Mornings often go either of two ways. On the one hand, it could be unwelcome after a restless or short night. Such a morning typically starts with the all too pesky alarm going off. Yes, you’ll hear it, probably snooze it once or twice, but soon enough, dragging yourself out of bed will be the only option. It is such times that we loathe both noise and bright lights. Both irritation and a lack of concentration are common, while pick-me-ups such as caffeine or sugar are a basic need. On the opposite end, though, are the feelings and energy one feels after a full, eight, or nine hours of sleep. You’ll often meet the morning with vigor, literally jump out of bed, and have seemingly endless streams of energy, all ready to be utilized throughout the day.
Sleeping is necessary to stay healthy. Getting enough of the same is just as important to the body’s health and wellness as is a balanced diet or regular exercise. The benefits that accrue to a person when they get enough sleep are many and diversified. These benefits include:
1. It allows the body to rest
It is that simple really, sleeping is good for you as it allows the body to rest and recharge. Think about it, every day, our body remains this complex factory with various physiological functions all working in tandem for a common goal; your living and survival. Different body systems, including ones responsible for digestion, breathing, and overall immunity, to the nerve skeletal and muscle network, all work together throughout the day with minimal rest. Every time you stop and catch up on some sleep, the body enters sleep mode, and much like a computer, functions on low power, with only the most essential functions being performed, and will reduced intensity. As such, the body builds up strength while you are asleep, ready to face the day once more when you wake up.
2. It reduces stress levels
There are plenty of causal factors that can lead to stress. Problems related to health, financial well-being, relationships, and work can all contribute to stress. Such heightened stress levels often lead to the secretion of stress hormones such as cortisol, which actively prevent sleep. If you have ever been bothered by any of the above factors and found yourself lacking sleep in the dead of night, then you probably know what we are talking about here.
It is with this backdrop that the benefits of sleep on reducing stress can be defined. While stress hormones have been proven to actively cause individuals not to sleep, the opposite also holds. Accordingly, getting enough sleep often causes the secretion of stress hormones to greatly reduce. As such, your body benefits from reduced stress levels.
3. Helps promote mental health
At the same time, sleep contributes to optimal mental health too. Enough sleep every day helps the brain to relax. However, the risk of developing mental problems greatly increases when you fail to get enough hours of sleep daily. As such, poor mental health is something that can be within your reach by ensuring you rest well.
4. Memory Building
Sleeping also helps boost memory building. Like most other organs, the brain gets to rest and repair while you are asleep. In this state of rest, the brain gets to slow down and recollect all the various experiences and information collected over the day. In the absence of sleep, there is every likelihood that one suffers from short memory loss and difficulties recollecting various experiences and/or pieces of information.
This particular sleep benefit could help explain why sleep is so central in early childhood growth and development. Sleep is considered part of the curriculum at this age, and afternoon naps are frequent after various lessons earlier on in the day.
5. It boosts immunity
As mentioned a little earlier above, sleep lets your body rest and repair. This rest and repair time is normally the cause behind why your body develops feelings of tiredness and a deep urge to close your eyes and rest. While asleep, your body’s immune system greatly enables you to discover disease-causing pathogens and destroy them, thereby keeping you safe and free of any ailments.
The above benefit is a key explanation behind why we would rather sleep when feeling under the weather, say due to a common cold. What’s more, consider that seriously ill people are often under induced coma to help with the healing process. In contrast, people can sleep for a prolonged duration after major surgery. In all the above cases, sleep remains beneficial to the body. It contributes to stronger immunity of the body while also ensuring the body benefits from much-needed repair time.
6. It helps to maintain a healthy heart
Insufficient sleep contributes to diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and coronary heart disease. A key part behind this phenomenon is the sympathetic nervous system. This nerve is stimulated whenever you find yourself waking up frequently while asleep. This stimulation works to stimulate the cardiovascular system, and as a consequence, heighten your blood pressure.
The more times you wake up during the night, the more your blood pressure fluctuates, and this is not ideal for maintaining a healthy heart. Such circumstances also leave you at a greater risk of suffering from coronary heart disease and stroke. Accordingly, you must work to get sufficient amounts of sleep every night.
Enough sleep would also help boost optimum insulin regulation, which is the hormone responsible for sugar regulation. As such, enough sleep helps ensure the blood’s sugar levels are kept at an optimum, with little to zero chance of contracting diabetes.
7. It Can Help Maintain or Lose Weight
There are various ways through which sleep can help you shed or maintain weight. However, lack of sleep can also have opposite consequences for your attempts to shed those pounds. For starters, lack of sleep is likely to change your previously healthy patterns to more unhealthy ones. For instance, you are likely to be too tired to exercise when you don’t get enough sleep, or consume foods with too much sugar.
As well, lack of enough sleep typically leads the body to secrete the ghrelin hormone, which works to boost appetites, while at the same time inhibiting the production of the leptin hormone, which is responsible for telling you when you have eaten your fill. When these two actions combine, it can be a potent mix that leads you towards gaining weight due to snacking a little bit too much. Moreover, lack of sleep, and the preceding stress mean that you don’t have as much willpower and energy to fight off junk food cravings. Accordingly, lack of enough sleep could be one of the reasons why you find yourself adding more pounds on the bathroom scale every few months.
8. Better Attention and Concentration
Sleeping is also good for keeping your energy levels up, while at the same time giving you better concentration. Getting enough sleep helps to keep the mind alert and wandering all through the day. As such, it becomes easier for the mind, then, to absorb information and concentrate on what it considers important.
On the flip side, a lack of sleep tampers with your brain and your body’s ability to function properly the following day. Accordingly, you will find it hard to concentrate, strategize, react quickly, or assess risk. These impairments become even more profound for individuals that are in-charge of high-risk, big stakes decisions. It is one of the main reasons why professionals such as pilots, surgeons, and engineers must get ample sleep before every work shift.
9. It Increases Exercise Output
Various studies show the beneficial effects of sleep towards promoting exercise and sports output. Sufficient sleep benefits various aspects crucial to a professional player regardless of their chosen sport, including their reaction time, hand and eye coordination, quick thinking, and muscle recovery. What’s more, sleep, and ample rest also works wonders for the body’s strength, power, and conditioning.
10. Ample Sleep Promotes Better Moods
Additionally, it has been proven time and again that ample sleep promotes an overall positive mood. It is not too difficult to explain why either, for sufficient sleep has the body feeling well-rested. A full night’s rest helps the body feel energetic, and you can seemingly achieve anything. Having such a mood boost is a powerful way to start your day, for the positivity experienced is sufficient to meet the day’s challenges. The opposite is also true, for lack of sleep is known to irritate. When combined with a lack of sufficient energy in the morning, this negative feeling is normally the potent mix that leaves people flying off their handles and unwilling to get to work.
Why we Need sleep, and the Different Physiological Processes that Occur as one Sleeps
As seen from the above benefits, sleep is essential to human survival. Every part of the human body, including the brain and your immune system, benefits from regular, sufficient sleep. Given the above benefits, it is clear that sleep is a bodily function that supports and enables all other bodily processes to continue uninterrupted.
Despite all these benefits, the overall processes that occur within our bodies as we sleep remain a mystery. For many people, sleeping is just a matter of closing one’s eyes once you have had enough of the day and forgetting your problems for a while. However, sleep is a multi-stage process, with different biological and physiological processes occurring in different each of the different stages. In more detail, these stages are:
This stage marks the start of an individual’s falling asleep. At this stage, the body experiences periods of mild dreaminess, much like would be experienced if one were day-dreaming. This stage is marked by the body going through Alpha and Theta brain waves. Individuals that regularly practice meditation and deep prayer often benefit from the Alpha waves, as they are often responsible for unusually profound and vivid experiences.
In the Theta phase, which follows soon after, the body experiences a brief moment when they finally drift between awake and falling asleep. While the entire stage above could take anything between 5 – 10 minutes, average sleepers often take some 7 minutes to drift off.
In stage two, the brain will produce short periods of quick and rhythmic brain wave activity. This process is referred to as Sleep Spindles, and it typically lasts some 20 minutes. During the above stage, the body’s heart rate will start to slow down, while the body temperature slows down at the same time.
In stage three, the brain produces Delta Waves, and these are relatively slow compared to the previously emitted waves. This stage is generally one that marks the transition between light and very deep sleep.
The Delta waves that began to emerge in stage three now dictate much of the body and brain’s functioning. It is this reason that has also seen the above phase be referred to as the Delta Sleep. The stage typically lasts for about 30 minutes, and it is within this period, we are completely knocked out. People who sleepwalk or wet the bed often do so towards the end of this stage.
This stage is the final stage of sleeping, and it is usually the longest, and it is referred to as REM. The stage is characterized by an increased respiration rate, greater brain activity, and some eye movement. This stage is characterized by most dreaming, with the brain and other body systems being most active. This increased brain activity is responsible for dreaming. The muscles are usually more relaxed at this stage, too, with the voluntary muscles being completely paralyzed. A key distinction between the two sets of muscles can be found in the level of control experienced when moving each set of muscles. Involuntary muscles include the heart, lungs, and gut, and the brain does not dictate their movement and control. Conversely, voluntary muscles are those that require brain control to move. They include leg and arm muscles, the jaws, and eyes.
Sleep is generally a reparative process that sees the brain shift between the different stages of brain activity. However, there these stages generally don’t follow in sequence once we have fallen asleep. Instead, the body will progress from stage one onward to stages two, three, and four.
Once these stages are achieved, the body then proceeds to stage three, then stage two, before repeating the process once more, until the body achieves stage five, which entails REM sleep.
These sleep cycles repeat between four to five times all through the night. For an average human being, the REM stage is usually achieved after some 90 minutes of sleep. While this stage is usually the shortest during the first cycle, it becomes gradually longer with subsequent sleep cycles.
Shortened periods of sleep at night are ill-advised because they would disrupt one’s sleep cycles and inhibit REM attainment, which is the stage that promotes overall body rest and healing. However, when uninterrupted, REM could last up to one hour with successive sleep cycles, translating to more beneficial sleep. Such prolonged periods of REM are also responsible for when we feel like a dream took exceedingly long. Such long dreams, especially the pleasant ones, typically induce smiles and content feelings once you wake up. This overall positivity further reflects the benefits of prolonged and uninterrupted sleep.
The Process of Waking Up
The different stages described above cover what happens to an individual’s body over the course of attaining sleep. Equally complex and beautiful are the processes that the body goes through in the process of waking up. These processes include secretion of various brain hormones and activation of various body systems to get them back to peak levels of functionality, ready for the next day.
Accordingly, waking up sees the body experience the following stages:
- An increase in one’s heart rate.
- Production of different brainwaves as compared to those that are produced during sleep.
- Increased blood flow and blood circulation.
- Increased activity values for all the body’s organs such as kidneys, liver, lungs, metabolism, and digestion.
- A more active brain that better perceives stimuli.
- Open and alert eyes, skin, nose, and ears.
Common sleep conditions that alter sleep patterns
Given all the benefits one derives from ample sleep, it is unfortunate that millions of individuals cannot seem to get enough sleep hours due to various sleep disorders. Such conditions affect the affected person’s ability to sleep soundly on a regular basis, which might manifest a graver health condition or excess amounts of stress.
While some of these sleep disorders are periodic, resolving themselves soon after they come about, others remain more permanent. However, both sets of disorders often come with various remedies. Below are details of some of the most common sleep disorders, their symptoms, and known remedies.
This sleep condition is dotted by a general inability to fall asleep. Different causal factors cause this condition, including stress, anxiety, digestive problems, hormonal imbalance, or jet lag. Some of the problems that can arise from insomnia, especially in the more extreme cases, include:
- Low concentration levels.
- Weight gain
- Impaired school or work productivity
- General body tiredness.
As seen above, the problems above could significantly alter one’s quality of life. It is, thus, a good thing that various remedies exist to treat the condition. These remedies include medication to treat the causal factors, i.e., hormonal imbalance, and non-medical interventions such as stimulus control, relaxation techniques, hypnosis, and lifestyle behavior changes like avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants.
Sleep apnea is another common sleep disorder that is relatively serious and affects millions of people. It occurs when the body’s airways become obstructed repeatedly and cause you to stop breathing. When this happens, the body tends to make choking noises that manifest as loud, snoring noises. One key consequence of the above condition is that the body and brain often suffer from oxygen deprivation over the night. While the above condition would be acceptable infrequently, regular and repeated instances of sleep apnea can be problematic to your health, as well as your partner’s sleep quality.
While severe snoring noises often diagnose sleep apnea throughout the night, various solutions exist that could help fix the problem. CPAP therapy (continuous positive airway pressure therapy) is the most common remedy. Other oral anti-snoring devices could also be a possible solution in the case of mild apnea. For the most severe cases, surgery could also work when everything else fails.
Narcolepsy is the condition that causes an individual to drop everything else immediately and fall into some relatively deep slumber. Often, the desire to sleep hits you at the most unfortunate times, at any time of day or night, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Effectively, a person suffering from narcolepsy cannot regulate their internal clock that determines their sleep-wake cycle.
Accordingly, the condition will have you experience symptoms such as falling asleep without warning, temporary loss of muscle control (cataplexy), feelings of drowsiness, insomnia, and hallucinations. Treatment of the disease is often through the use of prescribed medication and/or scheduled naps.
Fun Fact: The rarest sleeping disorder known to man is called sleeping beauty disorder. The scientific term for the condition is Kleine-Levin Syndrome. Patients suffering from the condition often experience repeated hypersomnolence (excessive sleeping), much like the fabled Sleeping Beauty, coupled with behavioral problems when awake. Fear not, for less than 1 in a million people suffer from the condition.
All in all, the benefits of sleep are quite many and cannot be quantified correctly due to their vastness and their being inter-linked. Accordingly, it is gravely important that you get enough hours of shut-eye every day to enable the body to achieve all the sleep stages and activate the optimal sleep cycles needed to attain sufficient rest and body repair plus restoration. Accordingly, be advised not to let anything come in between you and enough sleep. Sleep disorders represent examples of such disruption, and solutions to the same should be actively pursued when symptoms manifest. With the help of credible diagnosis from sleep therapy specialists, and prescribed remedies, sleep will be much more beneficial once again, and the body will remain in top shape.