The Importance of Sleep for Brain Function & The Massive Impact it Has On Your Cognitive Abilities

Article by: David Gracey
importance of sleep for brain function

Sleep is something that most people take for granted. We spend so much time in our day-to-day lives that it often doesn’t occur to us just how important sleep really is.

The brain is what makes us who we are. It controls our thoughts, actions, and emotions. It is also the part of our body that is the most important for our cognitive abilities.

This is important because when we sleep, our brain is given a chance to rest and regenerate. When we don’t get enough sleep, our brain doesn’t have a chance to heal and we end up feeling tired, irritable, and confused.

Sleep plays a vital role for our brain health. In fact, it is extremely important for our general health as well as our brain’s cognitive abilities.

Sleep helps to consolidate memories, repair damage, and even eliminate toxins in our systems. It also strengthens the connections between neuron cells. All of these processes are crucial for our overall cognitive function.

In this article, I am going to lay out the importance of sleep and how it impacts our brain’s cognitive abilities, so let’s jump right in.

First of all, let’s start with the basics. There are two types of sleep cycles: REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM.

REM sleep is a type of sleep that is important for our brain health.

During REM sleep, our eyes move rapidly from side to side and we are in dream mode.

You can tell if someone is dreaming while they sleep if their eyes flutter back and forth underneath their eyelids.

REM sleep is beneficial to our brains because it helps us consolidate memories, repair damage, and even eliminate toxins in our systems. It also strengthens the connections between neuron cells.

Non-REM sleep on the other hand is a type of sleep that is vital for our overall health and well-being.

During non-REM sleep, we are in more of a “restorative sleep” mode. During this process, our bodies are at rest and our brain is able to heal and regenerate.

This is important because when we don’t get enough non-REM sleep, our brain doesn’t have a chance to repair itself and we end up feeling tired, irritable and confused the following day.

And, if this goes on for multiple days at a time, it can have an even more detrimental effect on your mental and physical well-being.

Non-REM sleep (or NREM) is broken down into 3 separate stages:

1) Falling asleep stage – This is where your body begins to relax, your breathing and heart rate starts slowing down, and you start to fall asleep.

In this stage you are still easily awakened.

2) Light Sleep – This is the stage of NREM sleep where your body temperature starts to drop, your breathing and heart-rate slows even further, and your brain waves also join in the slowing process.

During the light sleep stage there are no “eye movements”.

3) Slow Wave Sleep (or “Deep Sleep” Stage) – This is where your body experiences full relaxation, with no eye movements, and the slowest rates of breathing and heartbeat.

Delta waves are present and dreaming occurs at this stage. This is where the restorative magic happens.

Your immune system is being repaired, your muscles relax completely, and cell regeneration takes place.

We cycle through these different sleep cycles several times throughout the night.

The first few cycles are mostly in the non-REM sleep category, but as the night goes on, we spend more time in REM sleep.

Both of these processes are crucial for our overall cognitive function.

The internal clock our body’s use for this process is called the circadian rhythm which operates our 24 hour sleep/wake cycles.

Natural light in the daytime, and darkness at night are just some of the factors that affect it.

According to sleepfoundation.org: “Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock, running in the background to carry out essential functions and processes. One of the most important and well-known circadian rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle.”

Side Note: It is important to be proactive when it comes to healthy lifestyle choices, as things like alcohol and excessive caffeine consumption can negatively impact the stages of sleep, and even cause insomnia or sleeplessness.

The Importance of Sleep for Memory Consolidation and Repair

brain memories

Now that we understand the basics of sleep, let’s talk about how important sleep is for our memory consolidation and repair.

During sleep, our brains are actively working to consolidate memories and repair any damage that has been done during the day.

For example, if you learned something new during the day, your brain will work to consolidate that memory while you sleep.

This is why it is so important to get a good night’s sleep after studying for an exam. Our memory function is directly impacted by the quality of each sleep cycle.

Poor sleep equals poor memory and brain function.

Sleep is also the time when our brain cells regenerate and repair any damage that has been done.

This is why people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to get sick.

How Does Sleep Deprivation Impact Our Brain?

So, you’re probably wondering what happens when you don’t get enough quality sleep.

While regular interruptions in our sleep patterns can result in poor quality sleep, actual sleep deprivation can have a huge negative impact on our brain functions in a number of ways.

First of all, when we are sleep-deprived, our brains have a harder time consolidating memories.

This means that we are more likely to forget things that we have learned without adequate sleep.

In addition, being deprived of sleep affects the decision-making process, along with impaired judgment.

This is because our brains are not able to think as clearly when we feel tired.

Lastly, sleep deprivation can also lead to moodiness and irritability.

This is because our brains are not able to regulate our emotions as well when we are tired.

How Much Sleep Do We Need Exactly?

how much sleep - time alarm clock

Most experts recommend that adults get 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

However, there are some people who need more sleep and some who need less. Every human being has a completely different biological makeup, so there is no one size fits all answer.

If you find that you are constantly tired during the day, it is probably a good idea to see a doctor.

You could be suffering from something like chronic sleep deprivation, and may need to seek the help of a sleep specialist.

According to academic and medical associations like the American Sleep Association at least 40 million Americans experience some form of sleep disorders yearly. And another 20 million experience sleep issues at some point.

They will be able to help you determine whether or not you have an actual sleep disorder or if you are simply not getting enough healthy sleep.

How Much Sleep Do You Need to Be Productive?

productivity

In order to be productive, you simply need to get enough sleep for YOU.

As I mentioned in the section above, it really just depends on the person. This could be anywhere from 7-9 hours.

The only sure-fire way to find out is to keep track of your sleep habits in a journal or spreadsheet.

Then take note of how productive you were and how you felt each following day.

With enough data, you’ll be able to get pretty close to your “Productive sleep sweet spot”!

(Or “psss” for short)

Okay, you got me.

I just totally made that up LOL.

But the process does work.

I have done this and found that I need just over 6 hours of sleep to be productive the next day, but it usually requires that I get some extra catch-up sleep on the weekends. (Usually just 8-9 hours for 2 nights)

Try keeping track of your own habits, and you’ll find what works best for you. After all, the importance of sleep for brain function is too great to ignore.

10 Simple Ways to Fall Asleep Quicker & Get a More Restful Sleep

man asleep
  • Are you having trouble falling asleep?
  • Are you experiencing sleep disturbances throughout the night that interrupt your sleep cycle?

Well, luckily there are a number of different ways to improve your sleep.

Some people find that making changes to their sleep environment, such as investing in a comfortable mattress or using a noise machine, helps them sleep better.

Others find that changing their bedtime routine, such as avoiding screen time before bed, helps them fall asleep more easily.

Here is a list of 10 things you can do right away to start getting a more restful night’s sleep:

1) Make sure that your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool.

2) Establish a regular sleep schedule and stick to it as much as possible.

3) Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed.

4) Avoid screen time (TV, phone, computer) for at least 30 minutes before bed.

5) Get up and move around during the day waking hours to get your body moving and improve circulation.

6) Practice some relaxation techniques before bed, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation to slow your brain waves.

7) Keep a journal next to your bed and write down any thoughts or worries that are keeping you up at night. Over-thinking and worrying is a common cause of poor sleep.

8) Drink chamomile tea before bed. Falling asleep becomes much easier when you’re in a relaxed state of mind.

Research suggests that chamomile extracts exhibit benzodiazepine-like hypnotic activity, as well as CNS central nervous system depressant effects, In other words, it has a sedative effect that will help anyone suffering from a lack of sleep.

9) Listen to calming music before bed. Relaxing music can help guide you into the various sleep stages like rapid eye movement rem, and non rapid eye movement.

10) Try using a white noise machine to block out any outside noise.

Now, obviously, these 10 things only scratch the surface when it comes to getting better sleep, as there are endless things you can try. 

However, by implementing just a select handful of the tips listed above, you should have more than enough to get started, and notice an improvement in the quality of your sleep.

Are There Any Safe All-Natural Supplements that Can Help Me Get a Restful Night’s Sleep?

natural supplements

There are a number of all-natural supplements that can help you get a deeper sleep, (as well as some that can even help you have more lucid dreams – see more on that here )

Some of the most popular and effective ones include:

1) Melatonin:

This is a hormone that helps regulate your body’s sleep-wake cycle. Taking a melatonin supplement can help you fall asleep more easily and improve the quality of your sleep.

Also See: Is it safe to take melatonin every night?

2) Valerian Root:

This is an herb that has been used for centuries to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders. It works by increasing levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and restorative sleep.

3) Chamomile:

This is a flowering plant that has long been used as a natural remedy for insomnia. It contains compounds that act as sedatives, helping you to fall asleep and stay asleep.

4) Passionflower:

This is another herb that has been traditionally used to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders. It works by reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

5) Lavender:

This is a plant that is known for its calming and relaxing properties.

The scent of lavender has been shown to promote sleepiness and improve the quality of sleep. It is commonly used in conjunction with a warm bath and some soft music.

Have you ever noticed how many lavender bath products there are at the store? That’s because it does a great job for relaxation and even mental health.

In fact, research shows that people with various neurological disorders have used lavender as a therapeutic.

6) Magnesium:

This is a mineral that plays a role in many different bodily functions, including muscle relaxation and sleep regulation. Taking a magnesium supplement can help reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality.

7) Tryptophan:

This is an amino acid that helps your body produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and sleepiness.

Eating foods that are rich in tryptophan, such as turkey, can help you fall asleep more easily. 

If you’ve ever celebrated a holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas where turkey was the main course, I’m sure you know this all too well. 

It’s nearly impossible to NOT take a nap soon after indulging in a turkey-fueled feast!

8) Calcium:

This is another mineral that plays a role in muscle relaxation and sleep regulation. Taking a calcium supplement can help reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality.

9) Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

These are essential fats that are important for maintaining health. They have also been shown to promote relaxation and improve sleep quality.

10) Herbal Teas:

This is another herb that has been traditionally used to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders. It works by reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

These are just a few of the many all-natural supplements that can help you get a better night’s sleep.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about whether or not taking a supplement might be right for you.

Another popular option that I did not list would be ashwagandha.  While it’s not a “sleep aid”, it can definitely be helpful for getting back on track. 

To learn the best time to take ashwagandha, read my article here.

Are There any Pre-formulated Supplements or “Sleep Stacks” I Can Take that Will Help?

There are actually some VERY awesome pre-formulated sleep supplements available if you’re looking for an all-in-one solution.

Not everyone wants to piece together 3 or 4 different ingredients in the form of teas, pills, or powders.

It is much easier if you have the option to take a pre-formulated blend.

I personally have tried dozens of over the counter sleep aids, as well some online brands, but at the end of the day, these are the two that stand out to me by far!

I have used and highly recommend both of the following pre-formulated sleep supplements. (Both in an easy to consume drink powder)

1) New Mood Instant by Onnit.

Onnit New Mood Instant Review packaging

New Mood Instant is a dietary supplement that helps improve sleep quality. It contains a blend of ingredients that help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.

These include melatonin, 5-HTP, L-theanine, and magnesium. New Mood Instant is available in an easy-to-consume drink powder. (And it comes in multiple delicious flavors)

2) Emergen-ZZZZ by Alacer Corp. (Cheaper Option, Yet Still Effective)

melatonin powder drink

Emergen-ZZZZ is a dietary supplement that helps improve sleep quality. It contains a blend of ingredients that help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.

These include melatonin, valerian root, chamomile, passionflower, and lavender. Emergen-ZZZZ is also available in an easy-to-consume drink powder.

“Which one should I choose?”

Emergen-ZZZZ is a decent bit cheaper than New Mood Instant by Onnit because of the ingredients list.

Both work very well in their own way, so if you’re on a tight budget, I’d recommend just going with Emergen-ZZZZ.

However, if you want the very best, and can afford a bit more, I’d highly suggest going with Onnit’s New Mood Instant.

Not only does it taste incredible, but their unique blend of serotonin precursors will also have you feeling super relaxed and ready for bed.

Plus, with magnesium, tryptophan, and 5-htp (among others) not only will it help you get to sleep faster, but you’ll wake up feeling energized and ready to get to work.

Don’t get me wrong, however…

There are definitely some other great options out there like Performance Lab’s Sleep, which also works amazingly well.

You can read my Performance Lab Sleep Review Here.

I just found the other two to be my personal favorites, as I am partial to having a calming and relaxing drink just before bed, as opposed to taking pills, but that’s just me.

(No alcohol for me, but that’s a different story!)

Importance of Sleep for Brain Function – My Final Thoughts…

The bottom line is that sleep is incredibly important for your brain’s health and cognitive abilities.

“Take Care of Your Sleep and You’ll Take Care of Your Brain!”

If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re putting yourself at a serious disadvantage.

Not only will you be less productive and more forgetful, but you’ll also be more prone to accidents and errors.

Making sure you’re getting enough sleep every night is a surefire way to have what it takes to perform at your highest levels during the day. It really is as simple as that.

So, be sure to include sleep as an important part of your brain hacking / cognitive enhancement journey.

About David:

Hey! I’m so glad you’re here. My name is David Gracey. I am a cognitive brain function researcher, avid biohacker, and self-proclaimed nootropic junkie of sorts! (And, yes, a bit of a nerd as well...) I created this website as an outlet to share my passion for self improvement and cognitive brain enhancement. Got questions? Shoot me a message!

 

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