest ally and the best medicinal solution to improved mental health and consistent wellness. I will also share some tips on how to get a good night’s sleep!
The sleep-wake cycle is regulated by a complex network of neurons in the brain, collectively known as the circadian rhythm. This internal clock is influenced by external factors such as light exposure and social cues and helps to regulate our sleep and wake cycles. When we disrupt our sleep-wake cycle by staying up late or sleeping in, we can throw off this delicate balance, leading to a range of health challenges both short term and long term. In addition, sleep deprivation has been linked to many health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. During sleep our body is a hub of activity! Not only is the brain regulating our emotions but our entire physiology is being restored.
This can be anything from:
- processing mini or large traumas
- enhancing memory
- cleansing gut microbiome
- rebalancing glucose levels
- regulating metabolism
- dissolving fat and re-building muscles
- rejuvenating cell structure
- reducing inflammation
- fighting viruses
- ………and so much more
It’s a bustling hive of tiny workers, weaving together a tapestry of physiological homeostasis so that you can awaken feeling refreshed and revitalised for the day ahead!
Memory and Processing Trauma
In addition to regulating our circadian rhythm, sleep also plays a crucial role in consolidating memories and processing information. During sleep our brain forms new neural connections which help us to learn and remember new information so we can recall it later and let go of the unhelpful stuff. However, lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can impair this process leading to difficulties with learning and memory retention.
During deep sleep our eyes move back and forth simultaneously known as rapid eye movement (REM) which helps to process stress and trauma. This involves the activation of different brain regions and neural networks, such as the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex all working together to process and make sense of things. The processing of memories during sleep helps to integrate the emotional and cognitive components of our experiences, which can lead us to a better understanding and resolution of life events.
Overall, REM helps with important decision-making and reduces the intensity of negative emotions which promotes emotional resilience when recalling past experiences. You may have heard the term “sleep on it and see how you feel tomorrow” which is very relevant as often we can feel different about a person or situation after a good sleep, or at least a less intense reaction when reflecting on it.
It’s important to understand that we’re all different when it comes to how much or how little sleep we need. Time of sleep and duration is entirely down to preference but getting adequate sleep is fundamental for overall wellbeing.
So now you know a little more about the healing properties of sleep, below I share my top tips for improving your sleep etiquette:
Embrace the Power of Consistency: Consistent sleep habits, such as going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help to regulate your circadian rhythm and improve the quality of your sleep. Studies have shown that individuals who maintain consistent sleep habits have better cognitive function, including improved memory, attention, and problem-solving skills.
Create a Sleep Sanctuary: Your bedroom is your sanctuary for rest and rejuvenation, a place where you can escape the chaos of the world and connect with your inner self. By creating a comfortable sleep environment that supports your physical and emotional needs, you can tap into the profound benefits of deep, restorative sleep.
Master the Art of Letting Go: In today’s fast-paced world, it can be challenging to unwind and disconnect from the endless distractions that surround us. Yet, by mastering the art of letting go and engaging in calming activities such as meditation, deep breathing, or mindfulness, you can achieve a state of deep relaxation. Ideally do these relaxing practices before you sleep to help promote unbroken, regenerative sleep.
Incorporate Restorative Habits: Keeping your brain “online” before sleep keeps your mind active which makes it harder to relax. Constant stimulation from phones, tablets, computer games, texting, can disrupt the relaxation chemicals in your brain. Blue light emitted from these gadgets affects the production of the sleep hormone melatonin and disrupts the parasympathetic nervous system (the body’s natural relaxation system). Incorporating healthy bed time habits such as ending phone/tablet use one hour before bed will impact your sleep restoration in a very positive way.
Sleep is not just a biological necessity; it is a profound source of healing, regeneration, and growth. By embracing these sleep tips, you can tap into the amazing power of rest and unlock your mind and body’s full potential!