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What is Sleep? Basic Facts to Know About Sleep

September 15, 2020 3:01 pm

Sleep is a behavioral state during which much of your body is resting, and your brain gets to take a break from conscious thought and focus on other important functions. While we’re sleeping, our body rests and recuperates while conserving energy for the next day, meanwhile, our brains make hormones necessary for growth and metabolism, as well as consolidating memories. We know that when we don’t get enough sleep, we feel sleepy, our brains have a tough time focusing, and can also have trouble regulating our emotions.

After falling asleep, our brains cycle through different phases including light sleep, deep sleep, and dream sleep, all of which have unique and important functions to help us feel well-rested! The first stage is light sleep, which includes Stage 1 and Stage 2 sleep. During light sleep heart rates, breathing, and brain waves slow down as muscles start to relax and the body’s temperature drops. The next stage is deep sleep, also known as Stage 3 or slow-wave sleep. During this stage, the heart rate, breathing, and brain waves slow to the lowest levels, and sleep is very stable meaning it’s difficult to wake people up during deep sleep. The next stage is dream sleep, also known as rapid eye movement or REM sleep, during which our muscles are completely relaxed, but are almost as active as they are during times when we are awake. Most of our dreams occur during REM sleep which is why it’s called dream sleep.

Although we know where in the brain sleep is generated, falling asleep is a complicated brain function and is regulated by our “internal clock” or circadian rhythm combined with information from our bodies. This data includes the amount of time spent being awake, activity level during the day, and the amount and timing of caffeine intake, among other factors.

As babies, we sleep for most of the day (16-18 hours), and as we get older we start sleeping less and less. By the time a child is 3 to 5 years old, total sleep time averages 10 to 13 hours, and then it further decreases to 7 to 9 hours per night by adulthood.

There are challenges to getting a healthy amount of sleep at night which vary based on age. Learning how to sleep independently can be difficult for some children and families, and teenagers can have trouble with circadian rhythm delay, insomnia, and poor sleep hygiene habits. Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and sleep-related movement disorders can also cause a lot of disruption leading to poor quality sleep.

Healthy sleep has been shown in studies to have a positive impact on overall health. Researchers continue to look into the effects of sleep and continue to make exciting new discoveries like the scientists who won the Nobel prize in 2017 for their research on circadian rhythms not just in your brain but throughout your body. More and more celebrities and leaders such as Ariana Huffington and LeBron James have been vocal about the benefits of sleep in their own lives. Overall, sleep is important to help people stay healthy and feel good!

Please reach out to The Pediatric and Adolescent Sleep Center for more information about sleep or if you have concerns about your sleeping.

Dr. Aarthi Vemana

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