Let’s confess: we all enjoy a good night sleep. Of course! That cozy moment when all is over and it seems the only thing on your mind is that bed you made in the morning waiting for you to tuck yourself under those blankets until… well, another morning again. How awesome! Having a good night sleep (at least eight hours of it) is really important to your health. However, your sleep cycle is pretty much influenced with these changes. Changes in brain wave activity, breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and other physiological functions, are seen as some of the characteristics of a good night sleep. Sweet dreams!
Related media: To Sleep, Perchance To Dream: Crash Course Psychology #9
A Visit To The Sleep Lab
First of all, we all sleep, and there’s no need for a crash course about “what is sleep.” This is common in most living organisms, and as humans, understanding this remarkable change has been researched for decades. Scientists have long discovered that the brain is highly active during sleep, together with several biological and physiological activities as well. Careful observations and technical innovations has improved our understanding about the stages of sleep — from clinical observations to changes in behavior and responsiveness, scientists have generalize some characteristics of sleep. Enter the Sleep Lab.
There are four general stages of sleep: Non-Rapid Eye Movement (non-REM) sleep, these are the first three stages, and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which is the final stage. And we now know many of the common characteristics and patterns of sleep, as well as how certain factors like disease, medication, behavior, and varying lifestyles influence when and how we sleep. These include reduced activities (typically our postures, such as lying down with eyes closed), decreased stimulation, and being in a state that is easy to reverse — often distinguishing sleep from other reduced states of consciousness, such as hibernation and coma.
These simultaneous changes has led scientists to describe sleep in humans based on our neurological and physiological activities. Here are the characteristics of what a good night sleep does to your body.
Brain Wave Activity
For centuries, physicians believed that the brain was in active during sleep; now several studies over the past 60 years has proven that the brain remains active during sleep. There are few neurons that are active or fired throughout the brain as you progress from wakefulness to non-REM sleep. And also, the rate at which neurons are fired, changes from a seemingly random and variable pattern during wakefulness, to a much more coordinated and synchronous pattern during non-REM sleep.
Your breathing pattern also changes during sleep, and while awake, breathing is usually irregular — your speech, emotions, exercise, body posture, and other factors affect how you breathe. As you progress from wakefulness through the stages of non-REM sleep, your breathing slightly decreases and becomes very regular. And during REM sleep, the pattern becomes seemingly random again, with an overall increase in your breathing rate.
Most of your internal organs take a break from duty during sleep, and the heart is no exception. During non-REM sleep, there is an overall reduction of cardiovascular activity like heart rate and blood pressure as compared to wakefulness. And during REM sleep, however, there is an overall increase in heart rate and blood pressure. In addition, changes like erections and swelling of the clitoris in females are caused by changes in blood flow during REM sleep.
However, there are no underlying reasons for these neural and physiological changes in REM sleep, and scientists believe these are by-products of REM-sleep related changes in nervous activity.
Your body temperature is controlled by several mechanism such as sweating, shivering, and changes in blood flow to the skin in a process known as thermoregulation. So your temperature fluctuates at set levels during wakefulness. Before you fall asleep, your body starts to lose some heat to your surroundings which helps induce sleep. While sleeping, your body temperature is reduce by 1 to 2 degrees Celsius or Fahrenheit, and as a result, your body uses less energy to regulate your temperature.
This has been hypothesized as one of the reasons how your body conserves energy during sleep. During non-REM sleep, your body temperature is slightly reduced to a certain level and maintained, however, during REM sleep, your body temperature falls to its lowest. This is why you often curl up under a blanket in bed during REM sleep. This ensures that you don’t lose too much heat to your surroundings during this critical yet potentially dangerous time without thermoregulating.
Increased Physiological Activity
Most of your physiological activities are controlled during wakefulness, but during sleep, they are drastically reduced. For Instance, your kidney slows down the production of urine, however, some other functions may be maintained or increased during sleep. For instance, one of the greatest changes that occur during sleep is increased release of growth hormones. Other physiological activities that increase during include digestion, tissue growth and repair — an indication that our bodies undergo growth and development during sleep.
Of course, dreaming is the least understood non-physiological characteristic of sleep, during which our thoughts experience weird and seemingly illogical imaginations of our sub-conscious state, often random and sometimes related to our experiences during wakefulness. Most of your visually intense dreams occur during REM sleep, however, not all of your dreams occur during REM sleep. For instance, nightmares actually occur during non-REM sleep.
Throughout history, the explanation for dreams, as well as their meanings, have been a major debating topic by most philosophers and psychologists. There’s been modern scientific investigations about dreaming, but our dreams still remain a mystery to be resolved for good. According to experts, dreams represent a critical mechanism in the formation of memories, while others claim that dreams are a result of uncoordinated random brain activity.
Which of these characteristics of sleep would you enjoy? Goodnight!
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Tue, Oct 19, 2021.