The Science of Sleep

21 December 2021

Manasseh Franklin

As a species, humans spend a lot of time in bed, one-third of our lives in fact. If the average person lives to 79 years old, that works out to 227,760 hours or 9,490 days. But not all of that sleep is high quality, and poor sleep can have negative impacts across all areas of your life.

Why we need the standard 7-9 nightly hours of shut-eye  is still largely a mystery but research shows that the benefits of sleep are unquestionable. The CDC reports that approximately 70 million people in the US suffer from chronic sleep issues. This can have a huge impact on productivity, mood, general well being, as well as your likelihood to develop a long term illness.

Here, our sleep guide to why good rest matters, how sleeping hot can harm your sleep and five tips to ensure that every night of sleep you get is the best it can be.

Why sleep matters

When it comes to living your best life, sleep is as important as eating. Generally you feel awful if you don’t get enough of either and you feel markedly better when you do. Sleep helps you maintain a healthy immune system, metabolism, mood and productivity. Your body also relies on sleep to literally regenerate body cells and tissues.

Poor sleep, on the other hand, can make you more susceptible to developing chronic illnesses, more forgetful, less able to learn and retain things, and unnecessarily grouchy. Inadequate rest has been associated with depression, obesity and other mood disorders. It also make you age faster, according to Matthew Walker, author of “Why We Sleep: Science of Sleep & Dream,” who writes that a consistent lack of sleep over time ages you by a decade.

Basically, we can think of sleep as an elixir for your overall well-being.

restful sleep

Why hot sleep is bad sleep

If you’ve ever experienced having trouble sleeping on a hot summer night, you’re not alone. The CDC reports that 41% of primary care patients say they experienced night sweats in the last month. Excessive ambient air temperature not only makes it hard to get comfortable, it disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm, which means the sleep you do get is lower quality and often shorter.

Why is sleeping hot such a problem? When we sleep, our bodies naturally cool down, as much as 2 degrees Fahrenheit. The metabolism slows and warmth moves away from your core to your hands and feet. Throughout the night, the body maintains cooler skin temperature. This regulating process is part of the sleep cycle, and when it’s working it enables adequate REM (Rapid Eye Movement) durations. REM is essential for truly restful sleep that allows all the vital functions in your body to recover and ensures you wake refreshed and energized the next day.

Three primary things cause hot sleep: room temperature, the material of your sheets and the clothes you’re wearing. And if you’re sleeping hot, which means your core temperature is elevated beyond where your circadian rhythm naturally reduces it to be, it throws the whole system out of whack. You wake up throughout the night because you’re uncomfortable, and you don’t get adequate REM. You may feel grouchy the next day, have trouble concentrating at work, not know how to fix the problem, go to bed hot and repeat the cycle all over again.

Climate change could make you sleep worse

Climate change may be making the effects of poor sleep more widespread. A 2017 study published in the Science Advances journal compiled data from 765,000 US survey respondents collected during the years from 2002-2011 with nighttime temperature data where survey participants lived. The study found not only that nighttime temps were increasing in those places, but that the increases amplified respondents’ reports of insufficient sleep. The correlation was particularly notable among elderly and low-income participants.

The study was the first of its kind and offers a glimpse into where the future of sleep might be heading. It also highlights the importance of adapting to climate change, especially in the ways we manage our body temperatures.

5 steps to better sleep

Poor sleep doesn’t have to be a nightly default. If you want to ensure you sleep your soundest and perform your best, here are a few places to start.

incense for sleep

Keep your bedroom cool

According to the Sleep Foundation , the optimal temperature for sleep is between 65 and 70 degrees. Keeping your room dark and cool will help your body to engage in the processes it was designed to, and help you sleep better.

Consider your clothes and sheets

If you wear clothes to bed, make sure they’re made of light, breathable fabrics like our CoolLife sleepwear. Avoid nylon and heavy fabrics that block the body’s natural thermoregulation.

Have a ritual

Tips from the CDC’s sleep center include going to bed and waking up at the same time each night and day. This helps your circadian rhythm to stay consistent. Doing certain activities before bed each night, like reading, lighting a candle or doing some gentle yoga stretches can also create cues to let you body know it's time to slow down.

Try soft tunes

Studies have found that listening to music decreases the stress hormone cortisol and releases dopamine, the same chemical released during pleasurable activities like sex and falling in love. Turning on soothing tunes before bed can lower your stress levels, which helps you to fall asleep faster and sleep better. Try our LifeLabs Sleep Playlist for inspiration.

Get some exercise

Not only do the endorphins released during exercise help keep you more alert and focused throughout the day, studies have also shown a positive correlation between a daily exercise routine and sleep quality. Engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate to high intensity movement each week (a mere 20 minutes per day) to reap the benefits.

Life is too short to spend one-third of it sleeping poorly. Start taking steps today to sleep–and perform–your very best.