The important role of sleep in resilience and neural adaption

Question: I know a good night’s sleep helps me cope with life better but what does sleep do specifically to help me feel more resilient?

Answer: Sleep plays a crucial role in building and maintaining resilience, both mentally and physically. One must also understand the process of neural adaption and how to rebalance the brain to bring back a state of relaxation. Let’s look into both of these important processes here.

Sleeping when we are stressed can be very difficult due to a process which is called 'neural adaption'. With prolonged stress our ability to cope is compromised because the amygdala, our brain's 'fear' or 'survival' centre becomes overactive, making us hyper-alert. At the same time, the pre-frontal cortex which is responsible for impulse control and decision-making becomes less active. Our fear is elevated and our ability to ascertain real danger from perceived danger is switched off and our ability to make good decisions is compromised. This further exacerbates the stress response.

Our minds cannot think of creative solutions to fix our business or personal problems when they are literally in survival mode. So the first step is to switch off this stress response and rewire the brain, calm down the amygdala and rebalance pre-frontal cortex activity.

So how do we do this?

1. Daytime relaxation techniques are powerful. Breathing apps and free videos are available on YouTube. Set reminders on your phone to go off each hour. Stop and do ten deep breaths.

2. Prioritise your quality of sleep and the amount of sleep you are providing your body.

There are five different ways sleep contributes to resilience.

1. Physical health: Great quality and adequate quantity of sleep is vital for the body's repair processes. During sleep, the body releases a growth hormone which enables muscle growth, tissue repair and hormone regulation. This restoration is essential for maintaining physical strength and stamina in the face of stress.

2. Emotional regulation: We need to support our bodies with the full phases of sleep from light to deep to REM sleep, in order to take advantage of the emotional processing of life that occurs during sleep. Lack of processing during sleep can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, anger management issues, irritability, increased perception of stress, mood swings and changes in behaviour. Healthy sleep enhances wellbeing and stabilises emotions, allowing for more adaptive coping strategies.

3. Cognitive function: Sleep is essential for all cognitive processes including memory, attention, decision-making and problem-solving. These abilities are crucial when navigating challenges and stressors, making effective decision-making possible even under pressure. Well-rested individuals perform better in complex tasks and make more reasoned decisions.

4. Stress response: Proper sleep can help maintain our body clock or circadian rhythm, and also balance our stress hormones such as cortisol, which not only helps manage stress but also supports other physiological functions like our digestion, energy and immune response. High cortisol levels, often exacerbated by lack of sleep, can lead to neural adaption (hyperalert state) and various health issues, including impaired immune function and chronic fatigue.

5. Resilience to mental health challenges: There is a strong link between sleep and mental health. Chronic sleep issues can increase the vulnerability to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. Conversely, good sleep has been shown to improve mental health.

SleepDrops, New Zealand’s number one selling sleep support supplements for nearly 15 years in a row, offer truly expert sleep support products which you can combine to create a programme to perfectly suit your needs. Reach out to us today

Kirsten Taylor
Naturopathic Sleep Specialist, Managing Director, Founder
SleepDrops® International Ltd
09 418 0479 ext 1