Sleep your way to optimal health.
If you think sleep is merely a cozy luxury that comes at the end of a long day, think again. Sleep is an integral component of our health. In fact, this often misunderstood part of our physiological make-up may hold a much larger key to our health than we understand.
Sleep is a naturally recurring physical and mental state of rest during which a person becomes inactive and unaware of the environment. Sleep is characterized by suspended sensory and motor activity, total or partial unconsciousness, and the inactivity of nearly all voluntary muscles.
While we’re sleeping, most bodily functions slow down—we experience a drop in body temperature, blood pressure, and breathing rate. However, the brain stays active throughout sleep. In fact, some studies have shown that the brain is as active during sleep as it is during waking periods.
Sleep has distinctive stages throughout the night, referred to as “sleep cycles.” These cycles are characterized as non-REM and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Non-REM sleep consists of four stages from light dozing to deep sleep. We spend about 75% of our sleep time in the non-REM cycle. During the rest of the time, we are in REM sleep, where most dreaming occurs. The brain wave activity during REM sleep is similar to that of the waking state; however, during REM sleep, the brain blocks signals to the muscles so that they will remain immobile and dreams won’t be acted out.
Importance of Sleep
Sleep is a critical factor to maintaining health. It enables the body to rest and recharge and is also needed for important physiological processes such as hormone regulation, which affects immune function and overall health. Each stage of sleep provides different benefits to our physiological and emotional health. Some stages of sleep help us to feel rested, whereas others help us learn or make memories.
Some describe sleep as an opportunity for the brain to perform “housekeeping” tasks, such as organizing long-term memory, integrating new information, and repairing and renewing cells and tissues.
Sleep is essential to our emotional and physical wellbeing. It is a time during which the body can rest and the mind can sort things out.
Consequences of Sleep Deprivation
The average person needs six to eight hours of sleep per day, but most of us don’t get as much as we need. Studies have shown that lack of sleep leads to a dramatic decline in a person’s ability to perform even simple tasks.
Individuals who are sleep-deprived may experience drowsiness, irritability, lack of concentration, and impaired performance. Furthermore, sleep deprivation compromises the immune system, making it more difficult to fight off infection. Persistent sleep deprivation can result in significant mood swings and erratic behavior.
Sleep deprivation can have dangerous consequences, such as car accidents.
Sleep is not a waste of time. It is a vital and necessary biological function. Take care of your health by doing something that comes naturally—sleep.
(If you’re struggling with sleep, visit our sleep guide, Solving the Sleep Struggle.