Sleep is a complex process that happens in four stages that are on a continuous cycle. Ideally, adults spend approximately one third of their day sleeping, so you want to get everything you can out of your down time. Did you know that not getting enough sleep can impair you just like alcohol can? This means that lack of sleep can make it dangerous to drive, hard to make decisions and difficult to tackle even simple tasks. To best understand what is happening when you sleep, you need to understand the stages of sleep and what happens during each one.
Stage 1 Sleep: The first stage occurs approximately five to ten minutes after you fall asleep. Your muscles begin to relax, but you will wake easily if something disturbs you. A sudden muscle twitch during this stage can easily wake you up. Some people also encounter a falling sensation during this stage. In stage one you experience a very light sleep where you hover between sleep and wakefulness.
Stage 2 Sleep: The second stage of sleep covers approximately forty-five to fifty minutes. If you are awakened during this stage, you will experience disorientation. Your heart has an easier job since quite a few bodily processes slow down. Your body prepares for the next stage of sleep by reducing the activity of your brain and the interactions of the entire nervous system. In this stage you will experience:
The onset of the sleep cycle
A decreased awareness of your surroundings
A lower body temperature
No change in your heart rate or your breathing
Stage 3 Sleep: For about twenty minutes, your body rests in a deep sleep. Your brain emits steady and slow brain waves and your body uses the down time to begin the process of restoration. Substances that have accumulated in the brain throughout the day are flushed away. If you walk or talk in your sleep, this is when you will do so. At the same time, it is incredibly difficult to wake you during this stage of sleep.
Stage 4 Sleep: You are still sleeping deeply, but your brain is busy generating what scientists have labeled delta waves. No muscle activity or eye movement occurs during this stage. If you are wakened at this time, you will feel disoriented. This is the stage when children are most likely to experience night terrors, bedwetting, and sleepwalking.
Stages three and four share the same primary characteristics:
You are in your deepest sleep.
Your body is occupied with restoring, refreshing, and replenishing your cells.
Your breathing is slowed.
There is an increase in blood flow to your muscles.
Your blood pressure is decreased.
Your muscles are relaxed.
Hormones are released into your body.
Your energy is built up.
Approximately ninety minutes after you fall asleep, you experience the first cycle of REM sleep. REM sleep, so named for the rapid eye movements that characterize this stage, will recur around every ninety minutes until you wake up.
While you are in REM sleep:
Your eyes move back and forth.
Your body and brain are fed energy.
The increased brain activity triggers the presence of dreams.
Your muscles are essentially turned off, leaving the body relaxed and immobile (except for your eyes, of course).
Cortisol levels decrease.
Procedural and spatial memory is stabilized within your brain.
There is evidence that this sleep stage is critical for infant brain development
At its onset, some of the neurons in your brain stem are stimulated into activity, initiating the REM phase. During this stage, your brain stops producing monoamines – the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline. Because your nerves are no longer transmitting instructions to your muscles, your body actually slips into a temporary paralysis.
This paralysis probably sounds scary, but it is necessary for full restoration during sleep. Those who do not experience the muscle paralysis may have a condition called REM behavior disorder, a condition that can cause someone to dramatically or violently act out their dreams.
As you get older, you typically need less REM sleep to feel rested. Scientists are still trying to determine exactly why this happens and if fewer REM cycles during sleep play a part in the degenerative aging of older adults.
How Much Sleep Do I Need?
Now that you know what happens while you sleep, it would help to understand how much sleep you need. Sleep requirements are different, depending on your age. The following are general recommendations for the minimum hours of sleep people need each night:
Babies need at least sixteen hours of sleep.
Children three to twelve years old need at least ten hours of sleep.
Teenagers up to age eighteen also require at least ten hours of sleep.
Adults aged nineteen to sixty-five need at least eight hours of sleep.
Older adults beyond age sixty-five should have a minimum of six hours of sleep.
It is critical that you adhere to these guidelines on a regular basis. While oversleeping has its problems, getting too little sleep, even once a week, can engender potentially life-threatening situations. Your body requires adequate sleep on a daily basis, since it needs to be fully restored every twenty-four hours.
Benefits of Adequate Sleep
When you receive the amount of sleep your body needs, you are maximizing your chances for health in multiple aspects of your life. Here are a few ways that adequate sleep habits can allow your body to function at the peak of its ability: Mental Wellbeing: Anxiety and depression are not uncommon among people who are exhausted. However, adequate sleep can maximize emotional stability and equip your mind and body to appropriately endure trials and tribulations when they do occur. Healthy Marriage: Spending time together is important for increasing and strengthening the marital bond. However, many married couples are so exhausted that they do not spend quality time together. Adequate sleep can give you the energy you need to discuss important issues and make plans together as well as letting you enjoy a healthy libido.
Reduction of Pain: Whether you are experiencing an acute pain-generating injury or you are a chronic pain sufferer, it is important to seek adequate sleep. Getting enough sleep is critical to allow your body to heal itself, provide maximum circulation for healing medicines, and to help your body tolerate the trauma that is caused by the pain itself.
Clear Thinking: When you get enough sleep, you stand the greatest possible chance of thinking clearly, appropriately analyzing situations, and making sound decisions. Reduced Injury Risk: When you are well-rested, there is a smaller chance of getting injured. This may sound obvious, since we just discussed mental clarity above. However, not only are your senses alert and able to identify potential dangers to avoid, your body is also better able to respond and correct your motion in order to prevent or minimize injury.
Maintain a Healthy Weight: People who get enough sleep are more likely to have and maintain healthy weight and fitness levels. Living at a healthy weight level will in turn allow and encourage the levels of physical of activity that are essential to optimal functioning of the entire person.
Fewer Episodes of Illness: When you consistently give yourself the sleep you need, your body will be equipped to fight off the normal bugs that infest your environment. Fewer illnesses translate into more days that are enjoyable, including undistracted time with loved ones as well as easier productivity at work.
Longer Life: You can increase your lifespan by getting enough sleep every night. Scientists are still trying to determine how this works. However, since sleep is critical to your overall health, it is not a great leap to say that getting adequate sleep can lengthen your life.
Decreased Inflammation: Inflammation is responsible for everything from diabetes, to premature aging, to pain and heart disease. Keeping inflammation under control is critical for a number of health processes. Research shows that inflammation is common among people who suffer from sleep apnea; however, when their apnea is under control, i. e. , they are getting adequate sleep, the blood work from these individuals indicates their inflammation is drastically reduced. Maximized Creativity Getting enough sleep will allow you to work from your greatest creative potential. When you sleep, your emotional memories are somehow “set” in the brain; this may explain why we tend to function at our best, both mentally and creatively, right after a solid night’s sleep.
Primo Athletic Performance: Sleep is one of the most important activities for a successful athlete. I continue to find it amazing how I can go to sleep after a day of strenuous physical activity, feeling bone tired, only to wake up the following morning feeling refreshed. Appropriate sleep does wonders to rejuvenate both mind and body. Optimum Grades: It stands to reason that if your brain repairs itself while you sleep, you will be able to think clearest in school after a good night of it. Of course, a solid, protein-rich breakfast will help, but the foundation of a productive learning experience remains a healthy chunk of time set aside for sleep.
Managed Stress: Just as sleep helps your body manage and recover from pain, so sleep is essential to managing stress. In our increasingly stressed-out culture, the ability to de-stress is growing in importance. If you are feeling stressed out, taking time out for a nap may help you feel better. Good sleep also allows you to think more clearly in order to resolve whatever is the root cause of your stress.