Getting enough sleep is essential for survival, like food or water. Sleep is complex and impacts all parts of the body as we spend about one-third of our day sleeping. Many chemicals and hormones in the body regulate sleep, but the brain and body remain pretty active during sleep.
Sleep allows our brain and body to perform housekeeping, like removing toxins and healing. Certain brain chemicals (GABA, norepinephrine, serotonin, and adenosine) promote sleep and become active when we get ready for bed. Within a few minutes of falling asleep, there are changes in the body and brain such as: lower body temperature, decreased brain activity, heart rate and slower breathing. Over the night we go through multiple sleep cycles that last 70-120 minutes and each cycle has 4 main stages which vary by person, age and other factors, such as alcohol consumption. The sleep cycle has non-REM sleep and REM sleep. Non-REM sleep is our deep sleep. It consists of dozing off for 1-5 minutes (stage 1), then for 10-25 minutes there is a drop in our temperature, our muscles relax and our breathing and heart rate slow (stage 2). In stages 3 and 4 of non-REM sleep, we enter deep sleep, which lasts 20-40 minutes and gets shorter as the night goes on. REM sleep only lasts a few minutes, sometimes an hour by the end of the night and is where our brain is active and dreaming and atonia occur.
Symptoms and health effects of sleep deprivation
- Not feeling alert of refreshed when you wake up
- Slowed thinking
- Falling asleep while watching TV or reading
- Mood changes
- Feeling tired during the day
- Memory problems
- Increased risk of accidents or injuries, especially car accidents
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Difficulty maintaining a healthy weight because you feel hungrier
- Worsens immune system function as the body has more difficulty fighting off infections
- Increased risk of mental health disorders, especially depression and suicide
Did you know? Students who pull all-nighters are more likely to have a lower GPA. Additionally, only 11% of college students sleep well consistently and 40% of college students feel well rested no more than two days per week.
Tips for better sleep
Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
- Set a sleep schedule and prioritize it!
- Create a nightly routine and be consistent:
- Set a wind down time
- Avoiding bright lights and electronics
- Get up if you haven’t fallen asleep in 20 minutes
- Optimize your bedroom with
- cooler temperatures
- black out curtains or an eye mask
- white noise, earplugs or a fan to reduce bothersome noise
- Make healthy daily habits by
- limiting sunlight exposure
- not exercising close to bed
- avoiding nicotine and avoiding alcohol and caffeine later in the day
- not eating a full meal before bed, opt for a light snack instead