When’s the last time you’ve gotten an excellent night’s sleep? If you’re like most Americans, it might have been a while. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, 70% of people struggle with sleep at least once a month, while 11% report getting an insufficient amount every night.
But whether it’s sleep apnea or stress preventing you from counting sheep, sleep is something that your body relies on more than most people realize. Today we’re going to examine exactly why that is.
Keep reading to learn more.
The four sleep stages
There are four stages of sleep, with each stage falling into one of two categories. Stages one through three are non-REM (rapid-eye movement), while the final stage is REM sleep.
Stage one lasts for just one to five minutes, and it leads into stage two, which can last for up to an hour. During this time, your brain activity starts to slow, but it’s still easy for noises to wake most people up.
Stage three lasts for anywhere from 20-40 minutes. This is the deepest part of the non-REM sleep cycle when your brain and muscles continue to relax, and it’s also when your mind and body recharge.
In stage four, your body enters REM sleep. Here, brain activity picks up, and most of your muscles enter a period of paralysis. While you can dream at any point in the sleep cycle, some of the most intense dreams happen during REM sleep. The final sleep stage is also the most important time for the brain, aiding with functions such as memory and learning.
How your body regulates sleep
The two major factors that regulate your need to sleep are your body’s circadian rhythm and sleep-wake homeostasis.
The circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock that tells it when to get up and go to sleep. Light exposure has the biggest influence on your body’s circadian rhythm, which is why most people feel tired at night and awake in the day.
Sleep-wake homeostasis is a term that describes a simple reality: the longer you’re awake, the more your body craves sleep. If you ever pulled an all-nighter, your body’s homeostatic sleep drive may have forced you to sleep in late the following morning to compensate for the loss in sleep the night before.
The importance of sleep
While the exact amount of sleep you need is dependant on several different factors, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of sleep.
All animals sleep, even though it makes them less alert and wastes time that they could otherwise use to reproduce or feed. That reality shows biologists how fundamental of a process sleep is.
In humans, medical experts know that sleep is essential to both physical and mental wellbeing. Regardless of your age, a lack of sleep can lead to myriad health problems, including emotional distress, difficulty thinking, poor memory and judgment-making skills, and a weakened immune system.
It may be easy to give sleep a backseat role in your life, particularly when you’re busy. However, sleep is an essential biological function that humans and other animals rely on.
Make sure to get the recommended amount of sleep as often as possible. You’ll look and feel better when you do!