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blog: MIND

Understanding Sleep

People spend between 25% to 35% of their lifespan sleeping. Sleep is a very important part of our daily routine. There are also actual structures to regulate your body’s natural daily rhythms in the brain that help decide when you fall asleep and wake up. So, I bet you’re wondering what happens while you sleep and why sleeping is important for your body?  

What Happens When You Sleep?  

In the early 1950s, people assumed that your body and brain went dormant while sleeping. “But it turns out that sleep is a period during which the brain is engaged in several activities necessary to life—which are closely linked to quality of life,” states Johns Hopkins sleep expert and neurologist Mark Wu, M.D., Ph.D. Yet, there are many unanswered questions about what happens when we sleep. Scientists are still trying to study all there is to know about what happens when sleeping. Below is the information that they have recovered so far into the powerful findings of sleep and what they’re still trying to discover about the science of sleep. 

Different Types of Sleep  

There are two different types of repeated cycles your brain will repeatedly go through while you sleep, REM sleep and non-REM sleep. 

The first part of the cycle is the non-REM sleep, which is composed of four stages. The first stage is the initial transition of being awake and falling asleep. The second stage is a light sleep when heart rate and breathing regulate and body temperature drops. The third stage is the deep sleep process. Finally, you have then reached REM sleep. 

As you cycle into REM sleep, the eyes move rapidly behind shut lids, and brain waves are similar to those during wakefulness. The breath rate increases, and the body becomes temporarily paralyzed as we dream. This cycle then repeats itself. So, on a usual night, you’ll cycle through this process four or five times. 

Your Body’s Sleep Mechanisms  

Two main processes regulate sleep, called circadian rhythms and sleep drive. Circadian rhythms are controlled by a biological clock found in the brain. They synchronize with environmental cues, both light, and temperature, about the actual time of day, but they continue even without cues. As a result, your body craves sleep, much like it hungers for food. Your desire for sleep builds throughout the day, and when it reaches a certain point, you need to sleep. Your body can’t force you to eat when you’re hungry, but when you’re tired, your body can put you to sleep, even if you’re in a meeting or behind the wheel of a car.  

Why Is It Important To Get Sleep? 

With no sleep, you wouldn’t be able to construct or preserve the pathways in your brain that allow you to learn and create new memories. Also, it would not be easy to concentrate and react quickly. Sleep affects almost every tissue and system in the body, from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance. Research shows that a chronic lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep increases the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity. Sleep is a complex and dynamic process that affects how you function in ways scientists are now beginning to understand.