Most animals sleep including humans. Although we can’t really say why we sleep, we do know that we need it. Sleep is a rejuvenating activity and gives us the energy to go about our daily routines. We feel more confident and in charge of our emotions after a good night’s rest. In fact, losing even a few hours of sleep in a night can leave us feeling moody and lethargic the next day. But, while we know that we need to sleep, what exactly goes on in our bodies at the time? We may seem dead to the world, but there’s a whole lot of activities taking place within us. From keeping our brains alert and our hearts healthy to improving eye health and boosting our immune systems, there’s plenty happening!
In order for us to learn something, we have to go through several steps. The first is acquiring information or knowledge, the second is stabilizing memory, and the third is to recall that memory. While acquisition and recollection of information take place when we’re awake, memory consolidation is believed to happen during sleep. It’s not clear why this is but scientists suggest that sleep strengthens the neural connections that form memories. When we don’t get enough sleep, these connections become overworked, and new memories can’t form properly.
Our bodies have an effective waste management system that keeps us healthy. It expels toxins and other matter through urine, feces, tears, and sweat. Even the brain makes waste such as toxic proteins that are taken away by the cerebrospinal fluid. This brain waste is regularly being cleared but it happens more efficiently during sleep as cerebrospinal fluid is pumped into the brain quicker. People who are sleep-deprived put themselves at risk of accumulating toxins in the brain such as amyloid beta, which has been linked to Alzheimer’s.
Too little and even too much sleep can increase risk factors for heart disease. Lack of sleep puts a lot of strain on the body and makes it react the same way it would stress. Levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, increase and elevate blood pressure and heart rate. Blood pressure typically reduces at night when sleeping so when you don’t enough, it doesn’t have the chance to fall.
Sleeping for more than the maximum recommended eight hours can also increase the risk of heart disease. A study published in the European Heart Journal examined data from 21 countries and found that those who overslept pushed up their risk of cardiovascular conditions by 41 percent. However, the researchers said it’s likely not the length of sleep that’s to blame but that people who sleep for too long may have health conditions linked to heart disease.
Now more than ever, our eyes are subject to a lot of strain. The prevalence of computer and phone use means we stare at screens more than ever. According to a Nielsen Company report, American adults spend over 10 hours looking at their screens. Getting enough quality sleep can keep eyes from becoming dry and irritated and give eye muscles the rest they need. When the eyes are closed during sleep, the lipid layer of the eyes prevents the aqueous tears from evaporating and drying out. Sleep also transports nutrients from the food we eat to organs in the body including the eyes to nourish them.
Since sleep impacts, other areas of health, a lack of it can lead to conditions that influence eye health too. For instance, high blood pressure can cause hypertensive retinopathy where the retina doesn’t get enough blood and vision becomes blurry.
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Lack of sleep can affect the immune system and make you more prone to catching illnesses like the cold and the flu. It can also influence how quickly you recover from illnesses. During sleep, the immune system produces protective cytokine proteins that help fight infections. If you don’t get proper sleep, your body doesn’t release enough of them and leaves you open to ailments. What’s more, poor sleep may also impact how well you respond to vaccinations. In a study by the University of Pittsburgh, participants were administered hepatitis B vaccines. Researchers found that those who slept for fewer than six hours a night were 11.5 times more likely to be unprotected by the vaccine.
Good sleep is more about quality than quantity although you should aim for a minimum of seven hours and a maximum of eight hours. If you have trouble sleeping, you can induce it by turning off or dimming the lights at bedtime, practicing deep breathing to calm the mind, and using a mattress and pillows designed for proper sleep. They should support the length of the spine and cushion pressure points like the shoulders and hips. Nuvanna does exactly this and a whole lot more to make sure you sleep better. It’s engineered to promote sound sleep using innovative materials and mattress technologies.
Sleep should be a priority, but it often isn’t, leading to health issues that may otherwise be avoided. If there’s one thing you can do for yourself that costs nothing and benefits manifold, it’s getting the sleep you need. Today, resolve to set aside time to wind down and encourage this most essential of activities. You’ll thank yourself! Stay tuned for part 2 of our blog post on more wonderful things that go on in our bodies during sleep.