We hear it all the time, we need more sleep, shut down, sleep is important. Then there are those who say they do fine on 5-6 hours of sleep a night. So just how does sleep affect our lives?
Our sleep problems are so bad that the CDC refers to them as "a public health epidemic." Many of us have problems either falling asleep, waking up in the night or both.
The benefits of a good night’s sleep include elevated mood, increased libido, building of muscles, improved short term memory, decreased obesity and diabetes, healthier skin, less anxiety and improved immune system to name just a few.
So how does this all happen while we sleep? Firstly, we need both the right quantity and quality of sleep to heal, repair and perform our best on a daily basis. If sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to complete all of the phases needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite and more.
We’re all different, and it’s said that the average number of hours of sleep needed in adults is about 7-9.
There are four stages of sleep and something special and unique happens in each of these stages. We have REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). 75% of our sleep is NREM and as we fall asleep we enter NREM sleep and we go through the following cycles:
NREM1 Between being awake and falling asleep, or light sleep.
NREM2 Onset of sleep, become disengaged from our surroundings, breathing and heart rate is regular, body temperature drops
NREM3 The deepest and most restorative sleep happens here, our blood pressure drops, breathing becomes slower and our muscles relax. During this stage our blood supply begins to increase and tissue growth and repair occurs. Our energy is restored. We also release hormones such as Growth Hormone which is essential for development including muscle development.
REM We then enter Rem which is about 25% of our sleep and first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and re-occurs every 90 minutes, getting longer later in the night. REM sleep is the delicious dream state. During REM we provide energy to the brain and body. REM supports daytime performance, our brain is active and dreams occur. This is when our eyes dart back and forth because they are the only muscle in the body that is not paralysed during this cycle. The rest of our body becomes immobile and relaxed and our muscles are turned off.
You can see how important each stage of sleep is and that if we wake up constantly we take away the body’s ability to cycle through these stages, therefore inhibiting proper function of hormones, healing, repair, rest and memory consolidation.
One of estrogen’s 400 jobs is sleep. Conversely, we can also help to balance many hormones (estrogen, cortisol, insulin, melatonin and more) by being in bed by 10pm so that our body can cycle through the four stages of sleep enough times for us to heal and repair and regenerate.
Next week I’ll talk about ways to help you fall asleep quicker and have better quality sleep.