Sleep is more than just time to rest after a busy day. It is, in fact, when your body has a chance to regenerate and heal, and it is a necessity for the overall health of your body. While we drift off into dreamland, important healing processes are taking place inside us.
What happens while you sleep?
Sleep is a time for your cells to repair themselves. Although your body is asleep, it is still working hard correcting chemical imbalances, assuring proper blood sugar levels, and maintaining the memory. Scientists aren’t completely sure what happens in your body during sleep, but they are beginning to figure a few things out.
Scientists can read brainwaves during sleep, so we know the brain stays active, but they aren’t totally sure what it is doing. They do, however, know that the brain goes through four stages, called REM sleep cycles. These REM cycles are when your body performs daily maintenance and begins healing.
Many signs of sleep deprivation are well known. You might feel sluggish, lethargic, and lack energy the day after poor sleep. However, what many of us don’t know is how much this lack of sleep can affect the physical health and functions of our bodies.
Not getting enough sleep can weaken the immune system and make it more difficult for the body to fight off infection. More than that, it affects chemical balances inside the body. In a study done at the University of Chicago, Dr. Eve Van Cauter found that, “after four hours of sleep for six consecutive nights, healthy young men had blood test results that nearly matched those of diabetics. Their ability to process blood sugar was reduced by 30 percent, they had a huge drop in their insulin response, and they had elevated levels of a stress hormone called cortisol, which can lead to hypertension and memory impairment.”
Those with insomnia or other sleep disorders aren’t the only ones at risk. 7 out of 10 Americans don’t get enough sleep. Losing just an hour of sleep a night increases risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke, and type II diabetes.
Sleep is extremely important for the proper functioning of the immune system. Doctors often instruct sick patients to get extra sleep for a reason, and it isn’t just because that’s their answer to everything. It’s because of the immune system’s increased production of certain proteins during sleep, as well as the levels of certain agents, that increase during sleep which help you fight diseases. Since these same elements drop when we are awake, you can’t get enough of them without sufficient sleep.
Hormone production is affected by sleep. During sleep, growth hormone is at its peak, which speeds the absorption of nutrients and amino acids into your cells and aids the healing of tissues throughout your body. Melatonin, another hormone produced during sleep, is known to stimulate your immune system, prevent viral infections, keep tumors from growing, and improve sleep quality.
Not getting enough sleep may trigger diseases for which you have a predisposition. A lack of sleep takes a toll on the body and may bring them into active disease state. It can even trigger the occurrence at an earlier age than expected.
Fixing the Damage
If you are one of the 7 out of 10 Americans not getting enough sleep, there is still hope. Damage has been done, and your health may be suffering for it, but it can be reversed. Many symptoms, even physical ailments such as dizziness or a rash, can go away when you begin getting enough sleep.
Experts say to go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night until you find your personal bedtime. Everybody requires a different amount of sleep. Once you know what your body needs, strive to get it every night so your body can regenerate repair and heal.