Treating sleep as a priority rather than a luxury may be more valuable than most of us realize. Maybe we should start to think of sleep as an insurance policy for healthy longevity. Although sleep is critical for both short and long term health, statistics show that more than a third of American adults do not get sufficient sleep on a regular basis. While we might believe we can skimp on sleep and not suffer any consequences, there’s a big difference between the amount of sleep one can get by on and the amount needed for optimal daily function. Lack of sleep exacts a toll on mood, perception and judgment, and can result in reduced efficiency and productivity, as well as increased errors, accidents and injuries.
What we may not realize is that when it comes to disease prevention and life expectancy, sleep quality is just as invaluable as sleep quantity. If it seems that you are giving yourself enough sleep time but have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, you may not be spending enough time in the different stages of sleep. There are four stages of sleep that constitute a sleep cycle. Typically, an individual will experience four to five non-sequential sleep cycles lasting from a few minutes to 120 minutes during the night. Sleep begins in stage 1 and progresses into stages 2, and 3. After stage 3 sleep, stage 2 sleep is repeated before entering REM sleep. Once REM sleep is over, the body usually returns to stage 2 sleep.
The four stages of sleep
- Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) Stage 1: This is the drowsy transition period between wakefulness and sleep, which generally lasts about five to ten minutes. During this short period of light sleep muscles start to relax, as breathing and brain activity begin to slow. This is also the time that some people may experience abrupt muscle spasms or jerks, as well as a sensation of falling. If awakened during this stage, one may not realize they have been sleeping.
- NREM Stage 2: During this stage the body temperature drops, heart rate begins to slow and the brain begins to produce sleep spindles, which are short bursts of brain activity that play an essential role in sensory processing and long term memory consolidation.
- NREM Stage 3: This is when deep sleep occurs. Of all the sleep stages, stage 3 is the most restorative. During deep sleep, the body repairs itself and builds energy for the day ahead; human growth hormone is released, which stimulates cellular growth and reproduction; heartbeat, blood pressure and breathing slow to their lowest levels; and deep, slow brain waves, known as delta waves, begin to emerge.
- REM (rapid eye movement) Stage 4: Considered an active sleep state, REM sleep is characterized by jerking eye movements, increased respiration rate, rising blood pressure and increased brain activity, similar to the levels experienced when awake. Dreams can be experienced in all stages of sleep but usually are most vivid in REM sleep. Studies show that everyone dreams, although we may not remember them unless awakened during REM sleep. The REM stage is a bit of a paradox, as while the brain and other body systems become more active, muscles become more relaxed and voluntary muscles become temporarily immobilized, possibly to prevent injury while trying to act out our dreams. Generally, one enters REM sleep about 90 minutes after falling asleep, with deeper, increasingly longer periods occurring toward morning.
While individual sleep requirements vary, most healthcare professionals agree that seven to nine hours of sleep each night is favorable for peak mental, physical and physiological function. Along with diet, exercise, stress management and proper supplementation, quality rest has a pronounced impact on brain, immune and metabolic functions. Sleep impacts every bodily system including neurological, cardiovascular, immune and respiratory systems. Research shows that chronic sleep deprivation, as well as poor quality sleep, increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.
Ultimately, the amount of sleep you need is best determined by allowing yourself to sleep until you naturally awaken well rested and refreshed. If your body has been chronically deprived of adequate sleep, you may need to give yourself as much rest as life circumstances will allow. Thereafter you can use feelings of morning restfulness or fatigue as measures for the proper amount of sleep for you. Addressing sleep issues helps to insure that the body has had ample time to restore and rejuvenate the cells, allowing for improved energy balance, efficiency, mood, productivity and overall health and function. For a longer, happier, healthier lifespan, make time for much needed, often ignored, quality sleep.
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Sleep and Disease Risk: http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences/sleep-and-disease-risk
How Much Sleep Do You Really Need To Be Healthy? https://drbenkim.com/how-much-sleep-need.html
The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Hormones and Metabolism. https://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/502825
The Relationship Between Sleep and Life Expectancy. https://www.verywellhealth.com/sleep-duration-and-longevity-2224291
Sleep Spindle. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/sleep-spindle
The 4 Stages of Sleep (NREM and REM Sleep Cycles). https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-four-stages-of-sleep-2795920
Stages of Sleep and Sleep Cycles: https://www.tuck.com/stages/