Sleep affects our daily functioning and our physical and mental health in many ways. Contrary to popular belief sleep corresponds to a very active period of brain activities.
How does sleep work?
According to the latest scientific study, our sleep cycle can be broken into five stages:
Stage 1 - called light sleep, we drift in and out of sleep and can be awakened easily.
Stage 2 - our brain waves become slower, with occasional bursts of rapid waves called sleep spindles.
Stage 3 – extreme slow brain waves called delta waves begin to appear, interspersed with smaller, faster waves.
Stage 4 - our brain produces delta waves almost exclusively. It is very difficult to wake someone during stages 3 and 4, which together are called deep sleep.
Stage 5 - also called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, our breathing becomes more rapid, irregular, and shallow, our eyes jerk rapidly in various directions, and our limb muscles become temporarily paralyzed.
A complete sleep cycle of all five stages takes 90 to 110 minutes on average. The first sleep cycles each night contain relatively short REM periods and long periods of deep sleep. As the night progresses, REM sleep periods increase in length while deep sleep decreases. By morning, people spend nearly all their sleep time in stages 1, 2, and REM.
Why is sleep important
Sleep is essential to our survival. A study shows that rats deprived of all sleep can only live up to 3 weeks. Sleep is also necessary for our nerve system to work properly. Too little sleep can reduce our memory, concentration, and physical performance. Severe sleep deprivation can cause immune system failure and hallucinations, and mood swings may develop. Individuals deprived of sleep can also experience microsleep.
Microsleep refers to brief moments of sleep that occur when you're normally awake. You can't control microsleep, and you might not be aware of it. For example, have you ever driven somewhere and then not remembered part of the trip? If so, you may have experienced microsleep. Microsleep is particularly dangerous when driving as the brief moment of loss of consciousness can cause series traffic accidents. While microsleep naturally occurs, the best way to reduce microsleep is to have a good nights’ sleep.
How much sleep do we need?
The ideal amount of sleep is different for everyone. For most adults, 7 to 8 hours a night appears to be the best amount of sleep, although some people may need as few as 5 hours or as many as 10 hours of sleep each day. The quality of sleep is also an important factor. 8 hours of sleep with continuous cycles are much more efficient than 10 hours of interrupted sleep. We tend to sleep more lightly and for shorter time spans as we get older, although the amount of sleep required is the same as in in our early adulthood.
To get a good night of sleep:
1. Dim or turn off lights
2. Turn off mobile devices (or any other source of electromagnetic radiation)
3. Maintain regular exercise and daylight exposure
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