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What Is Restorative Sleep (And How Do You Know If You’re Getting It)?

Updated: Apr 15

Sleep is so important for every aspect of your health. In fact, I sometimes refer to good sleep as a superpower. Whether it’s your skin health, your mental health, your cognitive abilities, even your longevity – getting enough sleep will make it better! This is an aspect of health that you truly can’t afford to ignore.

How much sleep you’re getting is definitely important. But not all sleep is created equal. To get the many benefits that sleep can offer, you’ll need to make sure that you’re getting high-quality restorative sleep. Unfortunately, this is one of those absolutely crucial factors that mainstream medicine almost always overlooks.

But what does this mean? How do you know if your sleep is restorative?

The Stages of Sleep

To understand what “restorative” sleep is, we first need to understand the different stages of sleep. Sleep is actually more complicated than a lot of people realize.

Sleep is divided into two main stages: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. NREM sleep is further divided into three stages: N1, N2, and N3.

Stage N1 is the lightest stage of sleep and occurs when you first fall asleep. In this stage, the body begins to relax, and brain activity slows down. This is sometimes known as “stage 1 sleep.”

Stage N2 is a deeper stage of sleep, and the body becomes even more relaxed. Brain waves slow down further, and the body temperature drops. This is sometimes known as “stage 2 sleep.”

Stage N3 is the deepest stage of sleep and is also known as slow-wave sleep (SWS). It is during this stage that the body repairs and rejuvenates itself. Blood pressure drops, heart rate slows down, and breathing becomes slower and more regular. This is sometimes known as “deep sleep.”

REM sleep is the stage of sleep where we experience vivid dreams. It is during this stage that the brain consolidates memories and processes emotions.

What makes sleep restorative?

The two most important parts of the sleep cycle are stage N3 (deep sleep) and REM sleep. Deep sleep is particularly important for the body, while REM sleep is particularly important for the brain. If you want to have optimal health (including skin health), then you need to make sure that you’re getting plenty of both of those. That’s what we refer to as “restorative sleep” – when you get plenty of deep sleep and REM sleep during the night.

There’s a predictable pattern to a night of sleep. When you first fall asleep, you go through stage 1 and then stage 2. You then fall into deep sleep for a while. After that, you head into REM sleep, spending a little time back in stage 2 on the way. This whole process is known as a “sleep cycle.” It takes about 90 minutes to get through one sleep cycle. 

Whenever your sleep is interrupted, then you come all the way to wakefulness. You’ll then need to pass back through stages 1 and 2 in order to get back into deep sleep and later REM sleep. If you get woken up repeatedly during the night, then you end up spending a lot of the night in the lighter stages of sleep. You won’t get the deep sleep and REM sleep that you need, even if you’re spending the recommended 7 to 9 hours in bed. 

Keep in mind that people don’t always remember every nighttime awakening in the morning. In fact, for people who experience a lot of awakenings every night, many of them don’t remember any of those awakenings when they get up the next day. They just know that they don’t feel fully rested. Their sleep wasn’t restorative.

How do you know if your sleep is restorative?

If your sleep isn’t restorative, then the effects are similar to what would happen if you just didn’t spend enough time sleeping at all. You may find it difficult to concentrate. Your mood may suffer. Your immune function will be impaired. Skin flares and other health issues become much more likely. Basically, you’ll miss out on the huge number of benefits that sleep offers.

There are basically two ways to know whether your sleep is restorative. One way is to invest in a sleep tracker. The most accurate type is worn on your head, so it can detect your brain waves. This can let you know precisely how much time you’re spending in each stage of sleep. However, this type of sleep tracker is very expensive, and not everyone needs or wants to invest in this.

There are also sleep trackers that are worn on your wrist or that sit in your bed. These rely on movement to track your sleep. This type of sleep tracker is much less expensive than the type that measures brain waves. However, because they’re not actually detecting your brain waves, these sleep trackers provide more of an estimate than a true measurement of your sleep. In addition, if you have another person or a pet in your bed at night, their movements can be detected by the sleep tracker too, making it much less accurate.

The simplest way to figure out whether your sleep is restorative is to track how you feel. This can be done using a journal or notebook, or using an app on your phone. When you go to bed, you write down what time you’re going to sleep. You could also track things like what you did during your bedtime routine that night. When you wake up in the morning, write down what time you woke up, how well you think you slept, and how you feel. If you remember waking up during the night, you could note that down as well. You could even track how you feel during the day – when you get to the middle of the day, do you feel tired? Are you able to concentrate? How’s your mood? 

After a couple of weeks of tracking your sleep, you’ll get a pretty good sense of how restorative your sleep is. If you feel great during the day, then you’re most likely getting plenty of restorative sleep. If you’re only sleeping for 6 hours a night and you don’t feel great, then the problem is likely that you’re not sleeping enough. However, if you’re sleeping for 8 or more hours a night and you still don’t feel great, then your sleep is probably not restorative.

Sleeping well for skin health

If you’re dealing with a chronic skin condition, then sleeping enough is super important for preventing flares and supporting the health of your skin. It’s also important for your mood and your physical health. Restorative sleep is a superpower, so you definitely want to make sure you’re getting enough of it!

For the next two weeks (or longer if you’d like), try tracking your sleep. Once you’ve collected enough data, look for patterns. Does it seem like you’re getting the restorative sleep that you need? Or is this an area that you might want to work on?

If you discover that your sleep isn’t restorative, there are lots of ways to help make it better. We have a whole module on this inside Mind Gut Skin Academy’s core course. You’ll also have access to a beautiful community of like-minded Skin Warrior women, who can give you their tips and advice on what worked for them to improve their sleep, and also keep you motivated along your skin health journey. Head over here to learn more or to save your spot.

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