Sleep is important but one of the most mysterious aspects of life. We spend almost a third of our lives asleep, yet scientists are still unsure why it’s necessary or what exactly happens during sleep. Let’s look at some current theories and explore the vast mysteries that surround sleep. What occurs in our bodies and brains while we’re asleep? Why do we dream? And what are the consequences of not getting enough sleep?
Special to The Roosevelt Island Daily News
When we fall asleep, our brains enter into non-rapid eye movement (NREM). This is often referred to as “deep” or “slow wave” sleep.
During this stage, our brain waves slow down, and our bodies repair themselves while conserving energy reserves. NREM sleep restores mental alertness and physical performance levels by allowing our brains to send signals throughout the rest of the body more efficiently.
It is also believed that dreaming occurs during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Dreams range from vivid nightmares to bizarre fantasies. Sometimes they reveal inner feelings and psychological processes unknown on a conscious level.
According to some experts, dreams fulfill certain functions such as stress relief or memory consolidation. But their exact purpose – or purposes – remains a mystery.
The REM Phase
During REM sleep, our brains enter a state of heightened activity with increased nerve cell firing. Now, our eyes move rapidly behind closed eyelids and breathing becomes more shallow.
Dreams occur during REM. Experts theorize that this helps process emotions and consolidate memories. REM sleep is also known for maintaining mental alertness and physical performance levels.
The Hazards of Not Enough Sleep
Although sleeping is essential for resting and rejuvenation, not getting enough has serious negative effects on mental and physical health. Lack has been linked with mood swings, disorientation, impaired memory formation and even hallucinations.
So, adequate amounts of restful shuteye each night is necessary for staying healthy and well-rested.
Sleep is essential for our physical and mental well-being. It’s when our bodies heal, our minds refresh and our energy rebuilds.
In slumber, we repair our bodies and minds by providing a temporary off-ramp from daily activities. Hormones are secreted that regulate stress levels and enhance immunity.
Also, processes in both our brains and bodies, experts think, consolidate memories and process emotions. This work fails if we don’t get adequate rest each night.
It’s not as well-known, but long-term consequences of chronic sleep deprivation relate to obesity, heart attacks/stroke risk increases, depression and diabetes due to hormonal imbalance.
Making It Better
Not getting enough sleep has negative impacts on overall wellness. So, what can you do to ensure you’re getting a good night’s rest?
Here are some tips:
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine
- Limit technology usage before bedtime
- Create an optimal sleeping environment (dim lights & comfortable temperatures
- Exercise regularly but not in the hours close to bedtime
- Use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation
- Get plenty of natural light during the day
- Experiment with different mattress types & pillow styles until you find one that works best for you.
Getting quality sleep is essential for a healthy life. Taking steps now can benefit your short-term productivity as well as your long-term health.
So Much We Still Don’t Know
Despite decades of research and advancements in understanding sleep, many aspects remain mysterious. Even the fundamental purpose of sleep isn’t fully known. And although we understand that it’s an essential part of our lives, why is not clear.
When we sleep, our bodies go through various stages of activity; we have deep and rapid eye movement sleep. There are other stages where we drift between sleeping and waking.
Scientists believe that each stage serves a different purpose, but there is still much to be learned on how these functions work.
Circadian rhythms (the body’s natural way of regulating the day/night cycle) and their effects on our bodily functions are still unclear. Dreaming too is far from being fully understood, although theories suggest that it has more complexity than we once thought.
In the future, two major areas should be explored: specific links between dreaming and mental health processes (such as stress relief), and how lifestyle factors like nutrition influence the quality/frequency of restful periods.
Treatments for particular sleeping disorders could be investigated across age groups. All of these topics will hopefully shed light on the unsolved mysteries surrounding sleep.
With so much mystery surrounding it, there is no definitive answer as to why we need sleep or what occurs while we are asleep.
There are many theories out there exploring these questions as well as others like what our dreams actually mean or if animals experience similar states of consciousness when they slumber.
But only time will tell if any conclusive answers emerge from further research into this fascinating subject that affects us all.