What Happens to You When You Sleep

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On average, we spend about 25 years of our entire lives sleeping.  There is no other single activity humans do more of, and a consistent lack of it can seriously impact the quality of life and overall health. Sleep is so vital that it is one of my six keys to optimal health.  What happens to you when you are sleeping is an amazing cycle of activity that repeats over the course of the night.  In this article, you will learn how sleep affects the body and the two major types of sleep we experience.  You will also learn about the sleep cycle and its five stages. It’s a fascinating journey your body takes while sleeping and it all happens while you are sound asleep!

How Sleep Affects the Body 

Sleep is as essential to our very survival as eating and water.  It is a naturally occurring state where the nervous system is inactive.  During this time your eyes are closed, muscles are relaxed and consciousness is temporarily suspended. According to Web MD, your body works to repair muscle tissue, organs, and other cells.  Chemicals that strengthen the immune system start to circulate though the blood. 

Two Types and the Cycle. . .

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There are two major types of sleep, defined as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM sleep.  Non-REM is the deepest type and where many important body functions happen.  For instance, non-REM slumber enables clear thinking, aids our ability to form complete sentences, and converts short term memories into long term storage.  If you’ve ever been snooze-deprived and felt brain fog, it’s because you didn’t get enough deep sleep.  The REM stage is where dreams come alive.  It’s physically less important than deep sleep, but some scientists argue that it’s an essential time to process emotions.  All of this takes place in a cycle that takes about 90 to 110 minutes to complete.  Once the cycle is over, it starts again and repeats over and over again throughout the entire night. 

Sleep Stages One and Two (Non-REM)

Stage one typically lasts five to 10 minutes.  This is falling asleep or light sleep, and during this time, you can be easily awakened.  You may drift in and out of consciousness.  Perhaps you have experienced this when stuck in a long, boring meeting.  Your eye and body movement slow down and you may experience a sudden jerky movement of your legs or other muscles. These movements are similar to the jump we make when someone startles us.  During stage two, eye movement stops and our brain waves become slower with bursts of rapid waves called sleep spindles.  This is light slumber and about 50 percent of your time sleeping is spent in stages one and two.  Your heart rate slows and body temperature drops.

Stages Three and Four (Non-REM)

Stage three is the first phase of deep sleep. The brain waves are a combination of long, slow waves combined with shorter, faster waves.  During stage 3, it can be very difficult to wake someone up.  People awakened during this stage typically feel groggy and disoriented for several minutes. Stage four is the second phase of deep sleep. The brain is mostly making slow brain waves and it’s very difficult to wake someone up.  Both stages three and four are important for feeling refreshed in the morning.  If these stages are too short, your snooze time will not feel satisfying.  About 30 of your time sleeping is spent in stages three and four.

Stage Five (REM)

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REM sleep (rapid eye movement) makes up of remaining 20 percent of the time sleeping.  It occurs about 70 to 90 minutes after you fall asleep. During this stage, breathing is faster and becomes more shallow than in the first four stages.  Eyes move rapidly and the sympathetic nervous system becomes very active.  At the same time, muscles become temporarily paralyzed and the body becomes surprisingly still. Heart rate and blood pressure rise and dreams occur during this stage. Interestingly, while the lengths of stages one through four remain relatively consistent during each cycle, this is not the case with stage five.  The first cycle of the night has a shorter phase of REM sleep. As the night progresses and toward morning, the time spent in the REM stage increases.  Dreams can occur throughout the entire night, but they are longer just before you wake up.  

So Much More

The subject of sleep is constantly being researched.  It is such a big subject that I’m planning an entire series of articles on sleep alone. Now you understand what happens to you when you sleep if you are a healthy person.  Unfortunately, 40 million Americans suffer from long-term sleep disorders that prevent them from experiencing a normal cycle.  Another 20 million Americans experience occasional sleep problems.  These disorders and problems can have a serious impact on your health and well being.  That’s why my next article we will cover more issues including the circadian rhythm, sleep disorders, and tips for good quality sleep.  Until then, if you have any questions regarding this or any other health and wellness topic, visit naturallyyoufl.com.  There you will learn more about sleep and find a resource guide with recommended books on the subject.  You can also chat with me there or call me directly at 813.505.9815.  I look forward to speaking with you soon.  

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