The Science of Sleep

by Jay Bua
The Science of Sleep
We all need good sleep. You know, sleep where we’re not tossing and turning all night. There are reasons why we need lots of rest and tons of advice on how to get it. If you’re not thrilled with the amount or quality of sleep you get, it’s time to change that. You can start by looking at the science of sleep. First, here’s a rundown on how good sleep can benefit you: Go To bed! Why Sleep Is the Most Important Part of Your Workout Routine

Why Do We Need Sleep?

Everyone needs sleep, but why, and how much? Well, the number one reason you require sleep is to help your brain restore itself. It’s been working all day, and evening is the best time to release that metabolic waste. Sleep is when your brain lets those toxins out—shrinking your brain cells—as it removes this waste twice as fast during sleep as it does during the day. Another interesting fact behind the science of sleep is that your brain needs rest to consolidate all its memories. So if you want to keep those mental snapshots for years, you need enough shut-eye for your brain to strengthen its hold on them. In addition, sleep affects your body, as your metabolic health benefits from more rest. When you don’t get enough sleep, the energy your body burns comes from protein and carbs, instead of fat. The result tends to be weight gain. This is why you should strive for seven to nine hours of sleep per night, much more than the five or six hours so many people squeak by on these days!

What Are the Sleep Stages?

You’ll spend every night cycling through five different stages of sleep, and each one has a different purpose in the science of sleep. During stage 1, you’re sleeping lightly and can wake up easily, so it’s probably good that you’ll only spend up to about 10 minutes in this stage. Stage 2 also involves somewhat light sleep, but your heart rate slows down as Theta waves—which are slow—go through your brain. Next is stage 3, and this is where you start to fall into a deep sleep. Your brain waves slow down even more, switching from Theta waves to Delta waves. During this stage, your brain will begin to repair itself, but this is also when you might sleepwalk, have night terrors, or wet the bed if you are prone to any of these behaviors. Stage 4 is a continuation of deep sleep, but with only Delta waves. And finally, there’s REM sleep, which stands for Rapid Eye Movement. At this point, you’re probably dreaming, thanks to the increased amount of brain activity going on. Luckily, you can’t move a muscle during this sleep stage, which should keep you from sleepwalking or thrashing around too much as you dream! It typically takes about an hour and a half to reach REM sleep, at which point the sleep cycle begins again. If you feel like your sleep cycle is broken, here are some hints to fix it: 5 Tips to Help You Get a Good Night’s Sleep

How Can You Get More Sleep?

If you have trouble getting to sleep—and staying asleep all night—you can see now why you should work on that. But how? Understanding the science of sleep can help. Start by focusing on what affects your circadian rhythm, which is what allows you to fall asleep every night. One factor is light. Simply looking at light for too long can change your circadian rhythm, since your brain assumes that means it’s morning. So ideally, you’ll only be looking at light as the sun peeks into your window when you wake up, because staring at light right before bed will keep you from falling asleep. Thus, if you’re having trouble sleeping, avoid light—including the light from your TV or phone screen—starting about an hour before bed. Another factor that impacts your circadian rhythm is melatonin. When your brain produces enough of this hormone, you feel tired when it’s dark outside and start to wake up when the sun rises. But if your brain doesn’t make enough melatonin, you can’t fall asleep easily at all. If you think this is the problem, you can take melatonin supplements to fix your sleep schedule. Finally, time is a big part of the science of sleep. More specifically, if you wake up late in the day, you might have trouble sleeping until late at night. Conversely, if you wake up very early, you probably get tired early at night, too. Additionally, think about your daily routine. For example, if you work out in the evening, falling asleep might be difficult for you. And of course, if you perform any activities that involve looking at light right before bed, falling asleep will be a challenge. If you adjust your schedule and perform certain tasks earlier in the day, sleep may come easier to you. Now that you understand the science of sleep, you should have some ideas on how to get better rest every night. And when you do, you’ll reap the rewards that come with a good night’s sleep! Get more tips on getting more rest when you read: Battling Insomnia? How Yoga Can Help You Sleep More sources on the science of sleep: Science Just Declared This Is the Secret to a Good Night’s Sleep The Science of Sleep: A Brief Guide on How to Sleep Better Every Night The Science of Sleep: Understanding What Happens When You Sleep