Not all sleep is restorative – what you need to know to improve your rest


If you wake up this morning feeling rested and refreshed, you are probably having what is called restful sleep.

Simply put, restful sleep occurs when brain activity during sleep helps restore your body and mind, essentially resetting you for another day of activity.

Experts continue to study the sleep process, but they have discovered evidence to suggest that your body and brain accomplish a lot during sleep, including muscle repair, protein synthesis, and tissue growth.

Not getting enough restful 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 give you more information on what happens when you’re not getting enough restful sleep, along with tips for getting quality sleep.

Only the last two stages of sleep, deep sleep and 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 bones and muscles, and strengthens the immune system,” says Avena.

REM sleep, the stage you typically dream of, is essential for learning, memory, and cognition.

Sleep is not restorative when you wake up without feeling refreshed despite the recommended number of hours of sleep.

Avena explains that while feeling a little tired every now and then is normal, regularly feeling so tired that you can’t concentrate or fall asleep at your desk is not.

Conditions that can cause unresponsive sleep include:

Keep in mind, however, that when you’re struggling to get quality sleep that leaves you feeling refreshed, the underlying health issues aren’t necessarily to blame.

Life stressors can also negatively impact your ability to get a good night’s sleep, as can poor sleep hygiene, Avena notes. Both can contribute to non-restful sleep.

Other things that can disrupt your regular sleep cycle include:

Not getting enough restful sleep can affect your health in a number of ways.

Short-term consequences include:

  • difficulty getting through the day without dozing off
  • memory problem
  • concentration and concentration problems

Over time, poor sleep can also be a factor in chronic diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Regular, non-restful sleep can even affect mental health and contribute to depression and other mental health issues, Avena explains.

In addition, a Study 2020 involving 2,827 Chinese adolescents suggested a link between lack of restful sleep and poorer quality of life.

Adults should get at least 7 hours of sleep per night, ideally going through 4 to 5 sleep cycles. And newborns need 14 to 17 hours of sleep a night, Avena says.

Here’s how to calculate how much sleep you need.

As you get older, your chances of developing a sleep disorder or getting poorer quality sleep tend to increase.

Research suggests that as you get older, you’re more likely to develop conditions or experience stressors that lead to trouble sleeping, which may, in turn, reduce the time you spend in deep or REM sleep.

If you’ve ever had trouble falling asleep, you probably know that falling asleep and staying asleep for the perfect 8 hours is usually a lot more complicated than it looks.

Still, a few small changes can make it easier for you to get the amount of restful sleep you need on a regular basis.

Improve your sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene doesn’t mean taking a shower before bed, but if that’s what helps you fall asleep, go for it.

Rather, sleep hygiene refers to habits that contribute to quality sleep.

Stress relief

Have you ever found yourself awake worrying about issues that were cropping up during the day or challenges that tomorrow has yet to reveal?

You’re not in the least alone: ​​Stress is common, and high levels of stress can negatively impact your sleep.

You may not be able to completely eliminate all sources of stress from your life, but finding ways to manage stress better can go a long way in helping you get more restful sleep.

Some adaptation strategies to consider:

Get more tips for dealing with stress.

Practice good personal care

Taking care of your physical health can also lead to better sleep.

Avena recommends:

Melatonin supplements could also help you fall asleep faster and potentially sleep better when taken at the right time. It’s always a good idea to ask your doctor before trying melatonin. They can offer more advice on whether this is right for you.

“Everyone feels tired sometimes, but excessive sleepiness is not normal,” says Avena.

It is not always possible to deal with sleep problems on your own, especially when you have a sleep disorder.

So if you’ve ever tried a perfectly relaxing before bed routine and still have trouble falling asleep – and staying awake during the day – maybe it’s time to consider professional support.

Connecting with your primary care doctor or sleep specialist becomes even more important when you:

  • dozing involuntarily throughout the day
  • have difficulty remembering things or concentrating on tasks
  • struggle to fall asleep
  • can’t stay asleep
  • snore loudly
  • feeling involuntary movements of the legs during sleep
  • notice symptoms of depression

Avena also recommends seeing a sleep specialist if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or lung disease. These conditions can sometimes result from sleep apnea, a treatable but serious condition where you temporarily stop breathing while sleeping.

Preparing for your appointment

Before meeting with a sleep specialist, Avena recommends making a list of your symptoms, along with any questions you have. So you won’t forget anything you want to discuss with your doctor during the appointment.

It’s also worth keeping a sleep diary about a week before your appointment. This diary can give your doctor more information about your sleep patterns.

Difficulty getting regular restful sleep can occur as a symptom of sleep disturbances or other health issues.

If restful sleep escapes you on a regular basis, 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 for better sleep right now.


Steph Coelho is a freelance writer with chronic migraine with a particular interest in health and wellness. When she’s not clicking on her keyboard, she probably has her nose in a good book.


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