A good night’s sleep is one of the keys to a healthy life. In fact, a lack of sleep can contribute to many health problems such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. In addition, a poor quality of sleep may affect your ability to make decisions and to focus on tasks.
Traditionally, sleep was seen as a passive state during which the body shuts down and takes a break from the day’s activities. But research has shown that during sleep, the body and brain remain active. There are two primary factors that regulate sleep: circadian rhythms and what’s called “sleep drive.”
Circadian rhythms, which work on a daily schedule, play an important role in our bodies and minds. They control a wide range of bodily functions including growth, reproduction and aging. They are also responsible for setting our natural sleep-wake cycles.
In contrast, sleep drive is an arousal-based process that controls the timing of sleep and wakefulness. It’s controlled by a system of nerve cells in the brain that reduces activity and promotes a sleep-inducing state. Other changes in the body during sleep include decreased muscle activity, a decrease in blood pressure and a change in hormone levels. These changes occur throughout the entire sleep cycle, which normally includes four or five phases.
Scientists are still trying to understand the function of sleep. In addition to the physical and mental rest that it provides, a good night’s sleep seems to help with learning and memory. It’s also known to strengthen the immune system and support normal growth and development. It is important for the formation of memories, converting short-term ones into long-term ones during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and consolidating those memories during REM sleep.
During sleep, the brain becomes more activated in areas associated with problem-solving, emotions and decision making. That may be why it’s easier to make mistakes when we don’t get enough sleep. Studies have also found that getting a good night’s sleep can improve our ability to pay attention, concentrate and be creative.
If you have trouble sleeping, you should talk to your doctor or nurse. You may need a test or treatment for a health condition that’s causing the problem.
The best way to get a good night’s sleep is to develop a regular bedtime routine and stick with it. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Avoid watching TV or using a computer right before you go to sleep. Relax and do something pleasant before you go to bed, such as reading or taking a warm bath. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Try to get exercise and spend time with family and friends during the day, which will promote a better night’s sleep. Your GP can recommend relaxation techniques and other non-medical treatments to help you sleep.