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Who doesn’t love a good night’s sleep? I know I do. For something that’s so great, it’s a shame the majority of American adults don’t get enough of it. Luckily, with a little bit of a priority shift, we can all get a good night’s sleep.

Last year I attended a conference about student athlete well-being, and truly started to consider the importance of sleep for the first time. I wasn’t sure I was going to write this post, but I’ve been thinking about how interesting the things I learned are, and I decided I needed to share them.

One of the speakers at this conference was a sleep scientist. Her name is Dr. Roxanne Prichard, and she is the Scientific Director of the Center for College Sleep and Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of St. Thomas.

Listening to her speak about how sleep affects the brain and body was incredibly interesting. and she shared with the audience how to scientifically get the best sleep. It might surprise you!

The first thing to point out is that getting some sleep and getting good sleep are not the same. Our bodies need good sleep to survive, but not that many people are aware of what actually makes sleep good.

There are two kinds of sleep. Deep sleep (REM sleep) and non-REM sleep. Most people go through 3-5 cycles of each per night.

During deep sleep your brain processes the day, that’s why we need it. It’s when learning and memory are all finalized in your brain, and when other things like muscle recovery occur.

The most important thing about deep sleep is that it’s the only time your brain has to recover. Rudimentarily, your brain produces a whole lot of chemical brain sludge while it’s working during the day. That brain waste can only be disposed of during deep sleep. If you don’t get enough good sleep, that hazy feeling might really be what's essentially brian sewer water.

It’s no wonder sleep deprivation is linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, higher risk of accident and injury, kidney disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity and depression.

Sleep deficiency, or lack of sleep can come from simply not getting enough sleep, not getting good sleep, or sleeping at the wrong time. Sleeping at the wrong time might sound strange, but it has to do with your body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythms.

Everyone has an internal clock that controls when you’re awake and when you’re asleep. The way our bodies get the best sleep is when our sleep aligns with our natural rhythms. Interrupting that rhythm by sleeping for hours longer than usual or “catching up” on sleep can negatively affect you in the long run, and make you feel more tired.

As I hope you’re starting to see, sleep is pretty much just as important as food and water to survival. Something Dr. Prichard said about that has really stuck with me-- If you ever find yourself nodding off in the middle of the day, that is your brain's way of saying that you are doing such a bad job taking care of you body that it needs to take over.

According to Dr. Prichard, if you’re getting great sleep you should be able to fall asleep, and wake up with no alarm, relying only on your natural sleep rhythms.

If you’ve been thinking about natural sleep rhythms, you might have figured it out already, but the secret to good sleep is consistency.

Good sleep takes practice! But the good news is, you can train yourself to get good sleep.

Some of the things you can do to help yourself get better sleep are:

  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  • Minimizing your exposure to blue light after the sun sets (turning on night mode on your phone and computer is a good step) If you didn’t know, blue light can interrupt your circadian rhythms as well, I have a whole other post on that!
  • Making sleep a priority

Getting better sleep reduces stress, reduces your chances of a wide variety of health issues, increases life expectancy, and leads to feeling better overall. I know that sounds like a magic cure all, but sleep really does affect you the same way what you eat and drink does.

After refreshing my memory on all this sleep science, I will definitely be making sleep more of a priority in my life.

Did any of this surprise you? I’d love to know how you feel about your own sleeping habits after reading it!


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