The Simplified Science of Sleep

Sleep comes so naturally to us that we often don’t give it a second thought, but when you actually stop and think about it… it’s quite an intriguing thing. Every day, every person on Earth (give or take a small minority) dedicates a pretty large portion of their day to sleep. It’s fair to say then, that sleep is pretty important. More recently people have begun to recognise that good quality sleep is as crucial to your well being as diet and exercise and it’s part of the reason we’re so passionate at Button & Sprung on educating people on how to sleep better.

 

family sleeping

 

But why is it so important?

Here we’ve simplified (hopefully in an interesting and engaging way!) the actual science behind sleep… and once you’ve read this, if you haven’t already, you’ll certainly take a keener interest in your sleep routine in the future.

Heading back to school science, it’s one of life’s seven processes. Without it we simply wouldn’t be able to survive… a great article by Harvard University compares sleep with another of our life sustaining activites - eating. Whilst hunger and eating may be easier for us to comprehend, due to the nature of physically consuming food that our body needs to sustain itself - sleepiness and sleep are very much the same thing.

 

So, why do we need to sleep?

 

Despite extensive research, the question of why we need to sleep remains relatively difficult to answer and there are numerous theories offering an explanation. Nevertheless, by carrying out this research and by building our understanding of the functions of sleep, we are more likely to respect it and enjoy the health benefits associated with it.

Put concisely, we know that sleep acts firstly to physically restore our body and brain and is also crucial for brain development and cognitive function, not to mention maintaining our mental well being.

There a numerous stages of sleep, which make up a cycle. The cycle lasts for approximately 90 minutes and typically speaking we experience 4-6 cycles in a night’s sleep. Here’s our summary of the stages:

 

  1. Light sleep - during this stage we are only really half asleep and our muscle activity begins to slow
  2. True sleep - this happens roughly 10 minutes after light sleep, and it’s at this point that our breathing and heart rate begin to slow down. This stage last for about 20 minutes and is the largest part of human sleep
  3. Deep sleep - our breathing and heart rates are lowest at this point and our brain produces delta waves, which are large but slow. This is followed by rhythmic breathing and limited muscle activity
  4. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep - this stage occurs around 70 to 90 minutes after we fall asleep and this is when most of our dreams happen. Our brain is very active and our eyes dart around. Breathing and blood pressure rise whilst we are effectively paralysed, this prevents us from acting out our dreams!

 

What’s so important about the changes that occur to our bodies during these sleep stages?

Physically speaking - during our deepest stage of sleep when our muscles relax and the blood supply to them increases, our body is able to grow tissue and repair, in turn restoring energy to our bodies. As we move into the REM stage, energy is provided to our body and brain and our brain becomes very active. This is essential for memory, cognitive function and brain development.

Chemically speaking - our body releases a number of hormones while we sleep. Levels of Growth hormone increase which is crucial for growth regulation and muscle development whilst Ghrelin and Leptin and Cortisol levels are also controlled which is important for regulating our metabolism and appetite. This explains the link between tiredness and weight gain.

Further benefits of sleep - studies have also shown that sleep has a strong regulatory influence on immune functions as it controls levels of important immune cells in the body and also has a specific role in the formation of immunological memory, crucial for us to fight off infections and keep healthy.

 

wake up happy

 

So there we have it, the simplified science of sleep. At Button & Sprung we truly believe in the power of a good night's sleep and by reading this we really hope you now feel the same!

 

 

 

 

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