Many people believe that sleep is a waste of time and that we would get so much more done in a given day if we didn’t have to sleep. However, there is a scientific reason that we get to sleep. It’s not only because we get tired, but our brains need a break as well.
The body goes through a lot of changes when you’re sleeping, but not many people know what these changes are. Here’s the science behind what happens when you fall into bed.
The Sleep Changes Throughout The Night
When you fall asleep, your body goes through at least four to five different sleep cycles, and each cycle is made up of four sleep stages. Those four sleep stages are further broken down into two categories: REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep.
Stage 1 is quite short and is the transition period into sleep; non-REM activity takes place here. Stage 2 is where the body and mind start to slow down as you settle in for rest. Stage 3 is where the body is in “recovery mode,” also known as deep sleep. Brain activity is also slowed to the point that it can be difficult to wake someone at this stage. Stage 4 is REM sleep; brain activity actually spikes to levels that are similar to being awake and is when the most intense dreams take place.
Each of these sleep cycles can take place between 70 to 120 minutes, where the majority of REM sleep taking place in the second half of the night. You can learn more about these sleep stages at conservehealth.
Science of Sleep: Heart Rate During Sleep
The heart rate begins to slow down from Stage 1 and reaches its slowest during Stage 3. Surprisingly in stage 4, the heart rate is much quicker, resembling levels that are similar to when you are awake. This is because of the intense dream stage that makes the body feel like it’s actually awake.
The same can be said for breathing during these stages.
Muscle Tone During Sleep
The muscles gradually grow more relaxed the deeper sleep you fall into. When you fall into the REM stage, your body experiences what is called atonia or muscle paralysis. This is to prevent the body from reacting to the intense dreams you’re experiencing. However, the muscles of the eyes are quite active, hence the name of the stage “Rapid Eye Movement.”
The Science of Sleep: Brain Activity and Hormone Levels During Sleep
The brain follows a different pattern when sleeping; instead of slowing down gradually, brain activity is at its slowest in the First Stage. Then there are quick bursts during Stage 2 and 3, and then acceleration in Stage 4.
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During sleep, various hormones are also regulated for optimum performance, including melatonin (which helps to promote sleep), growth hormones for bone and muscle development, leptin and ghrelin (control appetite), and cortisol (a hormone released during the body’s response to stress).
As you can see, getting quality sleep helps your brain and body to repair themselves.
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If you have difficulties getting the right amount of sleep each night, it’s important to speak to a medical professional for help.