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Why is sleep so important?

Updated: Nov 14, 2020

I'm sure you have heard a variety of things regarding the quantity of sleep, but I think we can agree that the quality also needs to be high!

In regards to the quantity, it will vary slightly from person to person, but the majority of us need 7-8 hrs per night to completely reset and recover. There used to be little known about why we need sleep, aside from the observed long term repercussions of not getting enough of it. This includes high blood pressure, cardiovascular issues, obesity, and depression.

Fortunately, there have been some major breakthroughs in this area recently. With this new data, we've been able to shed some light in a more anatomical perspective on why we actually need sleep.  Researchers at the National Institute of Health have recently uncovered a (once thought to be non-existent) system of lymphatic vessels (the body’s sewer system) which lie amongst the blood vessels in the dura mater of the brain (a thick membrane surrounding the brain).  This discovery was important in that we now know how the brain gets rid of its cellular waste, and how much of an important role sleep plays in this.  As we sleep, the brain slightly shrinks in size from its daytime “inflamed” state.  When this happens the toxins (or cellular waste) can then be flushed out via the lymphatic tracks in the dura mater. 

How can this effect my fitness results?

Having adequate sleep is imperative for your body to recover and reset for the next day's activity. Because sleep affects so many of the main tissues and functions of our body such as the brain, heart, lungs, metabolism, immune function, and even mood, it is essential we get enough sleep to feel well-rested and tackle our workouts (and lives) with our 100% everyday!

Circadian rhythms influence many functions of the body like body temperature, metabolism, and release of hormones. All which have enormous impacts on a fitness goal. Your body's biological clock, which is closely based to a 24hr day, controls most circadian rhythms.

Sleep Stages

Most of us have heard of R.E.M. sleep before. But what does it mean? What are the other types of sleep? R.E.M. or rapid eye movement, is just one of the two basic types of sleep we can have. R.E.M. sleep and non-R.E.M. sleep are the two basic types of sleep, and non R.E.M. sleep has three different stages.

R.E.M. Sleep - This Stage of sleep occurs throughout the night in cycles where blood pressure, heart rate, and brain activity are similar to that of when you are awake. This is also when most dreaming occurs. Eye movement is fast and irregular.

Stage 1 non-R.E.M. - This stage is still a light sleep where heart rate slows down, blood pressure drops, and muscles start to relax. Eye movement slows down and occasional twitching may occur as well.

Stage 2 non-R.E.M. - This stage is also a lighter sleep. Muscles relax even further, body temperature drops slightly, and eye movement is minimized.

Stage 3 non-R.E.M. - This stage is a deeper sleep where heart rate and breathing are at their true resting rate. This stage is very important for having a complete reset. Having the feeling of being refreshed, strong, energized, having mental clarity, and overall well-being are all benefits of being able to obtain enough time in this stage!

How much sleep do we need?

The requirement of amount of sleep as well as your individual sleep patterns will change as you age, and each individual person will have a different pattern and need. Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours per night. To get a good idea of how many hours you'll need each night, it's best to see what time your body will naturally awaken after going to bed at a similar time for at least one week straight. That means no alarms, or distractions during the night for one week straight. It can be a tall order, but going to bed early can compensate for a required wake up time and allow you the chance to have your body's alarm clock do the work and wake you up when it is done resting. Try to get out of bed within 10 min of waking up to prevent yourself from falling back asleep and feeling groggy from too much sleep!

Looking at the large majority of the population, most of us simply do not get enough sleep. In addition to this, the sleep we do get is not very high in quality,  meaning there a