Many individuals take sleep for granted. For them, sleep is nothing more than the practice of closing one’s eyes and trying to shut off everything else around them so that they will feel much more relaxed. Unfortunately, many people do not understand the unique and often complicated sleep and health correlation. While everyone might be correct in assuming that sleep is one good way to allow the body to rest after a very tiring day, there simply is too much about sleep that many do not fully understand when it comes to its effects on general health and well-being.
In order for you to fully appreciate the importance of sleep on health and wellbeing, it is important to understand a few things about the whole process of sleeping altogether. Sleep is composed of 5 different stages, 4 of which are progressive while the 5th is an entirely different phenomenon altogether. Stages 1 and 2 are considered light to moderate sleep where you can be aroused or awakened. The blissful sleep or deep sleep occurs in Stages 3 and 4. Here, you will feel more relaxed and all of your vital bodily functions go into a hypoactive mode. By stage 5 however, everything goes limp but your brain goes into hyperdrive. This is why experts call this stage the REM stage for Rapid Eye Movement. Now, the whole process of going from Stage 1 to 5 takes about 90 to 120 minutes. This means that every night you will have about 4 to 5 cycles. However, keep in mind that REM Stage will usually take a lot longer the deeper into the night you sleep. This means, lesser of the Stages 3 and 4 benefits and more of the Stage 5 (REM) brain activity.
The question now is why brain activity would be increased during REM sleep. As it turns out, researchers have found that this is the perfect time for the brain to detoxify, to remove toxic byproducts that may have accumulated the whole day. A few studies have also revealed that it is during REM sleep that the brain is trying to sort through the mountain of information gathered throughout the day and determine which ones need to be stored in the different memory cells of the brain. Some scientists believe that this is the basis for the dreams that all humans experience. REM sleep is thus important in boosting cognitive performance and functioning as well as help protect the brain against plaque formation that can usually be seen in neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. It is for this reason that memory recall, critical thinking, logical thinking, and problem solving processes are enhanced with greater amounts of sleep.
During stages 3 and 4, scientists consider it as the deepest and most restorative stage of sleep. It is during this time when your blood pressure decreases to a healthy baseline and your breathing becomes slower yet deeper to allow for more oxygen to fill the lungs. Growth hormones are released from the pituitary gland to stimulate the body into building cells and tissues. Remember what your mom said when you were younger about how going to bed early will help you grow taller? It’s not necessary that you grow tall again but the point is that your body is constantly building, growing, and developing cells and tissues to replace those that have been lost due to aging and exposure to harmful environmental conditions. In short, it is your body’s way to repair and heal itself.
During sleep, your hunger hormones are also regulated. Lesser sleep increases ghrelin levels which should make you feel hungry. More sleep increases leptin levels which makes you feel full. So, the more sleep that you get, the more leptin levels present in your brain, the greater is the chance that you will be eating less because your brain is telling you your tummy is still full. However, if ghrelin levels predominate, then you will simply be craving for more food even if your tummy is already overstretched. This can play a significant role in the development of obesity and its many associated risk conditions.
There are numerous other health benefits of sleep. The point that needs to be understood is that sleep is a fundamental activity of the brain that affects every single cell, tissue, and organ in the body. Just like a device that needs recharging every now and then, sleep is the body’s way of shutting itself down, except for a few vital organs, in order to allow other more important physiologic and cognitive processes to be completed. This is why after a good night’s rest, you definitely feel a lot better, more energized to face the new day.