When you fall asleep at night, your brain and body don’t just shut down. As you rest, your body maintains its most basic functions like circulating blood and breathing steadily. Recently, researchers have been curious about is what this rest period really does for our bodies. There are still some unanswered questions about sleep, but the many measurable health benefits prove a full nights sleep is worth a whole lot!
What Is Going on During Sleep?
There are five different stages of sleep that you cycle through. The first, stage 1, is a very light sleep during which your eyes and muscles begin to move more slowly. In stage 2, your eyes stop moving, and your brain activity begins to decrease. Since stage 1 and 2 are light sleep, and it is very easy to be woken up. In stages 3 and 4 of sleep your muscles completely relax and blood pressure decreases, providing the body with the most restorative period of sleep. These phases of sleep are considered deep sleep, during which it is difficult to wake someone up.
Finally, after you’ve been asleep for about 70 to 90 minutes, you reach REM sleep. During REM sleep your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes rapid and irregular, a. This is the stage of sleep where brain activity increases and dreams occur. Adults typically spend 20% of their total sleep time in REM sleep.
Why Do We Need Sleep?
The term “beauty sleep” actually refers to the increased blood flow to muscles and tissues during sleep stages 3 and 4, which helps stimulate cellular growth and repair. During these stages the body also increases growth hormone production. So, sleep can truly help you reduce the physical signs of stress or aging!
There have been studies showing that our brains also benefit from sleep in a few different ways. First, the parts of the brain that help control social and emotional interactions show very little activity during sleep. Reduced activity gives these areas rest, and recharges our social and emotional capabilities for the next day. Another study found that sleeping could help our memory by practicing repetition, and through the opportunity to review and organize information during sleep.
What Are The Consequences of Not Enough Sleep?
Inadequate sleep has a negative impact on your body’s health. Those who don’t get enough sleep are at a greater risk for high blood pressure and heart disease. Research is still being done to determine the direct link between heart health and sleep, but it is understood that too little sleep disrupts metabolism and can cause inflammation. These disruptions can have a negative effect on the heart as it strains to make up for the changes in the body. There is also a greater risk for weight gain and diabetes because tired people tend to turn to foods that are high in calories and carbohydrates for energy. Finally, while you sleep your body produces hormones that are important for a strong immune system. Not getting enough sleep can weaken the immune system, causing people to get sick more easily.
Not getting enough sleep also makes it difficult to concentrate, problem solve, and react quickly. It also affects mood, increasing irritability. For these reasons, people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to develop chronic depression.
Children ages 5-12 need adequate amounts of sleep because, without it, they are more likely to develop behavioral or cognitive problems and have trouble learning in school. Similarly, teenagers who do not get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight, perform poorly in school, and develop symptoms of depression. Currently, there is a debate over the early start times of most middle and high schools, which do not allow adolescents to get as much sleep as they physically need. Studies have shown that as teens are developing, there are biological changes that naturally cause them to fall asleep later at night. With these changes, having to wake up early for school cuts into their overall hours of sleep. For more information on early school start times, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC)Schools Start Too Early page.
How Much Sleep is Enough?
To maximize your health benefits from sleep, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommends a general number of hours of sleep by age. Not everyone needs the exact number of hours recommended; instead they should be used as a target each night. The recommendations are:
Age Recommended Amount of Sleep
Newborns 16–18 hours a day
Preschool-aged children 11–12 hours a day
School-aged children At least 10 hours a day
Teens 9–10 hours a day
Adults (including the elderly) 7–8 hours a day
Tips for Getting Enough Sleep:
• Set a nightly routine and go to bed around the same time each night
• Don’t eat large meals right before bed
• Avoid TV, playing with your smart phone, or using other electronics that emit bright light before bedtime
• Avoid excessive noise in the bedroom
• Limit alcohol and tobacco which keep the body in the early sleep stages
• Don’t nap after 3pm, and keep naps shorter than 1 hour
If you are not feeling well and need to see a doctor come to Boca Regional Urgent Care.
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