The Science of Sleep Revealed by World Expert, Dr David Burton
We all know that “getting a good night’s sleep is important”. And while most of us will agree that we are more alert, less irritable and more motivated after a good night’s sleep, not all of us understand the scientific reasons behind why our mental wellness and overall fitness suffer when we don’t make sleep a priority.
This week is Sleep Awareness Week (5-11 August), and to help us get a understand how to get a good night’s sleep, brain and sleep monitoring expert, Dr David Burton, explains the science behind why quality sleep is essential for mental and physical wellness and what we can do to improve our sleep health.
When we sleep, our brain moves through a continuous cycle. This cycle is made up of five stages, each of which plays a role in our body and mind’s ability to recover and recharge. These five stages include non-REM (NREM), which is a four-phase process that we go through before entering the fifth sleep stage, rapid eye movement (REM). An adult with good sleep health has around five REM cycles each night.
During NREM, brain waves slow down and, as we enter into deep sleep (the last two phases of NREM), the body rests, recovers and repairs, and our immune health and energy levels are recharged. When the sleep cycle reaches REM, our brain becomes more active. It’s during this stage that we dream, and it’s when our memories are processed and organised.
What happens if we don’t have “good sleep health”?
According to Dr Burton, “When we have not had restorative sleep, our brain is unable to perform at an optimal level. Due to a lack of NREM and REM, our physical, mental and emotional health is compromised as our brain, muscles, nerves, neurons and complex internal systems are slow to respond and unable to function or perform well.”
“When we are sleep deprived, the neural connections used to form and consolidate memories throughout the sleep cycle, particularly during REM, are not able to fully develop and strengthen.”
Difficulties in learning, memory, perception, maintaining focus and motivation, and coping with stressors, are all consequences of poor sleep health.
Long term, the Australasian Epidemiological Association has identified that poor quality sleep leads to a “greater risk of cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension, stroke, heart attack and arrhythmias; the prevalence of obesity and diabetes in increased; there is a greater risk of dementia and more rapid progression of the disease; and the prevalence of some cancers may be increased.”
How do we know if we are getting good quality sleep?
“Sleep, nutrition and exercise are known as the three pillars of health, and in order to maintain optimum mental and physical wellness, we need all three pillars to be fortified,” says Dr Burton.
When we have noticeable deterioration in our memory, energy, motivation or mood, we may use the three pillars of health as an initial guide to determine why we are experiencing these physical, mental and emotional changes. Have we been eating well or poorly? Have we moved too little or too much? Have we had poor quality or good quality sleep?
But it can be difficult to know what kind of quality sleep we are having or if we have gone through enough REM sleep cycles in order to function at our best, especially if we think we are getting a reasonable number of hours of sleep.
Some people may look to smart technology, such as smart phone apps and smart watches, which have been developed to loosely analyse activity and movement data collected while the user sleeps.
Dr Burton warns however, that while smart technology can monitor general cardiovascular and respiratory movements by capturing the users’ basic pulse and breathing data, “True-sleep monitoring requires the accurate monitoring of the brain, muscle tone and eye movements.
“This scientific monitoring includes measuring quality rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is essential for brain recovery and a healthy mental state and, deep-sleep, which is crucial to body recovery and an essential precursor to physical fitness or training.”
Speaking to your GP and being referred for an overnight sleep study will allow you to have your sleep accurately monitored and assessed. For people with sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy, conditions that can seriously inhibit someone’s quality of life, a sleep study, assessment and medical treatment is essential.
How can we improve our sleep health?
There are some basic things you can do to help keep your sleep pillar standing strong:
- Develop a bedtime routine that includes 30 minutes of screen-free time before bed.
- Minimise night-time disruptions such as light and noise. Darken the room, turn off your phone, and keep the bedroom environment conducive for sleeping with a comfortable temperature and minimal sound disturbance.
- Avoid drinking alcohol before sleep as it can affect the time it takes to enter that important REM stage of sleep.
- Ideally, adults should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep.
- And, of course, if you are unsure and think you may have a medical condition or serious sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, speak to your doctor in order to get a correct diagnosis, treatment and support.
For further information please contact:
Rod North, Managing Director,
Bourse Communications Pty Ltd
T: (03) 9510 8309, M: 0408 670 706,
E: [email protected]
Compumedics Limited (ASX: CMP) is a medical device company involved in the development, manufacture and commercialisation of diagnostics technology for the sleep, brain and ultrasonic blood-flow monitoring applications. The Company owns US based Neuroscan and Germany based DWL Elektronishe GmbH. In conjunction with these two subsidiaries, Compumedics has a broad international reach, including Americas; Australia and Asia Pacific; and Europe and the Middle East.
Executive Chairman, Dr David Burton, founded Compumedics in 1987. In the same year the Company successfully designed and installed the first Australian, fully computerised Sleep Clinic at Epworth Hospital in Melbourne. Following this early success, Compumedics focused on the development of products that sold into the growing international sleep clinic and home monitoring markets.
Compumedics listed on the Australian Securities Exchange in 2000. Over the years, Compumedics has received numerous awards and accolades including Australia’s exporter of the year and has been recognised as a Top 100 Innovator by the both German and Australian Governments.
 Australasian Sleep Association, Submission 118, p. 2