A good night’s sleep can help us feel energised and refreshed the next day. Likewise, a bad night’s rest can leave us feeling exactly the opposite - lethargic, fatigued, and unable to focus. When it comes to our health and wellbeing, sleeping is as important as eating, drinking and breathing - we simply cannot function without it. According to Healthline, we spend approximately one third of our lives asleep, so it is important to understand what happens to our brains and bodies while we sleep and what the benefits of a good night’s rest could be.
What happens to our body when we sleep
When we are asleep, our body goes through two stages of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. The non-REM stage involves the transition from wakefulness to deep sleep. In the early parts of non-REM sleep, our brain activity and heart rate slow down considerably. During REM, the brain becomes active at a similar level to when we’re awake and this is when we tend to have the most intense period of dreaming. Breathing and heart rate also quickens during REM sleep.
The level of hormones is also affected by sleep. For instance, levels of growth hormones go up, and cortisol, linked to stress, goes down. A lack of sleep can also mess with levels of leptin and ghrelin (the hormones that control hunger) which can lead to poor diet choices during the day.
How much sleep is enough?
How much sleep we need each night is predominantly dependent on age. Generally, adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night, while children need approximately nine to thirteen hours.
But it’s not simply about quantity - the quality of our sleep is just as important. Here are just some factors that can prevent you from getting a good quality sleep.
Irregular sleeping schedule – Your body thrives off routine, when you have a set time to go to bed and wake up it can improve your sleep as it indicates to your body when to start preparing to unwind and go to sleep.
Sleeping environment – Ensuring you create a relaxing, dark and quiet space that is free of blue light exposure form digital screens can promote better quality of sleep.
Drinking too much caffeine – If you are having trouble going to sleep then you should try limiting your caffeine intake as this could be a factor as to why you may not be able to sleep. Caffeine can interfere with your ability to get to sleep as well as remaining asleep throughout the night.
Sleeping disorders – Disorders such as insomnia can make it extremely difficult to get to sleep as well remain asleep. It can be caused by factors such as stress, jet lag and alcohol and caffeine consumption. Making sure you exercise regularly and relax at least one hour before bed can help reduce symptoms of insomnia.
What are the benefits of a good night’s sleep
In this section we will look at just some of the ways sleeping can support our wellbeing.
1. Can boost the immune system
A good night’s sleep can aid the immune system and helps fights off colds and flus, giving our bodies the rest and rejuvenation it needs when we’re under the weather.
2. Can improve concentration and productivity
Cognitive performance is negatively affected by poor sleep. When we don’t get enough, we struggle to concentrate and are generally less productive. A good night's sleep allows our bodies to rest, helping us feel alert, engaged and energised the following day.
3. Helps maintain a healthy weight
According to Healthline, there is evidence to suggest getting enough sleep can help with weight control. Poor sleep affects hunger hormone levels (ghrelin and leptin), leading us to feel hungrier than we normally would and therefore more likely to consume a greater number of calories.
Good sleep can also leave us feeling energetic and positive, meaning we’re more likely to exercise throughout the day.
4. Can improve mental health
While we’re asleep, our brains are processing emotional information. If this process is interrupted, it can affect how we manage our emotions the next day.
Poor sleep can often worsen the symptoms of depression or anxiety. On the other hand, good sleep helps our brain to regulate mood and puts us in a better position to cope with the day ahead.
5. Can leads to a healthier heart
When we sleep, our blood pressure decreases, allowing the heart and blood vessels to rest sufficiently. According to British Heart Foundation, the time we go to bed could be a factor in heart health too. Evidence suggests that going to bed between 10 and 11 pm could put us at a lower risk of developing heart and circulatory disease compared to going to bed at an earlier or later time.
6. Can decrease the risk of high blood sugar levels and type 2 diabetes
Research has found that poor sleep could be linked to high blood sugar levels due to its effects on insulin and cortisol. A lack of sleep can also increase levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and can decrease levels of leptin, the hormone that makes us feel full, leading to the likelihood of overeating, which is a risk factor for diabetes.
7. Helps to build and maintain good relationships
A lack of sleep can leave us feeling moody, irritable and less willing to engage with others. When we are well-rested, we are in a better position to control our emotions and are more likely to communicate and engage in a positive way, leading to better relationships with colleagues, friends, and family.
If you’re struggling to sleep
If you struggle to sleep well on a regular basis, please consider contacting your GP who will be able to give you advice and support on how you can get a better quality of sleep.
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute the medical advice from a healthcare professional.