What is sleep and why do we need it?
By Barrett White
For adults ages 18-64, roughly 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night are necessary for proper bodily and cognitive function. Adults who get fewer hours of sleep per night on a regular basis may risk mood shifts and cognitive decline, like experiencing attention issues and delayed reactions.
Additionally, too little sleep has been linked to a higher risk for certain conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and poor mental health outcomes.
So what is sleep, and why do we do it?
Sleep is one of your body’s essential functions that helps to rest and recharge your body and mind. Without sleep, your brain can’t function the way it should. This could impact your cognitive abilities, as stated above, as well as your memory.
Your sleep each night is made up of four stages: Three stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, and one stage called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Your body will cycle through these four stages of sleep each night, starting a new cycle every 90-120 minutes or so.
Stage 1 NREM is the first few minutes of sleep, when you’re still in the middle. Something small could still wake you up. Your muscles are relaxing and your breathing and heart rate are beginning to slow down.
Stage 2 NREM is the longest stage. Your heart rate continues to slow down and your muscles become more relaxed. Your body temperature even begins to drop!
Stage 3 NREM is the stage where your body is as relaxed as it can be. The first time your body cycles through the sleep stages each night will be the longest lasting stage 3 – each cycle after that, stage 3 will grow shorter and shorter until you wake up.
REM is, as the name suggests, the stage where your eyes move left and right, rapidly, under your eyelids. Your heart rate and breathing rate will increase, and this is the stage where you dream. Unlike stage 3 NREM, the duration of your REM stage will lengthen throughout the night, with your first REM stage being the shortest.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, there are things one can do to get the hours you need:
- Pick a bedtime: Make sure it’s realistic and easy to keep up with.
- No screens allowed: For an hour or two before bed, no television, tablet, or phone in the bedroom.
- Set the ambiance: Maintain an ideal temperature and low light in your room. A fan, lamp, dimmer switch, and/or colored lights do wonders for relaxation.
- Get moving: Consider hitting the gym during the day. Exercise may help you to wind down and rest.