Sleep to Recover: How to Improve Your Health Through Better Sleep

Aulona Krasniqi
Sleep to Recover: How to Improve Your Health Through Better Sleep
Table of contents
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We learn early in life how important sleep is for our development and functionality. It is evident in how our sleep is prioritized throughout our childhood. As we grow older and life speeds up, we seem to forget this fact and start neglecting sleep, even labeling it with negative connotations, usually laziness. But sleep is anything but a lazy activity. In fact, it is crucial for our hormones, brain, and body.

In this post, we’ll dive into how to improve your health through better sleep by understanding:

  • Why prioritizing sleep is important
  • What effects sleep has on your health
  • Why the quality of sleep is just as important as getting enough sleep
  • What actions you can take to improve your sleep quality

Why Sleep Is So Important

It’s a myth that as we grow older, we need less sleep. We, in fact, need as much sleep in our 60s as we do in our 20s because recovery is essential whether you are young or old. To quote the sleep expert, Professor Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley, “sleep is probably the single most effective thing you can do to reset your body and health.”

Let’s examine why that is.

Sleep contributes to your emotional well-being as it functions as a therapy to help fight off feelings of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, it enhances cognitive performance, boosts your immune system, increases longevity, and has an anti-aging effect – it even makes you look more attractive!

That's not all: We even get smarter when waking up from a good night’s rest. You’ve probably heard somebody say, “Tomorrow will look different. Sleep on it.” well it might be one of the best pieces of advice you can get. Sleep enhances your memories and creativity as your brain processes new information, ties it with stored memories, and identifies new patterns – helping you find solutions you couldn’t make out before (1).

How Lack of Sleep Affects Your Health, Hormones, and Weight

To further emphasize the importance of sleep, let’s talk about what can happen if you are sleep deprived.

It can play out as emotional instability the next day (2). You might become irrational, impulsive or suddenly need to seek out sensations and rewards. This is because the prefrontal cortex – the logical part of our brain – takes the hit and can no longer properly regulate the part of the brain that stabilizes emotions – the amygdala (3).

There are also potential chronic effects since sleep functions as a “save button” for your brain when memorizing new information (4). Lack of sleep actually reduces your brain’s ability to lay down new memory traces by 40%. Studies show that sleep deprivation is the most significant lifestyle factor determining if you will develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Poor sleeping habits also disturb the regulation of hormones in your body

Another chain reaction deriving from lack of sleep is the one affecting your hormones. Sleep deprivation is linked to hormonal changes affecting your body’s glucose (blood sugar) regulation (5). Normally, when your body senses a spike in glucose, it start to release insulin to regulate it. If you are sleep deprived, your body (or pancreas) may become insulin insensitive and not release the adequate amount of insulin needed to regulate glucose spikes. This, of course, affects your glucose tolerance, which may lead to an increased risk of diabetes. In fact, people who sleep 5 hours or less per night have a significantly higher risk of being diagnosed with diabetes compared to those who sleep 8 hours. 

If you plan tostart a healthier lifestyle, make sure to plan good sleep too! Studies show that sleep deprivation affects the hormones that regulate your hunger. Lack of sleep causes an increase in certain hormones that stimulate hunger and a decrease in other hormones that let you know when you are full. This means that if you are sleep deprived, you will most likely crave and eat more food than you actually need, especially food rich in fats and carbs (6). This, in turn, is an entry ticket for a glucose roller coaster.

Does the number of sleeping hours matter?

It definitely does, but remember that quantity and quality are equally important.

The recommended hours of sleep are between 7-9 hours, with 8 hours being the ideal for most people. But how do you know if 8 hours of sleep is enough for you? Well, let’s say your alarm didn’t go off one morning. Would you continue to sleep? If yes, you are not getting enough sleep.

4 stages of sleep and why they matter

Before you take steps to improve your sleep quality, it can help to understand the four stages of sleep: there are three NREM (non-rapid-eye movement) stages and one REM (rapid-eye movement) stage.

Phase 1: The “dozing off” stage occurs right before you fall asleep.

Phase 2: During this stage, your heart rate, brain activity, and body temperature drop. 

Phase 3: Here is where you enter deep sleep or slow-wave sleep (SWS). This stage is considered critical for restorative sleep and essential for your body’s glucose management.

Phase 4: In the crucial REM stage, brain activity picks up rapidly. It is restorative to cognitive functions such as creativity, learning, and memory.

The stages move in a cycling pattern and have varying lengths. The length of each stage can be influenced, and this is how your lifestyle choices come into play.

Pulling all-nighters, having an irregular sleep schedule or regularly having your sleep disturbed are all factors that can negatively affect the sleep stages and in turn, affect your physical and mental recovery. Therefore, sleep quality means optimizing the different sleeping stages, especially deep sleep (SWS) and REM.

How to improve your sleep with lifestyle choices 

The Circadian Rhythm
  • Manage stress levels: If you’re stressed it’s harder to fall asleep, you may wake up more often, and experience disruptions in your sleep patterns. These disturbances reduce your deep sleep making you feel less rested in the morning. To reduce stress levels try meditation, breathing techniques, read a book, or any other activity you find helps you relax before bedtime.
  • Always wake up at the same time: Abandon those plans to catch up on sleep during the weekends. Your body loves routine, so try to follow a steady sleep and wake-up schedule. This is best kept in check by always waking up at the same time, whether it is the weekend or even if you went out partying the night before. By waking up at the same time, your body will take the sleep it needs by “making you” go to bed earlier the next day! This will help foster a healthy circadian rhythm and teach your body to follow a specific sleep-wake cycle which can help you fall asleep quicker and improve your sleep quality (7).
  • Create a bedtime ritual to unwind: Relaxation before bedtime signals that it’s time for your body and brain to unwind. So, dim those lights, put on calming music, take a warm bath, get your favourite book or do whatever it is that makes you relax. Your circadian clock responds the best if you start to dim the lights in your home 3-4 hours before your bedtime. The darkness kicks off melatonin production, which causes drowsiness and helps initiate the sleep phase. Blue light is our main adversary here, that’s why most phones and laptops have a downtime mode, where you can set up times when the blue light is automatically reduced. But ideally, you would avoid screens altogether during your wind-down phase. 
  • Your morning ritual matters too: Light exposure works both ways – within 30 minutes of waking up, go outside and expose your eyes to sunlight for 2-10 minutes. This triggers a healthy cortisol release to promote wakefulness and starts the timer for melatonin. Meaning, if you get bright light exposure 14-16 hours before when you want to sleep, it will help to time the melatonin release exactly when it is time for you to start getting ready for sleep. It doesn’t matter if it is winter or cloudy, just don’t wear sunglasses  (8).
  • Avoid a glucose spike late in the evening: Avoid eating heavy meals or snacking late in the evening. It can cause indigestion and high glucose levels, which directly disrupts your deep sleep.
  • Manage your glucose levels: Find out through glucose monitoring which foods give you spikes and lows in glucose. An interesting fact is that the circadian rhythm regulates your glucose metabolism. Therefore, a circadian disruption, such as ending a night out with a pizza or other “heavy” food, can cause glucose dysregulation.

Sleep facts

  • Temperature: A cooler bedroom temperature is perfect for sleep as your body needs to drop 1-3 degrees for quality sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol: While a glass of wine for dinner or some fun cocktails when out with friends is part of life, it’s important to understand that alcohol will definitely mess with your sleep. Alcohol is technically a sedative that can aid in falling asleep, but in reality, it basically knocks you out. To put it bluntly: you’re not falling asleep, you’re passing out. This means it reduces the deep SWS and REM sleep and causes sleep disruptions throughout the night, consequently messing with your sleep quality and recovery.
  • Sports: Working out is a cure for all including poor sleep and unstable glucose levels. But you should avoid heavy exercises that drive up your heart rate late in the evening. This goes especially for high-intensity training like HIIT, heavy weight lifting, or even a late evening jog. Instead, opt for low heartbeat activities like yoga or Qi Gong.
  • Caffeine is a matter of timing: Would you drink one espresso as a good nightcap? No, right? But drinking 2 espressi at 5 pm, is like having 1 espresso at 10 pm. This is because caffeine has a half-life of 4-6 hours, meaning it takes your body that long to get rid of half the amount of the consumed caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and will keep you awake while it is in your system in a higher amount. Even if you manage to fall asleep with caffeine in your system, it will disrupt the SWS stage and lead to less restorative sleep. So, make sure to time your coffee or matcha well.

Key Takeaways

Sleeping is crucial for your body’s physiological and mental recovery. The severe consequences of not prioritizing sleep include diseases, functional impairments, and elevated glucose levels.

You should aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep and work to enhance SWS (stage 3) and REM sleep (stage 4). 

Therefore, you should analyze your daily habits that might be affecting your sleep quality. Focus on healing your circadian rhythm: if your circadian clock is off, it can cause sleep problems. Boost it by following a sleep schedule, avoid staying up late, and have dinner at least 3 hours before you go to sleep.

One particularly important factor is stable glucose levels, which impact your hormones, sleep quality, and, therefore, your recovery. Understanding how your body reacts to glucose levels helps you make healthy lifestyle choices. Hello Inside has designed a program that helps you understand your body’s response to food, exercise, and sleep.

Try the Hello Hormones program and get personalized insights to help you make smarter lifestyle choices to enhance every aspect of your life, including sleep. 



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