Sleep is one of the most essential processes in the human body. It supports our emotional stability, helps us heal, and contributes to our memory function. It also allows the brain to clear toxins and maintain pathways. The human body needs about seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Not getting enough can have a variety of health consequences, including increasing the risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Getting enough sleep is as important as eating and drinking. Without it, our brain and body are at a diminished capacity to function. Insufficient sleep can affect our mood, thinking, memory, and physical performance. This lack of sleep can also lead to mental health problems, such as depression, difficulty controlling emotions, and risk-taking behavior.
Each person’s sleep cycle is comprised of four distinct stages. During each stage, the brain and body act differently. Stage 1 is light, non-REM sleep. During this phase, the eye muscles remain active. However, most muscle activity stops. Eventually, the body and mind enter into stage 2 sleep, which is deep.
Most people spend most of their time in stage 2. During the first two stages, the brain and heart rate slow. The body and brain begin to form new neural pathways. With each subsequent cycle, the duration of stage 2 sleep lengthens. REM sleep occurs during the second half of the night. REM sleep is the most intense dreaming state, and most of the muscles are paralyzed.
During REM sleep, the cortex of the brain works to interpret random signals coming from the pons. These signals may be interpreted as a narrative, or story. Those in REM sleep can have lucid dreams. Having a dream journal can help you remember your dreams.
REM sleep is associated with the most intense dreams, and is believed to be an attempt by the cortex to find meaning in the fragmented brain waves. Dreams usually fade from memory after waking.
While in REM sleep, the breathing rate increases. Respiratory muscles remain active, but most other muscles are paralyzed. Some researchers suggest that REM sleep protects the brain from seizure spread. REM sleep also promotes memory consolidation. If we are deprived of REM sleep, we are more likely to have memory loss.
There are dozens of sleep disorders. Among the most common are insomnia and narcolepsy. Fortunately, most are treatable. Several medications are available to help you cope with insomnia and other sleep problems. When a problem arises, ask your doctor to schedule a sleep study. Alternatively, you can talk to a sleep specialist.
Research shows that there is a direct link between sleep and a number of chronic diseases. For instance, poor sleep is associated with a higher risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and depression. It is estimated that up to 40 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders. Another ten million experience occasional sleep problems.
Getting adequate sleep can improve your decision-making and increase your creativity. It can also help you recover from illness and stress.