The Science Of Sleep

We all know that getting enough sleep is important, it is as necessary to us as food or water and we cannot live without it. Though the nature of sleep is not yet fully understood, scientists have found that sleep has a restorative function which directly impacts on physical and mental health.

The Science Of Sleep

Purpose of Sleep

Research has shown that our brains are impressively active while we sleep, firing off neurons nearly as often as when we are awake, and consuming almost as much energy. These neuron circuits help us to maintain our immune systems, regulate hormones and consolidate memories. Sleep also helps to improve our cognitive performance as well as physical exertion. 

The 5 Stages

There are several stages to the sleep cycle, each serving a distinct purpose. The brain can cycle through all 5 stages between 4 to 6 times every night, though this is not always in the same order. Using a sleep monitor will help you to understand how you progress through the stages at night.

  • Stage 1

A transitional light sleep phase in which the mind begins to drift off. This stage usually lasts between 5-10 minutes, as the body slows down and the muscles begin to relax.

  • Stage 2

As the brain activity slows down, as does heart and respiratory rates. Still in a light sleep, the body’s core temperature falls slightly as the muscles reach a state of relaxed inertia.

  • Stage 3

The brain begins to use slow delta-waves, with short bursts of beta-waves as the deep sleep stage begins. Waking at this stage would leave the mind groggy and unable to focus properly. This stage can last between 5-15 minutes.

  • Stage 4

The deepest sleep stage, stage 4 sees the brain only showing delta-wave activity. Lasting anything between 5 minutes to an hour, the body undertakes major repair work during this phase.

  • Stage 5

The dreaming stage – at this point the brain activity increases as it goes into REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. The muscles go through periods of paralysis while blood flow and respiratory rates increase. Usually beginning around 90 minutes after stage 1 and lasting between 10 minutes to an hour, stage 5 tends to decrease with age. 

Circadian Rhythms

We all have an inbuilt circadian rhythm, which regulates sleeping and eating patterns, brain wave activity, alertness, hormone production, glucose and insulin levels and cell regeneration. Controlled by neurons in the hypothalamus, circadian rhythms respond to light cues. This means that they ensure the production of hormones at night and stop when it senses light.

Sticking to a regular bedtime routine can help adjust the rhythm and therefore the effects of sleep on the body.  

Why it’s important to get enough

As sleep directly affects the function of the brain, it is vital for anyone seeking out a healthy lifestyle to ensure that they get enough of it. Sleeping for too little can leave the brain feeling which makes it hard to focus and process information. 

The body also needs sleep to help repair itself for the next day. A lack of sleep can lead to high blood pressure, migraines and depression symptoms which increases the overall likelihood that the body falls ill. 

Using a sleep monitor to measure the stages of sleep, means that you can identify adjustments which will improve the quality and quantity of your rest. 

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