Getting the recommended amount of sleep each night is essential for our physical and emotional health. If you’re tired of experimenting with dietary supplements, workout programs and diets to try to get more energy, focus and mood stability, you may want to look to your sleeping habits as a preventive measure that could make a huge difference.
The science of sleep is a rapidly growing field of research, with the understanding that sleep isn’t just a passive state in which the brain shuts down and goes dark, but instead is a complex series of behavioral, motor, sensory, and physiological changes that occur over a set period of time. Unlike waking states, each phase of sleep is characterized by unique characteristics that distinguish it from the previous phase. For example, sleep scientists have a long-held view that the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) phases of sleep serve different purposes.
For example, the NREM stage of sleep appears to help the brain to “lock in” memories, whereas REM sleep is thought to be associated with new learning and memory formation. Studies of people who are sleep deprived have shown that they’re less able to recall information learned while awake. Additionally, they’re more prone to depression and have trouble thinking clearly, solving problems, paying attention and making decisions.
While you’re asleep, your body is hard at work to repair any muscle tissue damage from the day’s activities. This is one of the reasons that getting enough rest can help you recover from a strenuous workout or a bout with illness, like the common cold. During a phase of sleep known as non-rapid eye movement, blood flow to muscles increases, which allows tissues to grow and heal. It also boosts the immune system by producing cytokines that direct cells to fight inflammation throughout the body.
Getting the right amount of sleep also supports the healthy function of your digestive tract and helps maintain normal levels of insulin, which is responsible for controlling blood sugar. In contrast, those who sleep less than seven hours each night tend to have a higher BMI and are at an increased risk of developing diabetes.
While you’re asleep, your brain is working to form new pathways that will help you learn and remember things better when you’re awake. The NREM and REM stages of sleep are also important for helping you control emotions and solve problems. In fact, people who are sleep deprived have a harder time solving puzzles and are more likely to take risks and have difficulty coping with change. This might explain why sleep deprivation has been linked to suicidal ideation, impulsive and antisocial behavior, and an inability to concentrate or complete tasks.