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Restorative Sleep



Sleep was recognised to be central to good health at least as far back as 400B.C. Hippocrates (circa 460 B.C. to 375 B.C.), the famed Greek physician who set up his hospital on the island of Kos, wrote of the importance of sleep. He noted that a disease was not deadly if sleep was restorative, but if sleep itself was laborious it was a deadly symptom of a serious illness.

Today more people are increasingly aware of how significant restorative sleep can be for physical and mental health.[i] You might have come across terms such as ‘sleep inertia’, ‘sleep hygiene’ or even ‘sleep sanctuary’.

Of course, we all know sleep is how we spend more than 30% of our lives and that on average we all need between 7 and 9 hours sleep a night. But did you know how necessary sleep is for neurological processes and physical restoration? Let’s look at the cycles of sleep and then some of the benefits of getting a restorative night’s sleep.


Cycles of sleep

Throughout the night, you move through different stages of sleep, from shallow sleeping to deep sleeping to periods of sleep characterised by rapid-eye-movement (REM). During light sleep your brain erases information that has accumulated during the day so you can learn more the next day. During deep sleep your brain sorts out all the data that has accumulated during the day (almost like organising notes into lots of different folders). During deep sleep your body also regulates your hormones and renews your body, so without deep sleep, you are more susceptible to illnesses, depression and weight gain.

REM sleep is much more interesting! Each period of REM sleep lasts around 2o or 25 minutes and during this time, the body enters a period of deep stillness and dreams. The body is essentially paralysed (except for your eyes which move rapidly from side to side!) while the brain processes all the data from the day. I is almost like the brain is going through all the folders and connects the information with previously stored information. REM sleep helps our brain understand and during REM sleep our brain makes sense of all the information and the emotions of the day.

This video of Matthew Parker’s recent research on sleep gives a helpful overview of these different stages of sleep. You can also read about circadian rhythms, hormonal rhythms and neurotransmitter rhythms in my last blog on sleep here.


Benefits of sleep

We know that sleep is incredibly important for good health, both physical health and emotional wellbeing. It is also important for the body’s development, resilience and restoration. Here are some of the benefits of sleep:

  1. Complete rest. Sleep is a time of enforced rest and recovery. During REM sleep you are temporarily paralysed and nerve impulses do not travel to your muscles. This ensures complete rest! In fact, because REM sleep is the only time we dream, if neuromuscular junctions were not temporarily interrupted we would be acting out all our dreams!
  1. Realignment of the body. Lying horizontal for 7 to 9 hours each night helps the body to stretch out. Your cartilage and muscles relax and your skeletal system stretches out. This means we all wake up slightly taller! The body also releases growth hormones during sleep and this is especially evident in babies and children who seem to do nothing but sleep and eat and grow rapidly.
  1. Brain health – the brain needs down-time in order to store memories and rest. Sleep consolidates long-term memory, allows the lymphatic system of the brain to clear away toxins quicker and increases our creativity and cognitive capacity. Importantly, cognitive impairments such as short attention-spans, poor working memory and inability to learn and remember can be reverse by sleep.[ii]
  1. Regulation of insulin. Insulin is the hormone responsible for regulating energy in our body and if our fat calls don’t respond to insulin we are susceptible to metabolic disorders such as diabetes. Interestingly, recent studies show that with lack of sleep fat cells lose up to 30 per cent of their ability to respond to insulin. Recent studies demonstrate decreased glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity as a result of insufficient sleep.[iii]


What to do to get restorative sleep

Here are some top tips from recent research to help you think about sleep hygiene and create a sleep sanctuary for your mind and body to heal each night:

  • Make sure your bedding is clean and fresh, and invest in a good quality mattress!
  • Keep work and mobile devices out of the bedroom so you can switch-off completely from the affairs of the day.
  • Avoid TV or bright LED screens an hour or so before bed.
  • Sleep in a dark bedroom – turn off all lights and block out any streetlights. You might find black-out blinds useful!
  • Fall asleep before 11pm and regulate your body’s internal clock by getting up at the same time every day.
  • Resolve any emotional issues and calm your mind before you fall asleep.
  • Since your body temperature needs to drop in order to fall asleep, make sure your house is cool during the night.
  • Avoid stimulants in the evening and restrict coffee to mid-afternoon as it can stay in your system for 6 hours.
  • Avoid alcohol in the evenings -even one glass of wine can alter circadian rhythms and negatively affect sleep.
  • Don’t doo heavy exercise just before you need to go to sleep.
  • Take a hot bath or shower to relax and help your body cool down quicker.
  • Use lavender spray or essential oil to help you calm down and unwind before bed.

Every blessing,



Emma Maitland-Carew – Registered Nutritional Therapist

Dip.ION, mBANT, CHNC Registered Practitioner,

Metabolic Balance® Coach, HeartMath Coach.


[i]Luyster FS, Strollo PJ Jr, Zee PC, Walsh JK, Boards of Directors of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, ‘Sleep: a health imperative’, Sleep, 35(6):727-34, 2012.

[ii] Cirelli, C., & Tononi, G. (2017). ‘The Sleeping Brain’, Cerebrum: the Dana forum on brain science, 7-17, 2017.

[iii] Karine Spiegel, Kristen Knutson, Rachel Leproult, Esra Tasali and Eve Van Cauter, ‘Sleep loss: a novel risk factor for insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes’, Journal of Applied Physiology, 99:2008-2019, 2005.

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