We all have a dark and mysterious part in our life in which we have no control about the things happening around us. Ideally, this period of time lasts a third of our lifetime, after all! Whether you like to integrate this dark side into your life or not – after having read the following article you will realize how important this unknown is.
Of course, we are talking about sleep. From a purely scientific point of view it’s not ultimately clear why we actually sleep. But, numerous studies prove the importance of sleep for our health and performance. During this seemingly useless period that often is considered as a waste of time we are creating the basis for a happy, balanced, healthy and successful life resp. for recovering again.
A healthy sleep has 5 different sleeping phases – and each of these phases fulfils its own important task. The first two phases of sleep are called light sleep, the following phases three and four are phases of deep sleep. The remaining fifth sleeping phase is the so-called REM-sleep. Passing through these sleeping phases once is called a sleeping cycle which lasts about 1.5 hours. In total, a sleep-healthy person repeats these cycles four to five times which leads to an ideal sleep duration of about six to eight hours. The stay in the respective phases is changing from falling asleep to waking up.
The first sleeping phase is the phase of falling asleep and happens – as the name suggests – only during falling asleep. All other sleeping phases repeat during the night.
Phases of deep sleep are especially important for our body. Our body is totally relaxed, frequency of pulse and breathing decrease, physical recovery starts. But, complete relaxation also might have negative consequences: the tongue and the soft palate sink backwards, the “deep-sleeper” starts snoring. Sleep apnoea is an increased and life-threatening form of snoring. Here, the airways are completely blocked, breathing stops that might last up to a minute occur. A person suffering under sleep apnoea has to startle – only then the person can gasp for breath and oxygen can flow to the lungs again. Due to the startling the blood pressure rises, longer lasting breathing stops might lead to brain damages or even to suffocation. People suffering under sleep apnoea never really reach deep sleep meaning they lack the positive effects of deep sleep. During deep sleep our brain is processing and consolidating cognitive learning contents. Thus, deep sleep is essential for taking in and applying new knowledge.
A hormone important during and for deep sleep is the growth hormone which is mainly released during deep sleep. Of course this hormone is – amongst other things – responsible for the longitudinal growth of children and teenagers but it is also important for adults. Since longitudinal growth is completed it here has a strengthening effect on the fasciae system and musculature. It also is playing an essential role for regeneration, wound healing, bone strength (keyword osteoporosis) etc.
This sleeping phase has two faces: on the one hand the muscle tone is reduced to a minimum, on the other hand pulse and breathing are increased due to the dreaming happening during this phase. REM-sleep is very important for processing daily impressions, emotional experiences and inner stress. Furthermore, processing and consolidation of motoric skills are happening during REM-sleep. In the beginning of sleeping, phases of deep sleep prevail. The closer the morning comes the longer the phases of REM-sleep become.
Our hormonal balance is similarly distributed: in the evening the cortisol level decreases, the sleeping hormone melatonin prevails. Thanks to our modern lifestyle characterized by stress our cortisol level often is much too high. Furthermore, light and electromagnetic pollution seriously disturb melatonin production which makes falling asleep and sleeping through much more difficult.
To be able to wake up and get up in the morning, cortisol production is increased the closer morning comes, production of melatonin is reduced.
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