It seems in living such busy lives in our fast-paced world that there is either ‘just one more’ thing to do, or we feel there is not enough time to do our ‘personal favorites’, so we head to bed later and get up earlier to try and fit everything in. Is that such a bad thing? I mean, how important is sleep anyway?
Even with all the research that has been conducted in this field, sleep remains a mystery. Though the notion of the brain being ‘active’ when we are awake and ‘inactive’ when we are a sleep has been proven false, there are still many aspects of sleep that elude researchers.
Regardless of knowing everything, a few truths have emerged that seem to hold the test of time.
To be convinced that ‘something good’ happens during sleep, you need not look any farther than at a toddler. Anyone around a child whose ‘awake time’ threshold has just been crossed knows without a doubt that it is time for the child to have a nap. At such a time the child will be irritable, unruly, uncoordinated and just plain not fun to be around. Yet a nap and an hour or two later, they are a complete joy.
Adults too can start to exhibit these same characteristics when sleep deprivation starts to enter the picture. Obviously with a little maturity under their belt they are better at restraining themselves from displaying the outbursts, but it is not that they are not there.
Though maybe not knowing ‘how’, there are a number of things that happen during sleep that are known.
Sleep is a building, or re-fueling time. The energy processes that have been depleted through the day are restored and made available for the new day’s activities.
Human growth hormone is released while you sleep. Obviously this is important during the growing years of children and the reason babies will sleep 14 – 15 hours a day, and children between the ages of five and twelve typically needing 10 to 11 hours.
It doesn’t end in childhood though, human growth hormone is used in tissue repair, so even as an adult, during the night the body is busy rebuilding and restoring muscles and other tissue that has been damaged during the day.
Human growth hormone is not the only hormone released during sleep, there are others as well that aid the body in rebuilding and repair. The immune system has been found to get a boost during sleep. Research has found that with sleep deprivation, the immune system becomes impaired.
Chemicals and hormones related to being able to control your appetite and weight management are also released while you sleep. Thus the importance of those trying to lose weight to ensure they are getting an adequate amount of sleep at night.
Another very important aspect, though details remain unknown, is what happens to the circuitry in the brain. Though not understood, researchers do know that with sleep deprivation, people lose their ability to concentrate; language, memory, and sense of time are negatively affected. People lose the ability to respond to rapid changing situations and are incapable of making sound judgments.
Researchers studying sleep patterns have noticed that when sleep deprived people finally do get to sleep, they spend a longer time than usual in the REM (rapid eye movement) stage, the stage where dreams usually occur. So though we may not understand exactly why we dream and what happens internally during them, it is obvious that this stage is a vital part of our functioning.
The amount of sleep required varies from person to person with the range between 5 and 11 hours. The average comes in at just under 8. It doesn’t matter where you fall in the range, but what does matter is that you honor your body and give it the sleep it requires, if you want to function at your best.