Most people think that our bodies become physically and mentally inactive while we sleep – and scientists previously thought, too. But research has shown that this isn’t the case! Your brain and body are actually working for your good health and here’s how.
Cycling In and Out
There are two stages, or phases, of sleep that we go through as we sleep, namely, non-REM and REM. During the night, you can cycle through these two phases three to five times although you will not know it. REM stands for rapid eye movement, by the way.
You start your sleeping hours in non-REM sleep. You will also spend most of your sleep here although it must also be said that the REM stage is also important in a restful night.
There are three stages of non-REM sleep – the N1 stage, the lightest, which progresses to the N2 and N3 stages, the deepest. During the N1 to N3 progression, your brain and body become progressively less responsive to stimuli from the environment. You will also be harder to wake up while most of your physical and mental functions slow down.
Trivia: About half of your sleeping time will be spent in the N2 phase.
During the REM stage, your eyes dart quickly back and forth behind your eyelids, thus, the name. Your dreams occur at this stage that, when coupled with the rapid eye movement, make it seem like you’re aware of your surroundings when you’re actually not.
In fact, your body stays nearly completely still even as your eyes dart back and forth. Surprisingly, too, your body temperature, blood pressure, and respiratory and pulse rates increase to their daytime levels – and it is in sharp contrast with the popular belief that the body becomes inactive during sleep. Your sympathetic nervous system, an important part in your fight or flight response, also becomes active but your body is still nearly motionless.
The bottom line: You may not know it but your body stays relatively active even as you lie prostate on your Simmons bed!
Changes in Your Body
There are many physiological changes that happen as you sleep, too. Your body temperature drops by two degrees when you become drowsy at night, a must since a cooler temperature encourages sleep. Your body temperature will be at its lowest around two hours before your wakeup time without affecting your normal body functions.
For this reason, you have to set the thermostat in your bedroom at 68 degrees, the ideal room temperature for sleeping. But each individual responds differently so you may have to experiment with your bedroom’s temperature. You should aim for a cool environment – neither warm nor cold – for best sleep.
Your breathing changes, too, between non-REM and REM sleep. As you slide from N1 to N3 sleep, your breathing pattern becomes slower yet still regular (i.e., non-REM sleep). But when you enter the REM sleep, your breathing pattern becomes faster, aside from varying more than your daytime breathing pattern.
Non-REM sleep also sees your blood pressure and pulse rate decrease that, in turn, provides time for your blood vessels and heart to recover from the stresses of the day. REM sleep, in contrast, causes your blood pressure and pulse rate to increase and then decrease.
These patterns are carried into your brain, too. When you enter non-REM sleep, your brain cells calm down so that there’s less activity than in daytime, as well as assume a more rhythmic pattern. But in REM sleep, your brain cells start to act like you’re still awake during the daytime albeit at a decreased level. Your dreams may also be the results of your brain cells firing, so to speak, in an active but random manner.
Your brain also produces GABA, a chemical that quiets down your brain’s so-called arousal centers that otherwise keep you awake. REM sleep may seem like a more active time than non-REM sleep for your body but it’s also the time when your brain sends signals for the temporary paralysis of your muscles. Even when you’re dreaming, you will not act out its scenes because of your temporary paralysis.
Most important, sleep is the time when your body rests and recovers from the physical stresses placed upon them by your daytime activities. Your body works better in repairing its muscles, organs and cells when it’s in a sleeping mode so you should feel more refreshed and reenergized by the time you wake up.
Suffice it to say that sleep deprivation has adverse effects on your physical and mental health. You will be unable to function well in your personal relationships and professional work, lose weight and gain muscle, and look and feel beautiful when you’re not sleeping well. This is true even when you’re eating well and exercising moderately.
So before you say that you will sleep when you’re dead, think twice about it first. You may just find that sleep deprivation can take you one step closer to the ultimate end.