We spend almost a third of our lives sleeping. Whilst we are used to exercising and know that sleep is essential, we are not always aware of the many physiological mechanisms at play as we drift off in the arms of Morpheus. Why do we sleep? How does it refresh us? And what are the effects of sleep deprivation?
Understanding sleep to sleep better
We sleep primarily to recover from the physical and mental tensions accumulated during the day. But in the shadows of the night, our organism continues its work. The brain does a lot of spring-cleaning: it records and filters all the information from our day.
During the phases of paradoxical sleep, commonly known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, our neurons are reorganising or connecting the dots between necessary or unnecessary information, so we adapt to our environment with new knowledge. So, sleep plays a crucial role in brain maturation, development, and in the preservation of our cognitive abilities.
Our hormonal system is also working. At nightfall, melatonin secretion, which helps us fall asleep, synchronizes our biological clock. Then numerous hormones come into play. In turn, they stimulate growth, cell regeneration (muscular and nervous) and tissue repair. Hormones also regulate the internal body temperature, blood sugar level and satiety as well as the quantity of water in our body.
They also help eliminate toxins, stimulate our immune system and regulate our mood and anxiety level. Sleep is therefore not only good, it's essential to the proper functioning of our hormonal system and to our mental balance.
Our breathing is slower, calmer and more regular allowing our cardiovascular system to rest.
So sleep is key to not only physical recovery but also physiological, psychological and intellectual recovery. Sleep prepares your body to get out of bed on the right side of the waking stage that follows. In doing so, it conditions our state of health and well-being.
Results of lack of sleeping
In the fast-paced society of the Western world, more and more of us are struggling with impaired sleep and its often underestimated effects. Scientists agree that less than 6 hours of sleep a night impacts our sleep reserve.
The bad news is that sleep debt is not only cumulative, it gradually causes negative effects on our quality of life and our health:
- fatigue, daytime drowsiness and decreased visual acuity
- concentration, memorization, and learning difficulties
- loss of motivation, moodiness, irritability, and emotional instability
Over time, this chronic sleep deficiency will profoundly disrupt our metabolism, increasing the risk of:
- weakening the immune system
- obesity, diabetes, and cholesterol
- high blood pressure and heart disease
To remain healthy, you must not only ensure you have a healthy diet and get plenty of regular physical activity, you also need to maintain a healthy sleep pattern.
For example, make the most of your weekends or holidays to learn more about your own sleep pattern. The aim is to identify your needs and pay off your sleep debt. Take a look at the benefits of napping.
You should also prepare carefully for bedtime. Wind down gradually by trying some relaxation exercises for example.
Sweet dreams !