Researchers estimate that we spend approximately one-third of our lives sleeping. And while we all know that sleep is important, the exact science of what happens to our bodies during sleep may surprise you. Find out what happens while you are sleeping and how the quality of your sleep can affect your health.

Why Do We Sleep?

Back in the 1950’s most people believed that sleep was a passive activity during which the body and the brain were dormant. But as more information about sleep became available, scientists and the general population grew aware of the crucial activities the brain and the body go through during the night. 

When we sleep, our bodies undergo a series of processes that allow them to regenerate and prepare for the next day. Sleep also allows our brain to slow down and engage in the process of recovery. 

Inadequate sleep can negatively affect several fundamental processes like thinking, concentration, energy levels, and mood. It’s clear that sleep is essential for our well-being, so let’s look at what exactly happens while we sleep. 

What is Sleep, Exactly?

Your brain goes through four or five sleep cycles during a regular sleep period. Each cycle is made up of four specific sleep stages. These sleep stages are further broken down into two categories: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep.

The first three stages of sleep happen during non-REM sleep and include:

  • Dozing off
  • Falling asleep
  • Slowing down of brain activity
  • Putting the body into recovery mode

The fourth stage occurs in REM sleep, during which the brain activity shoots back up to levels similar to your waking state. You are likely to have vivid dreams during REM sleep, but your body is paralyzed with sleep to prevent you from acting out the dreams. 

What Happens While We Sleep?

While you sleep, the neurons in your brain switch from their waking mode to their sleep mode and send signals to the rest of the body. And many important processes that help regulate your metabolism and nervous, immune, and cardiovascular systems occur during the night. Here are some of the core body processes that are positively affected by sleep:

  1. Brain Processing: Your brain sorts and stores information during your sleep. This process is especially important for creating long-term memory.
  2. Hormone Regulation: Your body releases a number of specific hormones during sleep. Melatonin helps regulate your sleep, while a growth hormone released by your pituitary gland helps your body grow and repair itself. 
  3. Sympathetic Nervous System: The sympathetic nervous system, which controls your fight or flight response, gets a chance to relax during your sleep cycle. 
  4. Immune System: During your sleep, your immune system releases a protein called cytokines. Cytokines help your body fight inflammation, infection, and trauma and are important for the proper functioning of your immune system.

What Happens Due to Lack of Sleep?

Lack of sleep can result in irritability, anxiety, depression, daytime sleepiness, decreased cognitive functions and lowered immune system. If you are worried about the quality of your sleep, UAB Medical West in Birmingham, Alabama, is here to support you. Our medical staff can help you determine whether sleep issues are adversely affecting your health.  

 UAB Medical West in Birmingham, Alabama Cares About You Health

Sleep is more than just a time to relax; it is also an essential part of keeping your body strong and healthy. If you have any questions about the quality of your sleep or have concerns about how lack of sleep could be affecting your health, reach out to us today. Schedule an appointment in Hueytown, Hoover, Bessemer, McCalla, and Vance!