How resting regularly benefits your brain
Without rest, your brain is running on empty, which impacts your mental health, sleep cycle, and everything in between.
Resting regularly is one of the 5 braincare behaviours, alongside moving daily, taking time to pause, staying curious, and nourishing your body. These simple habits will keep you doing the things you love, and kickstart the things you've always wanted to do.
A short history of sleep
It’s likely that early humans slept in short bursts, usually in those moments when they didn't need to be on high alert. As civilization developed, people began to sleep for longer periods at night. This change may have been in response to the need to be alert during the day to hunt or gather food, and to stay safe from hungry predators.
In the late Middle Ages and Renaissance humans developed segmented sleeping patterns, sleeping for a period early in the night, before waking for a time to reflect, write, read, visit a friend, or Netflix and chill. This pattern began to taper off in the 1700’s, and by the start of the industrial revolution, a single sleep cycle was considered the norm.
Why is good sleep so important?
Getting a good 40 winks is important for every aspect of our being, both physical and mental. Sleep isn’t just about feeling rested, it enables our body to stay healthy, sustains our metabolism, improves our focus and productivity, and regulates our emotions.
Sleep isn’t just for the witching hours, either. The odd daytime nap can boost learning, memory, and performance. This is true of naps on the shorter side (around 15 to 30 minutes), anything longer will put you in a deeper sleep, and will result in you feeling groggy when you wake up.
How to sleep better according to a sleep scientist.
The science behind sleep
Sleep is easy, right? You just shut your eyes, and away you go—we’ve been doing it since day dot. However, when you dig a little deeper, there’s some fascinating science that reveals what our brains go through at night.
What sleep does to your brain
While your body is relatively sedate during sleep (except for the odd toss or turn), the brain is a bustling hive of activity. Over the course of the night, our brain is busy repairing itself, processing information, and rewiring nerve cells—which is how we retain new information and make memories.
This process occurs over four sleep cycles: Stages 1 and 2 is when we start to drift off, before moving into a deeper sleep in Stage 3, which is when the activity in our brain slows right down. REM sleep begins in Stage 4—this type of sleep sees our brain activity returning to similar levels as when we’re awake, which is why REM sleep tends to be illustrated with vivid dreams.
What sleep does to the body
When we fall asleep, our brain will notify and send signals to the rest of our body. Over the course of the night, you can expect to see your body go through a few changes:
Your breathing rate will fall in non-REM sleep and rise again in REM sleep
Your heart rate will fall in non-REM sleep and rise again in REM sleep
Your muscles will switch off and ‘paralyse’ themselves, a process known as atonia
Your body will release hormones such as melatonin, leptin, ghrelin, and cortisol
Sleeping well allows the body to recover and repair itself, which in the long term, helps you to stay healthy, supports with healthy heart function, strengthens our immune system, and helps to regulate our food intake. Your body can’t climb these mountains if it’s running on fumes.
What happens if you don’t get enough sleep
When you don't get enough sleep, you can feel tired, sluggish, and brain-foggy—we all know what that feels like. A bad night’s sleep makes it difficult to concentrate, make decisions, and remember things. In more extreme cases, sleeplessness can lead to an onset of hallucinations and delusions, can be linked to poor mental health, and interrupts the normal functioning of your brain and body.
How we can get better sleep
Sleep should be easy, but sometimes life gets in the way—periods of poor sleep can be brought on by a number of uncontrollable factors. Moving house, changing careers, climate worries… so many things can throw us off course. But thankfully there’s a few things you can do to get your sleep back on track.
Swerve too much screen time
Reducing the amount of screen time you get before bed prepares your body to rest. Scrolling and swiping stimulates your brain and restrains the production of melatonin, the hormone in charge of your sleep cycle. Try listening to music, your favourite podcast, or reading a book before bed instead.
Avoid big meals and alcohol
Eating a heavy meal late at night encourages your digestive systems and cortisol levels will interrupt your sleep cycle. Drinking alcohol can also be disruptive to sleep, too—as your body processes alcohol, the initial sedative effects start to wear off, which can prevent you from enjoying deep sleep later in the cycle.
Create a calming environment
Have you wondered why it’s hard to fall asleep in a car, or on a plane? Simply put, there’s too much going on around you. Creating a calming environment helps your body prepare for healthy, restorative rest. You could try meditating or stretching before bed, lighting a few candles, or spraying your pillow with essential oils.
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Sleep is in our DNA
The benefits of healthy sleep was vital in the founding of Heights—a few years back, one of our co-founders, Dan, had severe sleeping issues. At first he thought waking at 2AM, full of beans and ready to work, was a healthy thing. Turns out all those sleepless nights really catch up with you.
This led him to visit therapists and doctors who couldn’t seem to find the solution, all the while, two hours sleep a night remained the norm. It was only after an exhausted ramble to a friend that something clicked. They asked if he’d considered whether brain nutrition might be at the heart of the problem.
While this sounded odd at first, this idea inspired him to book an appointment with an NHS dietician, who proceeded to explain the inherent link between nutrition, brain health, and sleep. This lit a spark of an idea, and over the course of a few more sleepless nights, and some blissfully peaceful ones, Heights was born.
Getting your nightly (or daily) zzz’s is a vital part of your braincare routine—sleep is vital for mental and physical health. Without sleep, we can’t support our immune system, manage our emotions, concentrate properly, or sustain our metabolism. It’s about much more than getting a little shut eye.