5 Ways that Sleep Makes You Faster, Better, and Stronger

The Science Behind Tired Fails.


We’ve all been there. You have one bad sleep or a few mediocre sleeps, and suddenly life gets a little harder. Your kids seem whinier than usual. That problem at work feels unsolvable. A morning run is totally out of the question. And where did you put your cellphone charger? These performance hiccups are what we call tired fails.

A #tiredfail is something that happens when you’re sleep deprived – it’s when you do something you’d never do if you were well rested. It’s when you’re so foggy headed from being tired that even the simplest tasks feel like Everest, and you can’t even begin to remember where put your hiking boots. Have you seen that viral video of the lady who fell into the fountain staring at her phone, totally oblivious to the world around her? That looks like a #tiredfail. Or the guy who painted himself into a corner — definitely a #tiredfail.

Tired fails aren’t always so obvious. The CBC reported that 60% of Canadians feel tired all the time, and that 30% of Canadian adults get fewer than six hours of sleep a night.[1]This is proven to have real world consequences on every day performance.

When you break down the benefits sleep has on our mental and physical performance, that strange and unusual behaviour seen in tired fails isn’t that strange at all. Here are 5 ways getting better sleep can enhance your everyday performance and help prevent tired fails.

Sleep sharpens focus.


Your brain has about 100 billions of brain cells that produce waste with every task and function they perform.

The longer you’re awake, the more waste accumulates.

One of the most critical functions of sleep is removing this waste. Researchers recently discovered that the brain has its own cleaning system – the glymphatic system. When you’re sleeping, it flows in like a wave and removes the build-up of toxic debris. When you’re asleep, your brain cells shrink by about 60%, allowing the wave to flow through freely and making the cleaning process ten times more effective when you’re asleep than when you’re awake.[2]

The longer you go without sleep, the more waste accumulates and the “foggier” your brain feels, making it difficult to focus on the task at hand.

Sleep improves memory and learning.


A study at the University of Exeter in the UK found that sleep almost doubles your chances of remembering previously unrecalled material, validating the theory that memory sharpens overnight.[3] If you’re staying up late cramming for an exam or “perfecting” a work presentation, your chances of retaining that information is much lower with less sleep.

The National Sleep Foundation offers an explanation on how sleep improves memory. It essentially comes down to two things:

  1. Sleep puts you in the right frame of mind to take in new information during the day;

  3. Sleep triggers changes in the brain that strengthen connections between brain cells, improving the flow of information from one part of the brain to another, such as from intake to long-term memory.


According to the National Sleep Foundation, scientists believe that memories are shifted to the intake part of our brain to more efficient and permanent brain regions, improving recall and retention the next day and beyond. Researchers tested this theory by teaching test subjects new skills like piano scales and then scanning their brains after a period with or without sleep. Those with sleep were better able to recall the scales and play them with greater speed and accuracy.[4]

Sleep makes you nicer.


Going a few nights without great sleep can turn even the nicest person into a morning monster.

In addition to feeling tired and lethargic, sleep deprivation impairs your brain’s ability to discern real threats from perceived ones. The amygdala is your brain’s emotional control center. MRIs have shown that getting less sleep over-activates the amygdala and skips over the prefrontal cortex.[5] When your emotions aren’t regulated by logic, you’re far more likely to be short, harsh, and moody.

Here’s a little more science that shows how sleep can improve your mood – a recent study found that after 24 hours, sleep deprivation reduces glucose production in the brain by 6%. Your brain needs glucose to perform at its best. The drop in the prefrontal cortex and parietal lobe was even greater – 12-14%.[6] These parts of the brain help you read facial expressions, understand social dynamics, and tell the difference between right and wrong.

Sleep deprivation makes it more difficult to regulate your own emotions and read the emotions of others. Maybe the real secret to good relationships is sleep.

Sleep gives you energy.


Okay, this one is obvious. That’s because we can directly feel this benefit. Unlike some of the “invisible” benefits of sleep, everyone knows what it feels like to be tired. You’re zonked and don’t have the motivation to do much, except maybe binge-watch Stranger Things.

There’s science to this. Sleep deprivation is linked with decreased orexin production. Orexin is a neurotransmitter that normally stimulates physical activity and energy expenditure.[7]  When orexin production decreases, so does your likelihood of lacing up your running shoes.

Sleep boosts your immunity.


We’ve all been taught that washing your hands is one of the best defences against the spread of germs. Recent studies are showing that proper sleep habits can play just as important a role.

A recent study showed that getting just one hour less sleep a night for a week can compromise immunity by 44%. When sleep deprivation continued for a month, it jumped to 97%.[8]

In another study, researchers compared the immunity of well-rested individuals with those who were sleep deprived. Test subjects were given nasal drops that contained the common cold. Those who averaged less than 7 hours a sleep a night were nearly 3 times more likely to get the cold than those who slept for more than 8 hours.[9]

There is so much emerging research about the benefits of getting more sleep. We’re learning just how crucial this underappreciated basic human function is. If you want to start living your best life, you can’t look at sleep as a barrier to your performance or productivity. If it helps, think of it as a recharging your body and getting a software upgrade at the same time.

Sleep does more than prevent tired fails. It makes you faster, better, and stronger so you can be your best you every day.

[2] Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson, p. 5
[3] The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington, page 110
[4] Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson, p. 29
[5] Sleep Wise by Dr. Jin Blum, page 36
[6] Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson, p. 2
[7] The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington, page 27
[8] Sleep Wise par Daniel Jin Blum PhD, p. 32
[9] The Sleep Revolution par Arianna Huffington, p. 111

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