Have you ever laid awake at night and wondered…What is Sleep?
Sleep is something that everybody intuitively grasps. We know that we need to shut down and ‘power off’ every night in order to function well during the following day. Yet, it is hard to define what sleep is.
Sleep is a reversible behavioral state of perceptual disengagement from and unresponsiveness to the environment. In other words, it is a time when our brains and bodies partially disconnect from what’s around us. It is like what we do with our phone when we put it on airplane mode. Your phone still works, but it’s not getting any signals, so you can’t make any calls, check your email or scroll Twitter. During some part of the sleep, we become effectively paralysed, which prevents us from acting out our dreams. Obviously, God does not want you to walk out of your highrise window to enact flying from your dream.
Why do we sleep? Sleep is essential for us to function. It’s a complex and dynamic process that scientists are yet to fully understand. What we do know is that getting enough good quality sleep makes it easier for our bodies to: recover; clean out and get rid of waste; improve brain function, and regulate our metabolic health. So, what exactly happens during this magical time? It’s easy to understand and think of being awake and being asleep as a switch. When we’re awake, we’re “on”, and when we’re sleeping, our bodies are “off”. But this isn’t at all what happens! In fact, there are some times during sleep when our brains (and bodies) are very active. “Sleep” can be divided into two different categories:
- Non-REM, or non-rapid eye movement that has four different stages and REM. When we’re dozing off, teetering on the edge of waking and sleeping we enter the first stage of sleep.
- In stage two, the body relaxes. Heart rate and breathing slow down.
Sleep also differs from person to person, and across our lifespan. Our need for sleep, and our ability to sleep, are influenced by several diverse factors, like our age, biological sex, hormones, and genetics. For example, we tend to take longer to fall asleep as we age. The time it takes to fall asleep is known as sleep latency. Additionally, we also tend to wake up more often after we fall asleep. This is known as waking after sleep onset or WASO. Our environment can also influence our sleep in a variety of ways, whether it’s the noisy highway outside keeping you awake, or the temperature of your bedroom. While factors like age or genetics and their impact on sleep schedule are beyond our control, to some degree our environments are manageable. The next article provides the tool kit to manage your environment.