The Importance of a Good Night's Sleep

21st April 2022

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The Importance of a Good Night's Sleep

Sleep allows our brain and body to rest, recover, and prepare itself for the coming day. We spend about a third of our lives asleep. So, what happens when we sleep? And how can we improve it?

Sleep and the brain

During sleep, your brain cycles through four stages:

This cycle (1-4) repeats multiple times, and each stage plays an important role in maintaining overall cognitive performance. While stage 1 and 2 NREM are lighter stages of sleep, these prepare your brain and body for the restorative action of the deeper stages: stage 3 NREM and REM.

Why is sleep so important?

Learning and memory

When we sleep, our brains re-play what happened during the day, sifting through information to select what is important (stored in long-term memory) and what is not (discarded or forgotten). Stage 3 NREM is particularly important for the consolidation of declarative (e.g., facts, places, events) and procedural (e.g., skills, actions) memories. That’s why it’s so important to get a good night’s sleep when you’re revising or learning a new skill.

Mood and emotion

Sleep is also important for emotion processing and regulation. When something happens during the day that triggers high emotion (e.g., anger, sadness, excitement), your brain processes that emotion alongside the memory. Over consecutive nights of emotion processing in REM sleep, your brain removes the emotion from the memory, contextualising the event so that it is properly packaged and stored in your brain. This allows you to remember an event without it triggering the same intense emotions. If you don’t get enough REM sleep, you may feel emotionally reactive (e.g., irritable, sad) which can have a significant effect on your mood and ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

How to build good sleep hygiene

Good quality sleep is vital for both physical and mental health. It is therefore important to practice good sleep hygiene, tailoring your environment and routine to promote sleep each and every night.

Here are some suggested tips which can be tailored to your circumstances:

1. Keep a regular sleep schedule. Our brains learn from our behaviours and the world around us. When we build good sleep habits, positive behaviours become automatic, allowing you to sleep well consistently.

2. Wind down before bed.

3. Build good daily habits. What we do during the day influences our circadian rhythms which guide our brain’s expectations of behaviour (e.g., eating, waking, sleeping).

4. Optimise your environment. Try and create a bedroom environment that facilitates relaxation and is free from distractions.

Our January article provides useful tips for building good habits. It can take time, but a good routine can work wonders for your sleep. In turn, improving your cognitive, physical, and emotional wellbeing.

Further information

Podcasts, documentaries, and websites:
Further reading:

Article date 21st April 2022

Article written by Imogen Clifford, Assistant Psychologist, Bristol CBT Clinic