A good night’s sleep does more than just refresh you for the next day. It helps you form and maintain the pathways in your brain that let you learn, remember things and make decisions. It also helps your body stay healthy and repair damage from stress, exercise or other environmental factors.
Even though we still don’t fully understand the function of sleep, there are many indicators that it serves an important biological role. These include a regular sleep pattern, low activity level and reduced responsiveness to the environment that distinguish sleep from wakefulness. In addition, sleep is associated with changes in the brain’s electrical activity and a decrease in hormone levels that promote growth, libido and sexual function.
In addition to behavioral criteria, three physiological variables-reversibility, recurrence and spontaneity-distinguish sleep from other states like waking, hypnagogia or hibernation. Although these criteria are not always met, they generally allow a relatively simple distinction between behavioral sleep and wakefulness.
It’s also believed that during a period of sleep known as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, your brain begins to organize and consolidate memories. This is likely one of the reasons why you’re more likely to forget things if you don’t get enough sleep.
Research shows that the brain also processes emotions during sleep. This is one reason people who are deprived of sleep may feel irritable or anxious. Sleep may also help regulate mood by altering the release of certain chemicals, such as cytokines.
Getting a good night’s sleep is key to being at your best mentally and physically. However, many people don’t prioritize sleep and instead choose to rely on caffeine to keep them awake, which can have serious health consequences. Poor sleep also contributes to depression and other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorders.
In the long run, chronically insufficient or poor-quality sleep can lead to a host of physical problems such as obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as psychological disorders including stress and phobias. Fortunately, most of these problems are reversible, if you address the root causes.
To get the most out of your sleep, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, and relax before going to bed. Also, don’t use your phone or other electronics at bedtime, and ensure that your bedroom is dark and cool. Lastly, limit alcohol and caffeine to the earlier part of the day.