Our body needs sleep in the same way that we need food and air. Sleep is so much more than a simple, passive activity of rest and dormancy! When we sleep, our bodies undergo a number of processes including regenerating our mind, our immune system and keeping us healthy in general. On the other hand, being in a state of sleep deprivation can have several negative side effects to our bodies and our overall health.
Understanding the Science of Sleep: What happens when we sleep?
Our bodies are designed to follow a natural sleep cycle pattern that is harmonious with the planet we live on. Called circadian rhythms- this is your bodies internal clock which mandates when to sleep and when to rise. One of the key ways that this internal clock is driven is by responding to light cues. The brain produces the hormone melatonin at night which induces drowsiness, and then stops producing it when it senses light. Your body will also naturally want to synchronise into a rhythm of timing, so if you set yourself a bedtime and awake time, after a while your body will begin to produce melatonin in line with that physical timing.
During the night, your brain enters into different brain wave activities. One of the stages of sleep actually sees your brain disconnect from outside sensory input and it begins the process of memory consolidation. This organises your memories for long-term storage. So all of the new things you’ve learned throughout the day get stored into your long-term memory during sleep! If you don’t get to enter this stage of sleep because you aren’t giving yourself a healthy amount of sleep, or you’re disturbed constantly during the night, this can drastically affect the amount of information you retain from your day-to-day activities. If you are working or studying that can really be a problem.
Once you enter deep sleep, your brain releases a growth hormone which then begins to stimulate tissue growth and muscle repair. There is also an increase in blood level substances that activate your immune system – helping your body to fight against bacteria and viruses.
Sleep deprivation and its effects on your mind and body
If you are not getting enough good sleep during the night, there are a number of side effects that can happen. It’s recommended that you need at least 7 hours of sleep regularly to maintain a healthy body and mind. If you’re getting less than that, or if you are disrupted throughout the night and unable to enter phases of a deep sleep, your body isn’t able to go into repair mode and it can have harmful side effects to your long term health.
There are some noticeable signs of sleep deprivation including excessive sleepiness, frequent yawning, irritability, and daytime fatigue. If you’re feeling yourself slipping into that 2 pm slump at work, it’s a sign that you aren’t getting the right amount of rest at night. Other negative effects include memory and concentration issues, mood changes, weakened immunity, high blood pressure, weight gain, and poor balance.
Proactive ways to be a better sleeper
There are a few things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep which will improve your overall health and wellbeing. Some of the ways you can get back on track with your sleeping rituals include:
- Limiting your daytime naps (or avoiding them altogether)
- Avoiding caffeine consumption past midday
- Going to bed at the same time each night
- Waking up at the same time every morning
- Spend the last hour before sleep doing something relaxing such as reading, listening to soft music, or taking a bath
- Try to eat dinner a few hours before your bedtime
- Reduce your alcohol intake
If you can do these things you are likely to be able to increase the quality of rest you have at night, and the benefits will flow into every area of your waking life.
At Incline Health, we make sure everyone is in their best state.