Sleep studies have found that quality, not quantity of sleep determines how rested you are. But what is quality sleep and how do we get it?

SeekerPublished: July 10, 2018Updated: July 11, 2018
Published: July 10, 2018Updated: July 11, 2018

Popular opinion is that you get eight hours of sleep, but it might not actually be the number of hours you sleep, but the quality of your sleep that matters.

Scientists aren’t totally sure why we evolved to sleep. When we sleep we’re unconscious to the world, leaving us vulnerable to predators. Yet, every species that has been studied in detail sleeps, so there’s something beneficial to it!  Not sleeping well isn’t just annoying, it’s linked to poor overall health, lack of focus, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of sleep: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Together they encompass the stages of sleep that are vital for feeling rested in the morning. If sleep is cut short we don’t go through all these phases. This can lead to anxiety, depression, fatigue, physical pain, and sleep disorders ranging from insomnia to hypersomnia. 

Bad sleep can even stop us from forming memories. A new study looked at dendrites, branching outgrowths from neurons that carry electrical signals from synapses to the cell body. Activity in dendrites increases during sleep. That increase is linked to short and repetitive brain waves called spindles. These spindles peak at the beginning and end of a non-REM sleep cycle, the latter-end is marked by slow wave activity in the brain. During that peaking you’re in a deep-sleep phase, and without it, your memories suffer.  

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