Get Enough Quality Sleep

A Little About Sleep

The evolution of our sleep cycle is an intriguing testament to the adaptive nature of our species. Throughout our evolutionary history, sleep has played a vital role in ensuring our survival and optimizing our cognitive and physiological functions. Over time, our sleep patterns have been shaped by various environmental and evolutionary pressures. The alternating cycles of wakefulness and sleep are believed to have provided early humans with essential advantages, such as conserving energy during periods of reduced activity, protecting against predators during vulnerable times, and facilitating memory consolidation and learning.

The development of the circadian rhythm allowed our ancestors to synchronize their sleep-wake cycles with the natural day-night cycle, optimizing their biological processes. Additionally, sleep may have facilitated social bonding and cooperation within communities, enhancing their chances of survival. While the precise evolutionary mechanisms behind the complexity of our sleep cycle are still being unraveled, it is evident that sleep has been a crucial adaptive trait throughout human evolution, contributing to our overall health, well-being, and ability to thrive.

Two Systems Which Dictate Our Sleep Cycle

Circadian Rhythm
Our circadian rhythm is an intricate biological system that orchestrates our sleep-wake cycle, synchronized with the natural rhythms of the day and night. Governed by the suprachiasmatic nucleus in the hypothalamus, this internal clock responds to external cues, primarily light and darkness, to regulate vital processes. The circadian rhythm influences various physiological functions, such as hormone secretion, body temperature, and metabolism, impacting our alertness, sleep quality, and overall well-being. Its delicate balance ensures that we feel awake and alert during the day, while gradually preparing us for restful sleep at night. The circadian rhythm's intricate dance with our environment reminds us of the profound connection between our internal rhythms and the world around us.

Note - Melatonin doesn’t cause or control our sleep, but it does act as a messenger carrying the signal from our brain that it is time to sleep.

Adenosine, a nucleoside found in all cells of our body, holds a pivotal role in regulating our sleep cycle. As we stay awake, adenosine gradually builds up, creating sleep pressure that makes us feel drowsy. Rising adenosine levels bind to specific receptors in the brain, inhibiting neuronal activity and inducing relaxation, ultimately promoting sleep initiation and maintenance. Conversely, caffeine acts as an antagonist to adenosine receptors, counteracting its sleep-inducing effects and promoting alertness. Imbalances in adenosine or disruptions in its receptors can contribute to sleep disorders. Adequate sleep and consistent patterns help reset the adenosine system, reducing sleep pressure and preparing us for a new day. Understanding adenosine's influence empowers us to prioritize healthy sleep habits, fostering a well-regulated sleep-wake cycle for optimal rest.

These two systems seem to work in coordination to ensure that we get an adequate if not ideal amount of sleep every night, but in actuality, they are completely independent of each other. While the adenosine cycle and the sleep pressure it applies is highly dependent upon the accumulation of sleep or lack of, that we have in our account, our circadian rhythm could care less (it only acts as a messenger to let us know that it is bedtime).

While adenosine will only continue to build as our lack of sleep builds, if we stay awake through the night and into the morning, our circadian rhythm will back off indicating that it is time to be awake and alert. In this case, the two systems will be at odds until darkness ensues once again.

Caffeine vs. Adenosine
Adenosine and caffeine share an intriguing and interconnected relationship. Adenosine, a naturally occurring nucleoside, builds up in our brains as we stay awake, creating sleep pressure and making us feel tired. When we consume caffeine, it acts as an antagonist to adenosine receptors, binding to those same receptors and preventing adenosine from exerting its sleep-inducing effects. By blocking adenosine's influence, caffeine promotes wakefulness, alertness, and a temporary sense of energy. However, it's important to note that caffeine does not reduce adenosine levels; it simply masks its effects. Once the caffeine wears off, adenosine's accumulated sleep pressure reemerges, potentially leading to an increased need for sleep. This dynamic interaction between adenosine and caffeine underscores caffeine's stimulatory effects and its temporary impact on overriding our natural sleep signals.

What We Need to Do

Getting the sleep our bodies need may be the simplest thing we can do to live a healthier, happier, and longer life, and yet it may be one of our biggest challenges. We have so many reasons to short-change our sleep requirements and at the same time, so many tools available to help us do this. While it may seem logical that putting in the hard work to get in better shape, eat better, and educate ourselves, getting more sleep feels almost counter-productive, maybe even a little lazy.

But this is exactly what we need to do. We need to make sure we are getting a minimum of seven hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, with our sleep cycle starting, ideally, two to three hours after sunset (which may be extremely difficult during the Winter) and waking one hour or so before sunrise.

By adopting strategies that adhere to our bodies natural sleep cycles, both hormonal (adenosine levels) and natural/neurological (our circadian rhythm), we can maintain optimal chemical and hormone levels which will aid our physiology over the long haul.

Why It’s Important

Getting enough sleep every night is crucial for overall health and well-being. Sleep plays a vital role in various aspects of our lives, including physical health, mental functioning, and emotional balance. Sufficient sleep supports the body's ability to repair and rejuvenate itself, promoting optimal immune function, cardiovascular health, and hormonal balance. It also enhances cognitive processes such as attention, concentration, memory, and problem-solving, enabling us to perform at our best during the day. Additionally, sleep is closely linked to emotional regulation and mental health, with inadequate sleep increasing the risk of mood disorders, anxiety, and depression. Consistently obtaining the recommended amount of sleep helps manage stress, improves mood, and enhances overall quality of life. 

The main driver of the physiological effects of our sleep quality and quantity is our sympathetic nervous system.

The Benefits of Adequate Quality Sleep

Immune Health
Sleep plays a crucial role in regulating and supporting our immune system. Adequate and quality sleep is essential for maintaining a robust immune response and overall immune health. Here are some ways in which sleep affects our immune system:
  • Immune Function: Sleep supports the proper functioning of both the innate and adaptive immune systems. During sleep, the immune system releases cytokines, proteins that help coordinate immune responses and combat infections. These cytokines play a vital role in promoting inflammation, cell signaling, and immune cell activity.
  • Inflammation Regulation: Sleep helps regulate the inflammatory response in the body. Chronic sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality can lead to increased levels of pro-inflammatory markers and a disrupted balance between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory processes. This imbalance may contribute to the development or exacerbation of inflammatory conditions and immune-related disorders.
  • T Cell Function: T cells are a type of white blood cell crucial for immune defense. Sleep deprivation can impact T cell function, reducing their effectiveness in fighting infections and increasing the risk of immune-related diseases.
  • Antibody Production: Sleep plays a role in antibody production, which is essential for targeting and neutralizing pathogens. During sleep, the body produces antibodies, proteins that bind to specific antigens and help eliminate pathogens. Sufficient sleep supports optimal antibody production, bolstering the immune response.
  • Healing and Recovery: Sleep is a time for the body to repair and rejuvenate. During sleep, cells undergo processes involved in tissue repair, muscle growth, and wound healing. Sustaining adequate sleep is vital for supporting these restorative processes, allowing the immune system to recover and function optimally.

Fighting Cancer
Quality sleep plays a vital role in supporting our immune system and its ability to fight against cancer. When we consistently obtain sufficient and restorative sleep, it helps regulate immune responses and optimizes the body's defense mechanisms. Adequate sleep promotes the release of cytokines and immune cells that are crucial for recognizing and eliminating cancer cells. Moreover, quality sleep helps regulate inflammation levels in the body.

Chronic inflammation has been associated with an increased risk of cancer development and progression. By fostering a balanced immune response and reducing systemic inflammation, quality sleep creates an environment that may help inhibit cancer formation. Therefore, prioritizing and maintaining a healthy sleep routine can contribute to a stronger immune system, reduced inflammation, and ultimately support our body's fight against cancer.

Cardiovascular Health
Consistently obtaining sufficient and restorative sleep is essential for various cardiovascular functions and helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Here are some ways in which quality sleep affects the health of our cardiovascular system:
  • Blood Pressure Regulation: Adequate sleep helps regulate blood pressure. During deep sleep, blood pressure tends to decrease, giving the cardiovascular system a chance to rest and recover. Chronic sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality can lead to sustained high blood pressure, increasing the risk of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.
  • Heart Rate and Rhythm: Quality sleep supports the regulation of heart rate and rhythm. Sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea or insomnia, can disrupt normal heart rate patterns and increase the risk of abnormal heart rhythms, including atrial fibrillation. Restful sleep allows the heart to maintain a healthy and regular rhythm, promoting overall cardiovascular health.
  • Inflammation and Arterial Health: Sleep influences the body's inflammatory response, and chronic inflammation is linked to the development and progression of cardiovascular diseases. Quality sleep helps reduce inflammation markers, promoting arterial health and reducing the risk of conditions such as atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease.

Cognitive Function (Memory)
Proper sleep is crucial for optimal memory function and cognitive processes. When we obtain sufficient and high-quality sleep, it positively impacts various aspects of memory, including acquisition, consolidation, and retrieval. Here are some ways in which proper sleep affects our memory:
  • Memory Acquisition: During the sleep cycle, particularly during slow-wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the brain consolidates newly acquired information. Quality sleep helps enhance the encoding of memories and the transfer of information from short-term to long-term memory storage.
  • Memory Consolidation: Sleep plays a vital role in memory consolidation, which is the process of stabilizing and strengthening memories. During sleep, the brain replays and reorganizes the information learned during wakefulness, solidifying neural connections and integrating new memories with existing knowledge. This consolidation process contributes to long-term memory storage and retention.
  • Emotional Memory Processing: Sleep influences the processing of emotional memories. Proper sleep can help regulate and modulate emotional experiences, allowing the brain to integrate and process emotional information effectively. This aids in emotional memory consolidation and the regulation of emotional responses.
  • Memory Retrieval and Recall: Adequate sleep improves memory retrieval and recall. Sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality can impair memory retrieval and lead to difficulties in accessing stored information. On the other hand, quality sleep enhances memory retrieval, facilitating the ability to recall and remember details more efficiently.
  • Creativity and Problem-Solving: Quality sleep has been linked to enhanced creativity and problem-solving abilities. During sleep, the brain engages in complex neural processes that contribute to creative insight and the integration of information. Getting proper sleep allows for a refreshed and more creative mindset, supporting innovative thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Memory and Learning Integration: Sleep helps integrate newly acquired knowledge with existing memories, facilitating a deeper understanding of concepts and promoting efficient learning. Proper sleep ensures that the brain can process and consolidate new information, enabling better comprehension and retention of learned material.

Psychological Health
Sleep plays a crucial role in maintaining optimal psychological health, and both insufficient sleep and chronic sleep disorders can have significant impacts on our mental well-being.
  • Mental Health Disorders - Lack of sleep is associated with an increased risk of developing various mental health disorders. Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or sleep apnea, have been linked to an elevated risk of depression, anxiety disorders, and bipolar disorder. Conversely, improving sleep quality and duration can have positive effects on the management and treatment of these conditions.
  • Vulnerability to Psychiatric Disorders - Insufficient sleep can make individuals more susceptible to the development of psychiatric disorders. It can lower the threshold for the onset of mental health conditions, particularly in individuals with a predisposition. Sleep disturbances can exacerbate symptoms of existing psychiatric disorders, making them more challenging to manage effectively.

Alzheimer’s Disease
The relationship between sleep and Alzheimer's disease is complex and multifaceted. While the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, there is growing evidence to suggest that sleep disturbances and Alzheimer's disease may be interconnected. Here are some key points highlighting the relationship between sleep and Alzheimer's disease:
  • Amyloid Beta Accumulation: One hallmark characteristic of Alzheimer's disease is the accumulation of amyloid beta plaques in the brain. Research suggests that disrupted sleep patterns, particularly inadequate deep sleep or slow-wave sleep (SWS), may contribute to the increased production and reduced clearance of amyloid beta. This imbalance in amyloid beta metabolism may promote its accumulation, potentially leading to the development and progression of Alzheimer's disease.
  • Sleep-Wake Cycle Disruptions: Individuals with Alzheimer's disease often experience disruptions in their sleep-wake cycles. These disruptions can manifest as nighttime awakenings, daytime sleepiness, or altered sleep patterns, including a decrease in SWS and an increase in sleep fragmentation. Disrupted sleep-wake cycles may contribute to cognitive decline, impaired memory consolidation, and worsening of Alzheimer's disease symptoms.
  • Bidirectional Relationship: The relationship between sleep and Alzheimer's disease appears to be bidirectional. While Alzheimer's disease can disrupt sleep patterns, sleep disturbances may also contribute to the development and progression of the disease. Chronic sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or accelerate its progression.
  • Impact on Cognitive Function: Sleep disturbances can negatively impact cognitive function, including memory, attention, and problem-solving abilities. In individuals with Alzheimer's disease, sleep disruptions may exacerbate cognitive decline and impair daily functioning. Adequate and restful sleep is crucial for optimal cognitive performance and may help support cognitive health and potentially slow down the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
  • Sleep Disorders and Alzheimer's Risk: Certain sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and insomnia, have been associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Sleep apnea, characterized by breathing interruptions during sleep, may contribute to cognitive impairment and increase the likelihood of developing dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. Insomnia, marked by difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep, has also been linked to a higher risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease.

  • Sleep plays a significant role in the regulation of blood sugar levels and the development and management of diabetes. Here are several ways in which our sleep affects diabetes:
  • Insulin Sensitivity: Sufficient and quality sleep is important for maintaining proper insulin sensitivity. Sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality can lead to insulin resistance, a condition where cells become less responsive to insulin, resulting in higher blood sugar levels. Insulin resistance is a common risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes.
  • Glucose Metabolism: Sleep disturbances can disrupt glucose metabolism, leading to impaired regulation of blood sugar levels. Inadequate sleep has been associated with higher fasting blood sugar levels, impaired glucose tolerance, and decreased insulin secretion. These factors contribute to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Hormonal Regulation: Sleep influences the production and release of various hormones that play a role in glucose regulation. Inadequate sleep can disrupt the balance of hormones involved in appetite control, such as ghrelin and leptin, leading to increased hunger and cravings for high-calorie foods. This can contribute to weight gain and obesity, both of which are risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

Weight control
  • Sleep deficiency can have significant implications for weight control and can contribute to weight gain and difficulties in weight management. Here are several ways in which sleep deficiency affects weight:
  • Increased Appetite: Sleep deprivation or insufficient sleep has been associated with an increase in appetite and food cravings, especially for high-calorie and carbohydrate-rich foods. Sleep deficiency disrupts the hormonal balance that regulates appetite, leading to elevated levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger, and reduced levels of leptin, a hormone that signals satiety. This hormonal imbalance can lead to overeating and a higher calorie intake, potentially leading to weight gain.
  • Hormonal Changes: Lack of sleep disrupts the production and regulation of various hormones involved in metabolism. Sleep deficiency can increase the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that is associated with increased abdominal fat deposition and weight gain.
  • Reduced Energy Expenditure: Sleep deficiency can decrease energy expenditure, both at rest and during physical activity. When we don't get enough sleep, our metabolism may slow down, leading to a lower basal metabolic rate (BMR). This means that we burn fewer calories at rest.

Microbiome Health
Emerging research suggests that sleep plays a significant role in shaping and maintaining a healthy microbiome—the diverse community of microorganisms that reside in and on our bodies. Here are some ways in which sleep affects our microbiome:
  • Microbial Diversity: Sufficient and quality sleep has been associated with increased microbial diversity in the gut, which refers to the variety of different types of microorganisms present. A diverse microbiome is generally considered healthier and has been linked to various positive health outcomes. In contrast, sleep disturbances and inadequate sleep have been associated with reduced microbial diversity.
  • Inflammation and Immune Function: Adequate sleep is important for maintaining a balanced immune response and reducing systemic inflammation. Sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality can lead to increased inflammation and impaired immune function. Chronic inflammation and immune dysregulation can impact the gut environment and disrupt the balance of the microbiome.
  • Microbial Metabolism: Sleep may affect the metabolism of the microbiome and the host. Studies have shown that sleep disruption can alter microbial metabolites, the small molecules produced by microorganisms in the gut. These metabolites play a crucial role in various physiological processes, including energy metabolism, immune function, and the regulation of inflammation.

The Consequences of Failing to Get Quality Sleep
When we fail to get enough quality sleep, our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is triggered, raising cortisol levels and ultimately raising our blood pressure. This puts us in a chronic low-level state of stress that, if maintained, will promote chronic inflammation, weakening our immune system, negatively impacting our insulin cycle, and degrading our brain’s capacity to rejuvenate.

How To Get The Sleep Our Body Needs

The most important thing we can do to make sure we are getting the proper amount of quality sleep that our body requires every night is to understand that this is something we must do if we wish to live a healthier, happier, longer life. There is no work around. There is no shortcut. There is no trick or hack.

So what we must do is find a way to accept that we may have to make some sacrifices to our current lifestyle to make sure that we get to sleep earlier rather than later, wake up earlier rather than later, and sleep soundly throughout this time slot. We evolved for this, as with all of our other physiological systems, and fighting it is a losing battle. So how do we do it?

The More Obvious Options
The following strategies offer the most significant benefits for improving the quantity and quality of our sleep:

Moderate, Reduce, or Even Eliminate Caffeine Consumption
Consuming caffeine too close to bedtime can significantly disrupt our ability to fall asleep and have a restful night. The stimulating effects of caffeine can interfere with the natural sleep-promoting processes in our brain. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, which are responsible for promoting sleep and relaxation. By preventing adenosine from binding to these receptors, caffeine keeps us awake and alert.

Moreover, caffeine stimulates the release of other neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, which further enhance wakefulness. These combined effects can make it difficult to wind down and initiate sleep. Additionally, caffeine has a relatively long half-life, meaning it can remain in our system for hours after consumption. Even if we consume caffeine several hours before bedtime, its effects can persist and disrupt our sleep.

Reduce or Eliminate Alcohol Consumption
Reducing alcohol consumption can significantly improve the quality of our sleep. While alcohol is initially sedating and may help us fall asleep faster, its effects on sleep are more complex. Alcohol disrupts the natural sleep cycle and can lead to fragmented and restless sleep. It suppresses REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is important for memory consolidation and cognitive function. Additionally, alcohol relaxes the muscles in the throat, increasing the risk of sleep-disordered breathing, such as snoring and sleep apnea. It also promotes dehydration, which can cause discomfort and disturbances during sleep. Moreover, alcohol can disrupt the production of hormones involved in sleep regulation, such as melatonin, further impacting sleep quality.

Remove Screen Time From The Bedroom
Electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers emit blue light, which can suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. Exposure to blue light in the evening can disrupt our natural circadian rhythm and make it harder to fall asleep.

Furthermore, engaging in stimulating activities like scrolling through social media, playing video games, or watching exciting or suspenseful content can keep our minds active and make it difficult to relax and unwind before bed. It is recommended to establish a screen-free wind-down routine at least an hour before bedtime, engaging in relaxing activities such as reading a book, practicing relaxation techniques, or taking a warm bath. Creating a calm and technology-free environment can help signal to our body and mind that it's time to transition into sleep mode and promote a more restful night's sleep.

Cool Our Sleep Environment
Creating a cool sleep environment can significantly enhance the quality of your sleep. Lowering your brain's temperature by 2 to 3 degrees is essential for initiating sleep, and a cooler room promotes easier sleep onset compared to a warmer one. Additionally, a cool environment facilitates deeper non-REM restorative sleep, allowing you to wake up feeling refreshed.

Taking inspiration from hunter-gatherer tribes, whose sleep patterns align with the natural rise and fall of outside temperatures, consider adjusting your sleep schedule to go to bed approximately 2 hours after dusk and rise an hour before dawn. By optimizing your sleep environment and aligning it with the natural cues of temperature and light, you can promote better sleep and experience the benefits of a well-rested body and mind.

Additional Ideas and Tips For Better Sleep:
  • Establish a Regular Bedtime (Even on Weekends)
  • Avoid Late Naps - If having trouble sleeping at night, avoid napping during the daytime.
  • Never Lie Awake For Too Long - get up and go do something quiet until the urge to sleep returns.
  • Reduce Anxiety-Provoking Thoughts and Worries

A Few More Tips:
  • Take a Hot Bath Before Bedtime - this induces vasodilation where blood rushes to the surface, reducing the core temperature.
  • Keep it dark - Switch off the lights an hour before bedtime.

What Not to Do! - Sleeping Pills
Most Importantly, we must avoid the pharmaceutical approach to “better” sleep at all cost. While we may feel an immediate improvement in our ability to fall asleep, the resulting sleep and the side-effects are far from beneficial and can lead to the following consequences:

Reduced Sleep Quality - Sleeping pills, while they may assist in initiating sleep, often result in reduced sleep quality compared to natural sleep. Sleep induced by sleeping pills may not follow the natural sleep architecture, which consists of distinct stages, including non-REM and REM sleep. Instead, medication-induced sleep may lack the normal progression through these stages, leading to fragmented or disrupted sleep. Additionally, sleeping pills can suppress the amount of time spent in restorative deep NREM and REM sleep, which are essential for physical and mental rejuvenation. As a result, individuals may wake up feeling groggy or unrefreshed despite having slept for an adequate duration.

Daytime Grogginess - Due to a reduction in the quality of sleep while taking sleeping pills, the user may feel compelled to consume more caffeine during the day to regain some alertness. This increased consumption of caffeine leads the user to ingest a higher dose of sleeping pills to offset the caffeine’s effects. This can lead to a downward spiral.

They’re Addictive - Sleeping pills, including sedative-hypnotic medications, can be addictive due to their potential for dependence and abuse. These medications work by altering brain chemistry and inducing drowsiness, making them effective for short-term sleep assistance. However, prolonged or excessive use can lead to tolerance, where higher doses are needed to achieve the same effect. This can create a cycle of increasing reliance on the medication to initiate sleep, ultimately resulting in addiction.

Rebound Insomnia - Refers to a temporary worsening of sleep difficulties that can occur when discontinuing the use of sleep medications. Sleep medications, such as benzodiazepines or non-benzodiazepine sedatives, can be effective in promoting sleep, especially in the short term. However, when these medications are used for an extended period or abruptly discontinued, rebound insomnia may occur.

Worst of All - Early Death - A study of over 10,000 participants conducted by Daniel Kripke, a physician at the University of California at San Diego, found that individuals using prescription sleep medications are significantly more likely to die and develop cancer than those who do not. It was further discovered that the risk of death scaled with frequency of use with heavy users (more than 132 pills per year) being 5.3 times more likely to die than non-users.

One frequent cause of mortality appears to be higher-than-normal rates of infection. Natural sleep is one of the most powerful boosters of the immune system, helping ward off infection. Medication-induced sleep doesn’t seem to offer the same restorative immune benefits as natural sleep.


Spending seven to eight hours in bed can feel extremely unproductive to many of us, but the truth is that those sleeping hours may be the most productive hours of our lives. As Lincoln is claimed to have said - “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I’ll spend five hours sharpening the axe,” Maybe the hours we spend sleeping is our brain sharpening the axe.

The fact that for nearly all of our evolution we have devoted at least a third of our living hours to the rejuvenative, regenerative process of sleeping says volumes about its importance. If we can give ourselves the quality sleep we need, and focus on making our remaining waking hours more productive, it won’t feel like such a waste of time.