Sleep is definitely one of the things in life that doesn’t seem to make sense. Why do we need to shut down and rest? We could be so much more productive if we didn’t have to contend with needing 6-8 hours of sleep every night. Or would we? Sleep is a topic that has been studied and looked at for hundreds of years. We are only now starting to crack the code on what sleep is and why we truly need it.

First of all, what we need to know about the human body is that it is highly energetic. Our brains are essentially supercomputers that are running at high speeds nonstop. Our bodies are consuming tons of energy as well. Every time we move, every time we think and every time we breathe we are consuming energy. This high energy expenditure has a cost associated with it. It wears our bodies down and science has found that sleep is where we get to repair that.

The different sleep cycles are broken down into stages:

Stages 1 and 2 are light sleep. During this stage breathing slows down, heart rate slows, body temperature drops. This is the part of sleep where you can feel yourself drifting off and you will have those involuntary muscle jerks.

Stages 3 and 4 is deep sleep. This is where the most rejuvenating and restorative sleep happens. Muscle growth and repair occurs and waste removal from the brain happens. During this stage your blood pressure will drop, blood flow increases to the muscles, and repair hormones from the body are released. If you’re woken in this stage of sleep you will feel groggy and very tired and likely want to go back to sleep.

Stage 5 is REM sleep. REM sleep is when your mind is reenergized. It’s the part of sleep when dreaming happens. During this stage your breathing increases, heart rate increases, brain activity is high and body become immobile to stop you from acting out in your dreams. If you’re woken during this phase you likely will have a sensation of not being able to move your arms or legs and feel like you’re paralyzed. This is because your brain isn’t fully awake and it hasn’t turned back on your ability to control your muscles.

Your brain and body will go through these cycles of sleep multiple times per night. If you had a very physically active day you may find that your sleep cycle stays predominately in stages 3 and 4 to help aid in the healing of muscles. If you’ve been having a stressful time at work you may find your sleep cycle is predominately in REM sleep. A balance of the sleep cycles is needed though for a healthy mind and body. Many times people struggle with getting to sleep and this disrupts their ability to go through all of the sleep cycles which in turn prevents their bodies from healing physically and mentally. To help aid the  body in sleep we need to try to let ourselves wind down at night. This means putting the phone away, staying away from stimulants like caffeine, avoid watching television, and avoid late night snacks. Further to this we can help by reading before bed, going for a light walk, have a shower before sleep, meditate or debrief your day with a loved one. All of these strategies help the mind to prepare for a deep sleep. If you’re struggling with sleep don’t be afraid to talk to us on your next visit for more tips and strategies.

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