The Science of Sleep
Updated: Jul 25, 2021
Everyone knows the old tip of counting sheep to sleep! And yet, no one knows, how does sleep really work?
Despite it being needed for life. scientists still don't quite know why we sleep. To try and figure out why there's certainly been a lot of research done. While we don't quite know exactly while we sleep, we have found out a lot of other facts, that have led to learning how to get higher quality sleep!
Surprisingly, within a minute of falling asleep, multiple changes happen to nearly every system in the body!
Body temperature drops, heart rate, and digestion slow, and multiple chemicals are released into the body to relax your muscles and allow you to sleep.
There are multiple sleep cycles that the body goes through every night. The most famous one is REM sleep, named for rapid eye movement. While dreaming can occur in the other 3 periods of sleep the body goes through, the vast majority occurs during REM. Scientists aren't sure why we dream but believe it has to do with consolidating memories and learning!
The body tells you to sleep in many ways. The number one way is using sleep-wake homeostasis. With this, the longer you are awake, the stronger the pull is to sleep! This is why it's easy to stay awake a few hours after you get up, but much harder at the end of a long day.
Another is the circadian rhythm! This is mainly affected by light exposure, and is why you are more likely to sleep at night, rather than the day! If you're trying to regulate your sleep schedule, reduce light exposure at night, and minimize spending time in the darkness in the day!
Fascinatingly, despite sleep causing vulnerability and taking time from doing other survival-related activities, nearly every creature sleeps!
However, did you know creatures sleep in vastly different ways? For example, dolphins only rest one half of their brain at a time, while the other half stays awake! Sea otters will hold hands while sleeping to avoid floating away, and many animals hibernate during the summer and winter!
These diverse separate ways of sleeping prove that no matter what, sleep is vital to nearly every creature, for nearly every bodily function, despite us not understanding it!
Really, the best way to get good sleep is to listen to your body. Sleeping when you are tired, and not delaying it with the use of caffeine or other tactics, is how you will regulate your sleep in the best, most natural way, which is what we're about here. If you listen to your body, it will not steer you wrong.
This is why it is so very important to make sure you are getting a high quality and amount of sleep. While we don't know exactly why we need it, we know what happens when we don't get enough. Reduced decision making, reduced reflexes, and even, in extreme cases, hallucinations, are never things any of us want to experience, especially when we're going through our day-to-day lives!