Understanding Sleep Stages to Help Get a Great Night’s Sleep
Sleep is a natural, recurring condition of the body and brain, characterized by relatively reduced sensory activity, decreased muscle activity, decreased mental activity, decreased muscle function during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and, generally, decreased emotional activity during waking hours. Sleep is most often thought of as being necessary for the human body to function properly during the day, but recent research indicates that sleep may also play an important role in the development of certain psychological conditions like depression and anxiety. There are approximately six to seven hours of sleep required for optimal brain functioning, although some sleep is also needed for the maintenance of muscle strength and immunity. The average adult sleeps for about seven hours, although infants may need more sleep (and adults need less sleep) than others. A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health concluded that most Americans sleep less than the recommended amount, while sleep duration was found to be related to depressive mood and anxiety disorders.
Sleep can be broken into two distinct phases: light sleep or non-light sleep, which continues through the night and is followed by a period of rapid sleep known as circadian rhythms; and darkness sleep or nocturnal sleep, which occurs during the day and is the period when most of the brain’s activity is done. Some evidence suggests that light sleep may stimulate brain activity. Other research has shown that sleep aids in learning have a dual effect, stimulating the brain while blocking out extraneous stimuli during the light phase. Further research may indicate that sleep duration is actually not related to the amount of brain activity but rather the quality of it, with longer periods of waking after sleep allowing more brain activity. The quality of sleep may be improved by removing caffeine from the diet, taking up a regular exercise routine, avoiding alcohol consumption, and reducing stress.
During sleep, the body temperature drops by roughly ten degrees Celsius. It is possible to sleep longer if the body temperature is kept low. This is done by reducing the body temperature slowly with the help of coolers and taking naps. Most of the information on how to fall asleep comes from studies on brain waves, which show that the dominant state of brain waves while a person is asleep is known as Beta. While this state of mind is relaxing, it is also associated with a drop in body temperature, which is also why people feel sleepy in the daytime.
The brain, through its pineal gland, releases melatonin, which is important for regulating the body’s internal clock. Melatonin helps the body to sleep by inducing slow eye movement, deep breathing, relaxation and drowsiness. Rapid eye movement or REM sleep ensues when the pineal gland stimulates the production of serotonin, a hormone that regulates mood, sleep and muscle relaxation. Dream state activity occurs during REM sleep.
Rapid eye movement or REM sleep is highly related to the quality of deep sleep, which last several hours, and the intensity of the light sleep. When the quality of sleep is high, people are less likely to recall things that occurred during the day, while on the other hand, people who go to deep REM sleep are able to recall things that occurred during the night. It is believed that REM sleep is necessary for the restoration of consciousness that took place during the rapid eye movement stage of sleep.
People who lack a good night’s rest tend to have poor performance in school, have an increased risk of stress and have a shorter life span. Rest is an activity that our bodies need if we want to be mentally and physically fit and alert. It is imperative that we take time to properly relax before going to sleep every night. If we don’t, our brains will overwork and eventually sleep, resulting in a disorganized and lethargic morning.