You hear it all the time, you need more sleep, shut down, sleep is important. Then there are those who say they do fine on 5-6 hours of sleep a night. So just how does sleep affect your life?
Sleep problems are so bad that the CDC refers to them as “a public health epidemic.” Many people have problems either falling asleep, waking up in the night or both.
Benefits of a good night’s sleep
- elevated mood
- increased libido
- building of muscles
- improved short term memory
- decreased obesity and diabetes
- healthier skin
- less anxiety
- and improved immune system to name just a few
What happens while we sleep?
So how does this all happen while you sleep? Firstly, you need both the right quantity and quality of sleep to heal, repair and perform your best on a daily basis.
If your sleep is cut short, you’re most likely not cycling through all the stages of sleep needed.
We’re all different, and it’s said that the average number of hours of sleep needed in adults is about 7-9.
Stages of sleep
There are four stages of sleep and something special and unique happens in each of these stages. We have REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). 75% of our sleep is NREM and as we fall asleep we enter NREM sleep and we go through the following cycles:
NREM1 Between being awake and falling asleep
NREM2 As you become disengaged from your surroundings. Breathing and heart rate is regular and body temperature drops.
NREM3 The deepest and most restorative sleep happens here. Your blood pressure drops, breathing becomes slower and your muscles relax. During this stage, your blood supply begins to increase and tissue growth and repair occurs. Your energy is restored. You also release hormones such as Growth Hormone which is essential for development including muscle development.
REM You then enter REM which is about 25% of your sleep and first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep. In healthy sleep cycles it re-occurs every 90 minutes, getting longer later in the night. REM sleep is the delicious dream state. During REM you provide energy to the brain and body.
REM also supports daytime performance. Your brain is active and dreams occur. This is when your eyes dart back and forth because they are the only muscle in the body that are not paralysed during this cycle. The rest of our body becomes immobile and relaxed and our muscles switch off.
Sleep balances hormones
Estrogen has hundreds of jobs. One job is to help you sleep. You can also help to balance many other hormones (estrogen, cortisol, insulin, melatonin and more) while you sleep. Going to sleep by 10 pm is important for hormone balance. It allows enough time for your body to cycle through the four stages of sleep enough times for you to heal and repair, and regenerate.
Can you see how important each stage of sleep is? If you wake up constantly you take away the body’s ability to cycle through these stages effectively. This inhibits the proper function of hormones, healing, repair, rest and memory consolidation.