Sleep part 1/3: What is it and why do we need it?

Sleep one


Expanded Bonus Chapter of The DODO Diet: Sleep Pt 1

In the book we quickly went through the why’s what’s and how’s of sleep and getting more of it. Here’s something the original draft, much expanded, version of that chapter, starting with pt1 the background to the issue. 

We all know that sleep is good for us, the effects of one night’s bad sleep will tell you that. What few people understand is how good for you it is. People who miss out of a little sleep perform in tasks the next day no better than drunks, we also know that those chronically deprived of sleep have much higher incidence of cancer, diabetes, heart disease. In fact considering that unlike exercise or good diet you don’t have to do anything other than lie there, why do we give it so little emphasis?

Most of us want more, but we never seem to get it. We enjoy it, but never make more time for it. We desire the results it brings, but we never make it a priority. One way to change this is by realising the cost of chronic lack of sleep and in this way no health and fitness book is complete without a discussion on sleep. Sleep effects who we are, from our personalities to the workings of our bodies, and what’s more sleeping better or longer can trigger weight loss all by itself.

Think about that for a second, by literally doing nothing you can make your weight-loss easier and quicker as well as improving a range of different pieces of the health puzzle. How is this possible? The magic is to found in the very workings of sleep, and why you need it every day.

Everything we’ve talked about so far in this book has been about getting your immediate goals sorted, but with the pay-off of getting some really nice long term health benefits into the bargain. Sleep is no different. Your short term goal is to get leaner quicker and more easily, my longer term goals for you is to stick around longer and in better shape to enjoy it.

We’re both winners – if we concentrate on the right things and make it easy to do long term.

In this chapter we’ll cover

  • Why sleep is important
  • The improvements you can see and feel with better sleep – long and short term
  • How to get more sleep
  • How to get better quality sleep
  • Tips and tricks to get you more and better sleep in minutes
  • Tools and apps for further tinkering if you should want to

Sleep: The mysterious healer.

There’s an intrinsic problem when thinking about sleep of course, you don’t consciously experience the vast majority of it. Apart from a few quickly fading memories of a dream there’s not much to go on. In fact the only time we have any idea about sleep is when you have had a particularly bad (or good) night’s sleep. You wake up groggy (or refreshed), crawling to the coffee pot (or ready to tackle the world), but with absolutely no idea of actually why you feel like this. Without experiencing the actual process you can only feel the after effects. Problem is we tend to prioritize positive things we experience and that’s one of the reasons why we’ll take the reward of TV now over a notional ‘good night’s sleep’. Again discipline is called into action,… discipline or habit, that is (for more on which is more useful check out the habits chapter).

The science of sleep has really come in the last 40 years as we have improved our ability to monitor what is happening in the brain and body. Science has also looked at the connection between sleep deprivation and health, monitoring relatively short periods of poor sleep on unfortunate volunteers in the lab. Another, probably more critical stand of research is looking at the correlations between sleep patterns in shift workers and night workers and their long term health, and the results have been pretty eye opening.

While most still think of sleep in terms of what is going on in their head it is much more than that. Yes, have a bad night and you’ll feel the effects on the brain first, muddled thinking, lack of ability to concentrate and so on. However get several in a row and effects start to impact your body as well, it’s a creeping and pervasive thing slowly wrecking your health, and physique. Of course with any stress – and poor sleep is a stress – the poison is in the dose and the longer the issue goes on then the worse the potential for problems gets. This is important because many of us lead lifestyles that don’t emphasize sleep; a social life, kids, shift work, all impinge on sleep. And then of course there’s the social conditioning, the attitude “I’ll sleep when I am dead”, the problem is, with that mind-set the evidence is clear: that point may be sooner than you think.

So what is this mysterious and incredibly important process anyway?

Circadian Rhythm

The first thing to realise is that sleep fits into a wider picture: the daily, or ‘circadian’ rhythm.

Circadian rhythm and sleep

An how circadian rhythm and sleep fit together.

 You might think your day is mapped out by your conscious brain, and social factors but peel that back and you find that the way our body’s work is  locked into a daily cycle that has all sorts of effects upon us. Swings in the production and circling hormones in the blood, changes in physiological function and so on.

For example in the late evening cortisol is low, and it rises towards the morning and is in part responsible for our waking. Melatonin on the other hand is low all day and rises in the evening and night, this is the signal for sleep.

Sleep and Hormones

The daily pattern of hormone release


The effects don’t end there, our skills and behaviours are also effected. Muscle strength and cardiovascular efficiency is highest for most in evening from about 5-8pm. Our short term memory and ability to concentrate is at it’s best in the late morning and around lunch. When you look at the cyclical nature of many of the functions we take fro granted you start to realise the far reaching effects of circadian rhythm, and given that one governing factor of this, that keeps the rhythm on track is sleep the potential for consequences if you mess with your sleep. This lovely little graphic from  YassineMrabet spells it out …


What is also interesting is that the symptoms of disease also seem to have definite patterns, asthma is worse in the morning than the afternoon, stroke in the early mornings and heart attacks increasing through the mornings and dropping off again in the afternoon. With all the effects upon our physiology the problems with have with our health are also felt in a cyclical manner to.

This daily rhythm is governed by an internal clock but it is adjusted daily by the environment around us, in particular the daily light/dark cycles of the day. This clock is really composed of the RNA and proteins and the interplay of rising and falling levels of certain proteins switching off and on the genes that make them acts as a kink of flywheel or governor setting the pace of the tic-toc.

Sleep itself

The process: sleep isn’t one continuous thing homogeneous process, there’s phases or ‘cycles’ in the sleep process with stages of deeper and lighter sleep – which is important to understand especially if you’re one of the many that wake in the night and are worried about what this means for your sleep quality, but more on that later.

Each of these different flavours of sleep have their own distinct things going on and effects of the body and brain, the stages of sleep are usually described like this:

Stage one: NREM stage 1 – this is the initial stage as you fall asleep.
Stage two: NREM stage 2
Stage three: MREM stage 3
Stage four: REM

In stages one to three you gradually become more deeply sleep, and as you transition from one stage to the next defined changes in the level and type of activity in the brain can be seen. Finally you enter REM sleep where the body is paralysed as the brain ‘disconnects’ from the body. This is necessary because the type of activity seen in the brain is very much like of the awake brain.

These stages are repeated through the night 2 or more times as you transition from periods of near waking to very deep sleep. Generally you find that the latter NREM stages and the REM stage are the ones repeated most often as these phases are away from initial onset of sleep.

The more we learn about sleep the more we understand why it is so vital, and this is a quick overview of sleep and the types of problems associated with poor sleep. In PART TWO we’ll look at what can alter sleep and what you can do to get more and better sleep.

Drew Price is a Registered Nutritionist and the author of The DODO Diet, a practical guide to tailoring intermittent fasting to your needs be it fat loss, better health or lean muscle and performance gains.

Posted in Uncategorized
  1. I'm available for lectures, book signings, clinical and advisory work. If you have questions about the DoDo Diet please use the comments or social media so everyone can benefit.