Sleep is one of the most powerful components of human functioning. You don’t realize it because you’re unconscious, but you accomplish a lot while you sleep, and you sleep a lot—nearly one-third of your life. Getting a proper night’s rest is important for having energy and being productive throughout the day, but there’s much more going on inside your body as well.
If you feel groggy after tossing and turning all night, then you won’t be surprised to learn that your brain suffers when you can’t sleep well. The level of rest your body is able to achieve affects nearly every aspect of your life, from personal and family productivity to work performance. When chronic fatigue or brain fog prevents you from managing your responsibilities and obligations, you negatively impact overall organizational development because you’re unable to overcome stress and make quality decisions. Here are some of the ways your body and brain keep working while you snooze.
You Strengthen Your Brain’s Plasticity
When you sleep, your brain is trying to remember anything and everything. Your ability to learn and grow depends on your brain adapting to inputs and processing information, which happens during sleep. When you can’t rest, you can’t sort through the data you’ve gained, meaning you won’t be able to recall or remember important events or materials. You may think pulling an all-nighter is the best way to ace an exam, but truthfully, sleep is what cements the knowledge in your mind.
Your Brain Moves Through Sleep Stages
You don’t really notice, but you actually go through several stages of sleep after your head hits the pillow. During Non-REM, which happens right after dozing off, your brain produces alpha, theta and delta waves that help you progress through your light and deep sleep cycles.
You Process Information and Memories From the Day Before
Non-REM sleep is followed by rapid eye movement or REM sleep, where most of your dreams occur. You should be experiencing five or six REM cycles each night, in 90-minute increments. Your brain becomes more active, allowing you to organize and commit to memory everything you experienced the previous day. While dreaming can occur during both Non-REM and REM sleep, the latter is where you experience odd, creative and unrealistic dreams, like nightmares.
Your Body Temperature Drops
When you sleep, your brain takes over and your body relaxes. When your nervous system deactivates, your blood pressure drops and breathing slows, causing your core temperature to decrease. This process is linked to cardiovascular function and helps to sustain heart health over your lifespan. When your body reactivates, your temp rises, acting as a natural signal that it’s time to wake up and get moving. Therefore, if you have trouble falling asleep, you can signal to your body that it’s bedtime by cracking a window, turning down the heat or using a fan beside the bed.
Your Muscles Become Paralyzed
The reason you don’t move much throughout the night is that you physically can’t. It would be very dangerous if you were to physically act out your dreams in an unconscious state. Therefore, during sleep, the frontal cortex of your brain shuts down, causing the muscles in your body to experience neurological paralysis. This is completely normal, but when this process is disrupted or damaged, a condition can occur where you wake up unable to move, called sleep paralysis.
Your Cells and Systems Regenerate
During deep sleep, your body repairs damaged tissues and muscles, either from normal wear and tear or more extreme physical exertion. You’re also able to produce hormones that stimulate the growth and regeneration of cells. If you are not able to achieve six to eight hours of sleep per night, then your brain won’t have time to start the repair process. Therefore, inadequate sleep can lead to rapid early aging or degenerative disease. Along with diet and regular exercise, sleep is an essential contributor to optimal fitness, both for athletes and average Joes alike.
Your Immune System Goes to War
Where’s the one place you want to be when you feel sick? Bed, right? There’s an important reason why. Sleep is essential to immune functioning, and your body needs this downtime to build defenses and fight infections. While you're unconscious, your immune system produces cytokines that your body needs to battle harmful agents and promote wellness. Medical research shows that people with poor quality sleep are more vulnerable to illnesses and have more difficulty with recovery than healthy individuals.
Your Brain Fights Off Depression
Effective sleep helps to balance the neurotransmitters in your brain that regulate your mood. When your dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine levels are out of order because you aren’t getting adequate rest, you can experience greater irritability, stress, anxiety and depression, which further negatively impact your overall health. It’s a vicious cycle—when you can’t sleep, you feel anxious, and when you’re anxious, you have difficulty sleeping.
Your Skin Cells Rejuvenate
It’s not just your brain, bones and internal organs that benefit from a good night’s sleep. Your skin cells have their own circadian cycles, and skin health is directly impacted by the number of hours you snooze each night. Quality sleep boosts elasticity and hydration as well as blood flow to the skin. Sleep deprivation leads to painful conditions in the dermis and epidermis, including acne, rosacea and psoriasis. Dermatologists also recommend a healthy sleep routine to help fight signs of skin aging.
You Make the Hormones That Keep You HealthyWhile you’re off in dreamland, your glands work hard to produce and secrete hormones that regulate your sleep cycles, helping you to fall asleep and wake up when appropriate. Melatonin is the sleep hormone. It lets you know it’s bedtime by making you feel tired, and its production relies on your circadian rhythm. Levels of cortisol, your stress hormone, typically drop when you’re falling asleep and then rise again when you wake.
Additionally, your body produces an anti-diuretic, allowing you to stay asleep through the night without having to disrupt your cycle for the purpose of urination. Of course, when disordered sleep or other medical conditions are at play, frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom or bed-wetting can occur, resulting in poor rest quality.
To give your body its best chance, make sleep a top priority in your life. You may have many high expectations to meet throughout your week, but the best way to accomplish anything is to approach it from a strong and healthy stance. Give your brain and body the care they deserve, so they can keep you performing at an optimal level.
Sometimes we change our sleep habits and still don't get the quality sleep our body and brain craves and needs. If nothing is improving your sleep problems, you may have sleep apnea. Take our insomnia quiz or contact the Alaska Sleep Clinic today .