I’m fascinated by the human brain. So it comes as no surprise that I couldn’t wait to write this blog post all about the correlation between our brain and sleep. I talk a lot more about this in my podcast, Productivity Paradox, in episode 021: Keys to Getting Your Best Sleep Ever. Definitely give it a listen on iTunes if you feel tired often or can’t fall asleep at night.
I actually couldn’t fit in all the great sleeping tips and research in that single episode, so I’m making sure to go over even more of it here!
5 Naps for All Occasions
- The Power Nap: 10–20 minutes: Best for getting straight back to work
- The NASA Nap: 26 minutes: Proven by scientists to improve pilot performance by 34% and alertness by 54%. Best for a day you’ll be working after hours.
- The Bad Nap: 30 minutes: Causes “sleep inertia” (a sleep hangover) for up to 30 minutes before restorative benefits kick in. Best to avoid, if possible.
- Slow-wave Sleep Nap: 60 minutes: Helps cognitive memory processing, remembering places, faces, and facts. Best before a big presentation or important meeting.
- The Full Sleep Cycle: 90 minutes: Helps creativity, emotional memory, and procedural memory. Best before an impending project deadline or a big test.
Scientists’ Theories on Why We Sleep
Did you know that they’re not actually sure why we sleep? Our bodies regulate sleep similarly to eating, drinking, and breathing. All these actions, and sleeping, are regulated by powerful internal drives.
According to healthysleep.med.harvard.edu, studies show several theories on why we need sleep. I think this is really important to consider when discussing how to get a better night’s rest. Here’s a quick rundown of these scientists’ theories on why we need sleep.
- Inactivity Theory suggests that inactivity at night was an adaptation that served a survival function by keeping organisms out of harm’s way at times when they would be particularly vulnerable. This suggests that animals that were able to stay still and quiet during the night while sleeping had an advantage over other animals that remained active. On the other side of this, you could argue that it is simply safer to be awake and conscious to your surroundings.
- Energy Conservation Theory says that the primary function of sleep is to reduce an individual’s energy demand and expenditure during part of the day or night, especially at times when it’s least efficient to search for food. Research has shown that energy metabolism is significantly reduced during sleep (by as much as 10% in humans) and both body temperature and caloric demand decrease during sleep. This supports the theory that one of the main functions of sleep is to help us conserve our energy.
- Restorative Theories are the popular, long-held belief that sleep in some way serves to restore what is lost in the body while we are awake. Major restorative functions in the body like muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, and growth hormone release occur mostly, or in some cases only during sleep. Animals deprived entirely of sleep lose all immune function and die in just a matter of weeks. Sleep can rejuvenate the brain. While we are awake the neurons in the brain produce adenosine, a by-product of cell activity. The buildup of adenosine is thought to be a factor that leads to us feeling tired.
- Brain Plasticity Theory is one of the most recent and compelling explanations for why we sleep. This looks at changes in the brain after sleep and suggests the amount we sleep affects how well we learn a task and consolidate memories. The brain takes in a large amount of information and rather than being directly logged and recorded these acts and experiences are first processed and stored, moving from short term memory to long term memory. After people sleep they tend to retain information and perform better on memory tasks. This phenomenon is still not entirely understood.
I’ve also made a download for you all for free! Just fill out the pop-up form on this page and you’ll be sent the download right to your inbox! This new download has seven keys to getting better sleep at night. It will help you in creating a good sleeping habit and routine… which I think we all know how much we need. It’s so common – especially among us women – to simply not sleep enough. Whether it’s because of work, kids, projects, etc. But now is the time to really assess your situation. Because guess what? You don’t have to keep being tired all the time! But the only person who can change that around is you!
I encourage you to use your download and this new information and create a good sleep routine. Give yourself a break (whether at night by going to bed early or taking a few minutes for yourself to nap) and know it’s okay to take it easy during the week too!