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Olverum Team


The Science of Sleep

21 Sep 2021

Sleep is a serious business, every bit as important to health as exercise or diet. Minimal sleep was once the supposed hallmark of a packed social life, high-flying career, or adorable new baby. But as threats to sleep have increased, from blue light exposure, stress and anxiety, and streaming service autoplay functions, the medical world has identified sleep poverty as a global crisis for physical and mental health.Yet most people aren’t aware of how sleep works, and exactly why it’s so important to do it properly. The science of sleep inspired and informed the creation of our Restful Sleep Pillow Mist, and we felt sharing some of our insights could help you more easily establish a restorative sleeping pattern.

During sleep, our bodies release a finely balanced cocktail of hormones, brainwaves, and chemicals which maintain our physical and mental health, helping the repair of damaged muscle and skin and strengthening the immune system, to increasing alertness, restoring energy levels, and calming anxieties. Conversely, poor sleep can lead to a feedback loop of poor physical and mental health, which leaves you looking and feeling washed out. But while quantity is important, sleep quality is the most important factor in ensuring you get the best from your rest.

Good sleep quality has a definition.  For adults, this means that you should typically fall asleep within 30 minutes of your head hitting the pillow, and then sleep soundly throughout the night, waking no more than once during that time. If you do wake up in the middle of the night, expert sleepers will drift off again within 20 minutes, rather than spend increasingly frustrating hours worrying about not ever getting back to sleep, listening for an imaginary dripping tap, or remembering that one random minor incident from primary school that everyone else has forgotten.

Sleep, Energized, recovered, restored, renewed

Sleep does not respect the law of averages. ‘Catching up’ on sleep can be a perfectly enjoyable way to pass a rainy Sunday morning, but intermittent slumber fasting has been shown to be harmful to health. As with sleep poverty, regularly sleeping for more than nine hours increases the risks of heart disease, diabetes, and strokes – not to mention the missed deliveries, and crucial lazing around with pets time that go along with it.

This is because all sleep is not equal. Sleep has five defined stages, each providing distinct benefits. Our bodies and brains naturally cycle through these stages around six times during a good night’s sleep. But if the cycles are interrupted too frequently, you’ll spend far less time in the blissful dead-to-the-world stages when the real heavy lifting of your personal refurbishment is carried out. Let’s introduce them.



The slipway into the river of dreams, this is the light dozing off stage, during which your eye movements gradually slow down and your conscious mind puts its feet up. However, the brain remains largely active, leaving you vulnerable to disturbances (perhaps why this seems to be a phase both cats and noisy neighbours have a sixth sense for. Initially lasting around 10-20 minutes, during later cycles, this stage may only last a few minutes, that is, long enough for your caveperson brain to scan for any predators in the wardrobe.



Here is where the unsung heroes of the night shift get to work – your parasympathetic nervous system, more snappily known as the ‘rest and digest’ network. By slowing your heart rate and breathing, and reducing muscle activity, it enables your repair functions to get to work without outside interference. It’s also responsible for regulating periods of REM sleep, the most restorative stage for cognitive function (of which more later).

 During this stage, as your muscles relax, and your body temperature falls, overall brain activity also slows down, although you do experience ‘sleep spindles’ – short bursts of activity associated with the consolidation of memories, but which also make you less prone to being woken up. 

While the initial second stage generally lasts 10-25 minutes, it gets longer with each cycle, on average accounting for around half your bedtime.


The most physically beneficial phase of rest, collectively referred to by sleep scientists as slow-wave sleep (SWS). Your breathing and pulse decrease further – although the supply of blood to the muscles is increased. Meanwhile, during stage three your brain begins to output high-voltage delta waves, which increase in intensity as your slumber deepens further into stage four. This is the signal that your restoration is beginning in earnest.

 Your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, which help your body repair damage, infection, and inflammation (which is why missing out on sleep quickly leaves your face looking puffy); Your pituitary gland releases human growth hormone, helping heal, regenerate and grow new muscle, tissue, and collagen. There’s also evidence that this stage sharpens your wits, improving critical thinking and reducing impulsiveness


Interspersed with these phases is a lighter, more easily disturbed, stage – REM sleep. Healthy levels of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep are associated with improved memory and concentration, better retention of learning, enhanced mood, and even improved creativity.  Although cognitive activity returns to almost the same levels during wakefulness, this is thought to be because the brain is busy with all the admin, maintenance , and forward planning tasks it doesn’t have time to process while dealing with the inconvenience of being awake.

REM sleep is also the source of vivid dreams, and so your muscles are paralysed for its duration, preventing you from acting out any of the more strenuous ones (which is also thought to be why running away during a nightmare feels like swimming through treacle).  The first cycle of REM sleep may last just a few minutes, but again, this increases as the cycles continue, making up around 25% of a healthy night’s sleep.


The first cycle of sleep sets the stage for the rest of your rest – especially as this is when your body cleanses itself of stress hormones, reducing stress and anxiety throughout the night, and the next day. So it’s important to ensure your first cycle is undisturbed, setting a  good examples for the cycles that follow.  

With this in mind, Restful Pillow Mist (if you’ll forgive the obvious plug), has been scientifically formulated to support and enhance each of the stages of your initial cycle. First, bright Bergamot Oil elevates your mood, eliminating tension to gently ease you into a calm natural slumber. Next, full-bodied High Altitude Lavender and Geranium Oils dominate, helping slow your pulse and lower blood pressure for a disturbance-free transition into the second stage of sleep. Rich, woody Amyris Oil works to deepen the hardest-working third stage of sleep.  Finally, hypnotic Roman Chamomile oil helps to maintain and extend this period into the REM stage of deep rest. Just two spritzes on bed linen 30 seconds before getting into bed can ensure you awaken feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready for whatever the new day has to offer.