So, what’s so special about sleep anyway? Why is it important to us and our wellbeing?
While we sleep
Getting enough sleep – and specifically, deep sleep – is vital not only to our physical wellbeing, but to our mental wellness also. When we sleep, our body continues to work, hard. It resets and balances our brain function and fights off anything that threatens our physical health. In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development.
Sleep is the mind and body’s opportunity to refresh and restore itself. During periods of deep sleep, growth hormones are released and our immune system rebuilds itself. This doesn’t happen when we’re awake. There are four reported stages of sleep:
Light Sleep: this is the transition from being awake to being asleep. Your breathing slows, and you drift away from consciousness. This stage only occurs once when you first fall asleep.
Unconscious Sleep: during the second stage of sleep, your body temperature decreases and your heart rate slows down. At this stage, you are ready to enter deep sleep.
Deep Sleep: it will be difficult to wake you from a deep sleep. Not much is known about what actually happens to us during a deep sleep. But, given that we don’t dream during deep sleep, it could be the time when our brain refreshes and consolidates our memories.
REM sleep: this is when we dream. If we’re woken up during REM sleep, we can vividly remember what we were dreaming about. Scientists believe that we experience muscle paralysis during REM sleep, so that we don’t injure ourselves while trying to act out our dreams!
Once we’ve actually dropped off, an average sleep cycle averages between 100 to 120 minutes and we could go through up to five sleep cycles each night.
What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?
Studies show that sleep loss and poor-quality sleep can lead to accidents and injuries. Indeed, drowsiness can slow reaction time to the same extent as alcohol can.
Sleep helps us to think clearly and a lack of sleep impairs our cognitive processes. We become less aware and find it more difficult to concentrate. When we’re asleep, our minds consolidate what we have learned that day, so a lack of sleep makes it difficult to recall what we have previously experienced.
Sleep disorders and general lack of sleep put us at risk of a number of other conditions, such as heart issues, blood pressure problems, diabetes and stroke. It is said that many people who suffer from insomnia also have another health condition too.
How can we get more sleep?
If you find falling asleep difficult or struggle to sleep when you would like, there are a number of things you can do to help:
Retire and rise at the same time – try and get your body into a routine with regular bedtimes and wake-up calls each morning. Aim for between six to nine hours each night. Use your alarm to wake you and try and stick to the routine – even at the weekends.
Take time to wind down – and that includes turning off the technology! Try a warm bath. Some people find that writing a to-do list for the next day helps to clear the mind, ready for sleep.
Exercise with caution – gentle stretches and yoga type exercises will encourage sleep, but while we may think that exercise leaves us exhausted, it actually reinvigorates us and makes sleep harder to achieve.
So, whatever else you have going on in your life, make sure that you take sleep seriously. Your mind and body will thank you for it!