8 Helpful Facts to Help You Understand Sleep Better
People have been trying to understand sleep from the dawn of time. Until scientists delved deeper into the process of sleep and finally understood why it takes place, it was quite difficult to comprehend. How could our body simply shut down, forcing us to enter a temporary state of unconsciousness before waking up feeling refreshed? Does our brain temporarily shut down too? And what’s the deal about dreams? These are only some of the things we didn’t understand all those years ago. Let’s dig into some of the most interesting facts about sleep, some of which you may find surprising.
The reason why we sleepEven today, sleep largely remains a mystery. We know that we need to sleep at night to replenish our energy and function normally throughout the day. The problem with analysing sleep is that most methods of measuring are obtrusive therefore impact any true data we might be able to gather. We know that the body needs rest after being up all day so that it stays healthy and strong. It needs to recover. But why do we really need to sleep? We know why we need to eat, but we still don’t fully understand the whole concept of sleep. One piece of research on sleep function suggests that sleep is the key to boosting neuroplasticity or brain plasticity. That’s the brain’s ability to “rewire” itself and help us improve memory, filing everything we’ve learned during the day into our long-term memory. It also suggests the brain replenishes energy. Another study on sleep suggests that sleep helps the brain get rid of toxins in the central nervous system, while yet another study says it helps regulate metabolism. Perhaps all the evidence is true, and perhaps our brain is even busier protecting our overall health. We simply don’t know for sure – yet. What we do know is if we get enough shut-eye every day, we’ll reduce mental and physical fatigue, and stay healthy.
Sleeping cyclesThere are five sleeping cycles, which can be divided into two primary phases of sleep:
- Non-REM (NREM) sleep
- REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep
- Drowsiness and falling asleep
- Light sleep
- Moderate to deep sleep
- Deep sleep
Optimal sleeping timeAs we age, we need fewer hours of quality sleep to stay fully functional and healthy. According to Sleep Foundation, babies need 14-17 hours, teenagers need 8-10 hours, adults need 7-9 hours, while older adults (65+) need 7-8 hours of sleep every day. The truth is there’s no magic number for everyone in the same age group. Your work hours and daily habits may affect how much you sleep.
The chemistry behind sleepYour body constantly releases various hormones and chemicals during the 24-hour cycle of your circadian rhythm (internal clock), which responds to light and darkness. At night, your body increases the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. So, when your homeostatic sleep drive (let’s call it your internal timer) reminds your body to sleep at night, melatonin is what helps you fall asleep faster and get a good night’s rest. That’s why screens emitting blue light can interfere with your sleep. They trick your body into thinking that it’s still daylight, so it produces less melatonin, preventing you from falling asleep faster. Jet lag and working night shifts can offset your internal clock the same way.
Lack of sleep and our bodyAccording to a study on sleep disruption, chronic lack of sleep can be detrimental to your health. Sleep deprivation can:
- Increase stress, pain, anxiety, and depression
- Cause deficits in memory, cognition, and performance
- Reduce alertness and concentration
- Increase appetite and cause weight gain
- Increase the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure
- Worsen gastrointestinal disorders
- Increase the risk of infection and various illnesses
- Worsen underlying medical conditions