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  • Writer's picturedrnataliesenst_ND

Restorative power of sleep

Updated: Jan 12, 2021

Ensure you are getting quality and quantity sleep - it affects your antioxidant status, immune health and cognitive function.


  • Non-REM: when you first fall asleep, your body cycles through 3 levels - N1, N2, N3

  • N1 (transition between awake and asleep),

  • N2 (light sleep)

  • N3 (slow wave sleep, "deep" sleep, or delta waves - supports memory consolidation, growth hormone production and enhances the calming parasympathetic nervous system responsible for "rest and digest" actions) - predominates in first 3 hours of sleep

  • REM: this rapid-eye movement phase is the antioxidative phase, restoring glutathione levels and reducing reactive oxygen species that lead to oxidative damage in the body. This phase predominates in the last 3 hours of sleep.

  • Each full sleep cycle through these 4 stages lasts 70-120 minutes, with the REM duration increasing in length each cycle, from under 10 minutes to over 60 minutes.

SLEEP DYSFUNCTION #1: "I have too much to do - I can't go to bed yet"

You will actually improve your memory consolidation and brain speed by allowing your body the 7-8 hours per night it needs to sleep and restore. You will wake up with better multitasking abilities. Your brain uses this time to repair cellular damage, reduce inflammation and restore neurotransmitter sensitivity and function (including serotonin, norepinephrine, and histamine). A healthy body allows your immune system to better focus its resources to defend against foreign pathogens (viruses, bacteria, etc) that it may encounter.

SLEEP DYSFUNCTION #2: "I don't need more than 4 or 5 hours of sleep per night"

N3 "deep sleep" shortens in duration after the first cycle, and is mostly complete within 4 hours. You may feel rested after a relatively short sleep, but your body's antioxidant repair mechanism is shortchanged with these shorter sleeps and that affects cognitive and immune function.

Memory consolidation seems to require both REM & NREM sleep. Research shows cognitive deficits are present in people who get under 6 consecutive hours of sleep for more than 10 nights. Importantly, people are usually not aware of this cognitive deficit until much later.

SLEEP DYSFUNCTION #3: "I lie in bed for 8 hours, but I can't sleep"

Many factors can cause your poor sleep function:

  • Stress: if you've been physically or emotionally stressed for some time, your cortisol levels may be dysfunctional. Initially, the stress response raises cortisol so much that it stays high at night when you don't want cortisol raised, making it hard to fall asleep and hard to get restorative sleep when you do fall asleep. You need a high level of melatonin relative to your cortisol in the evening to help you sleep, and by morning you want melatonin levels to be low and cortisol levels high to help you wake up. Supplementing with too much melatonin at night can leave you feeling groggy in the morning. Additional adrenal support is helpful to rebalance cortisol production and support a healthy sleep cycle.

  • Health conditions: conditions such as sleep apnea, gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) and COPD (emphysema or chronic bronchitis) can affect your ability to achieve deeper stages of sleep. If you know you have any of these conditions or if you are struggling with poor sleep and want to know more, book an appointment!

  • Medications: If you've been struggling with insomnia for a while, you may have been prescribed a sleep medication like a benzodiazepine. Long term use of benzodiazepines causes a relative deficit of the calming neurotransmitter GABA and create poor sleep quality, reducing the amount of the more restorative N3 and REM sleep stages. Benzodiazepines are addictive and are best weaned slowly with supervision to manage negative withdrawal effects that are common and can mimic original symptoms.

All sleep issues can benefit from GOOD SLEEP HYGIENE!

  • Set your bed time: count backwards from the time you need to wake up and set an alarm to tell you to get ready for bed! If possible, create a routine for your body where you go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.

  • Reduce blue light exposure in the evening: when it gets dark out is the time to dim your lights at home and stop using TVs/computers/phones (or at least apply a blue-light filter to the screen or try blue-light blocking glasses).

  • Turn off WIFI and phone data before going to bed: the newest technologies are becoming more disruptive with increasing frequency of EMF exposures and more and more research is linking these exposures to health problems such as disrupted sleep. You may not be able to block your neighbours' signals, but most of the research shows the first few feet of proximity are the most problematic. Don't sleep with your phone beside your head unless WIFI and data are turned off.

  • Other considerations: try to avoid exercise and meals in the 2 hours before bed time (though daily exercise is beneficial) and avoid caffeine after 2pm or altogether if you are sensitive to it. Relax before bed or try journalling your thoughts before you get into bed.

  • Herbs: can also be used to support specific sleep cycle issues (is there a consistent time you're waking up? is disordered cortisol due to stress involved?) - they are powerful and can have an immediate effect, so using them occasionally as needed is preferred and doesn't create reliance on the herbs.

If you're still struggling with sleep, let's talk about solutions. Tools such as sleep restriction therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, and herbs can be added to good sleep hygiene if needed.

You deserve a good night's sleep!

Young child sleeping on bed

Sleep research:

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