If you woke up this morning feeling rested and refreshed, you probably got what’s called restorative sleep.
In basic terms, restorative sleep happens when brain activity during sleep helps restore your body and mind, essentially resetting you for another day of activity.
Experts continue to study the process of sleep, but they’ve found
Not getting enough restorative sleep can affect your health, not to mention your ability to function during the day.
Learn more about the importance of sleep.
Below, we’ll offer more insight on what happens when you don’t get enough restorative sleep, plus tips on getting quality shut-eye.
Only the last two stages of sleep, deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, are considered restorative, explains Dr. Nicole Avena, assistant professor of neuroscience at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
“During deep sleep, the body repairs and regrows tissue, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system,” says Avena.
REM sleep, the stage where you typically dream, is essential for learning, memory, and cognition.
Sleep is non-restorative when you wake up feeling unrefreshed despite having slept the recommended number of hours.
Avena explains that while feeling a little tired from time to time is normal, regularly feeling so tired you can’t focus or find yourself falling asleep at your desk is not.
Conditions that can cause non-restorative sleep include:
Keep in mind, though, that when you have trouble getting the quality sleep that leaves you feeling refreshed, underlying health concerns aren’t necessarily to blame.
Life stressors can also negatively impact your ability to get a good night’s rest, as can poor sleep hygiene, Avena notes. Both can contribute to non-restorative sleep.
Other things that can disrupt your regular sleep cycle include:
- shift work
- jet lag
- having young children
- providing regular care for someone with an illness
- chronic pain
- certain medications
Not getting enough restorative sleep can affect your health in a variety of ways.
Short-term consequences include:
- difficulty getting through the day without dozing off
- trouble with memory
- problems with concentration and focus
Over time, poor sleep can can also factor into chronic conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Regular non-restorative sleep can even affect mental health and contribute to depression and other mental health conditions, explains Avena.
Additionally, one 2020 study involving 2,827 Chinese teens suggested a link between not getting enough restorative sleep and lower quality of life.
Adults should be getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night, ideally going through 4 to 5 sleep cycles. And newborns need a whopping 14 to 17 hours of sleep a night, says Avena.
Here’s how to calculate how much sleep you need.
As you get older, your chances of developing a sleep disorder or experiencing poorer quality sleep tend to increase.
Research suggests that as you age, you’re more likely to develop conditions or experience stressors that lead to sleep troubles, which can, in turn, decrease the time you spend in deep or REM sleep.
If you’ve ever struggled to fall asleep, you’re probably aware that dozing off and staying asleep for the perfect 8 hours is usually a lot more complicated than it sounds.
Still, a few small changes can make it easier to get the amount of restorative sleep you need on a regular basis.
Improve your sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene doesn’t mean showering before bed — though if that’s what helps you fall asleep, go for it.
Rather, sleep hygiene refers to habits that contribute to quality sleep.
Improving sleep hygiene
- keeping a consistent sleep schedule
- maintaining a sleep environment that promotes a good night’s sleep — for example, keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and on the cooler side
- leaving your computer, phone, and other screens outside of the bedroom
- sticking to smaller meals or light snacks before bed
- avoiding caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine in the hours before bedtime
Ever found yourself lying awake, worrying about problems that popped up during the day, or the challenges tomorrow has yet to reveal?
You’re not alone in the least — stress is common, and high levels of stress can have a negative impact on your sleep.
You may not be able to completely cut all sources of stress from your life, but finding ways to better manage stress can go a long way toward helping you get more restorative sleep.
A few coping strategies to consider:
Get more tips to cope with stress.
Practice good self-care
Taking care of your physical health can also lead to better sleep.
- getting regular exercise
- staying hydrated
- eating a balanced diet
Melatonin supplements could also help you fall asleep faster and potentially get better sleep when taken at the correct time. It’s always a good idea to ask your doctor before trying melatonin. They can offer more guidance on whether it’s right for you.
“Everybody feels tired sometimes, but excessive sleepiness isn’t normal,” says Avena.
It’s not always possible to address sleep problems yourself, especially when you have a sleep disorder.
So, if you’ve already tried a perfectly relaxing pre-bedtime routine and still have trouble falling asleep — and staying awake during the day — it may be time to consider professional support.
Connecting with your primary care physician or a sleep specialist becomes even more important when you:
- doze off involuntarily throughout the day
- have problems remembering things or concentrating on tasks
- struggle to fall asleep
- can’t stay asleep
- snore loudly
- experience involuntary leg movements while sleeping
- notice symptoms of depression
Avena also recommends connecting with a sleep specialist if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or lung disease. These conditions may sometimes result from sleep apnea, a treatable but serious condition where you temporarily stop breathing during sleep.
Preparing for your appointment
Before meeting with a sleep specialist, Avena recommends writing out a list of your symptoms, plus any questions you have. That way, you won’t forget anything you want to bring up with your doctor during the appointment.
It’s also worth keeping a sleep diary in the week or so before your appointment. This log can give your doctor more information about your sleep patterns.
Trouble getting restful sleep on a regular basis can happen as a symptom of sleep disorders or other health conditions.
If restorative sleep regularly evades you, seeking professional sleep support is a good next step.
Quality sleep doesn’t have to be the stuff of dreams. You can try these 17 tips to sleep better right now.
Steph Coelho is a freelance writer with chronic migraine who has a particular interest in health and wellness. When she’s not click-clacking away on her keyboard, she’s probably nose-deep in a good book.