What is sleep and why is it important?

Megan Smith
 min read

Have you ever stopped to wonder what is sleep and why it is important?

What is sleep and why is it important?It has long been thought of as a mere period of time when your brain and body shut down.

Consider your daily activities. Which one is so important that you should spend a third of your time on it?

You’re probably thinking of work, family activities or hobbies.

However, you must do something else for about a third of your time: sleep.

What is sleep and why is it important? Introduction

Many people think of their rest time as just a time-out when their brain shuts down and their body rests.

Some people may choose to sleep less, thinking that it won’t be a big deal.

There are so many other responsibilities that seem more important, right?

Research actually shows that vital tasks are performed during our rest that help us stay healthy and function at our best.

While dreaming, your brain is working hard to form the connections needed to learn and create memories and new perspectives.

With a lack of sleep, you can’t concentrate, pay attention or react quickly.

It can even cause mood problems.

Given its importance, as a host putting up house guests, you should have a look at the portable beds that are top rated so your guests can also be assured of a good night’s sleep.

More and more studies show that chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of obesity (and vice versa, obesity also affects the risk of sleep problems), diabetes, cardiovascular disease and infections.

For more info about the effect of sleep on obesity, read our other article Can lack of sleep cause weight gain?

Sleep has distinct stages

Thanks to research conducted over the past few decades, it is now recognized that sleep has distinct stages.

These stages are repeated throughout the night in predictable patterns.

How well you rest and function depends not only on how much sleep you get, but also the length of time.

It also depends on the rhythm of your sleep stages.

While you are out of it, your brain and body functions remain active throughout.

Each phase is linked to a specific type of brain wave (distinct patterns of electrical activity in the brain).

Sleep is divided into two types:

  1. REM, and the
  2. Slow wave (with three different stages).

Slow wave

As a rule, our slumber begins with slow wave sleep.

The first phase of slow wave

During the first phase, you sleep lightly and can be awakened easily by noises or other disturbances.

During this first stage, your eyes move slowly, your muscles relax, and your heart and breathing rate begin to slow down.

The second phase of slow wave

You then enter phase 2 of the slow wave, which is defined by slower brain waves interspersed with occasional rapid ones.

We spend about half the night in this phase.

When you enter Stage 3 of slow wave, your brain waves become even slower.

Your brain almost exclusively produces extremely slow waves (called Delta waves).

The third phase of slow wave

Phase 3 is a very deep stage of sleep, during which it is very difficult to be awakened.

This is when children wet their beds, or sleepwalk.

Deep sleep is considered the restorative phase necessary to feel well rested and energetic during the day.

REM sleep

No it’s not the band! REM is an acronym for Rapid Eye Movement.

It is that part of your sleep pattern when your eyes move rapidly in different directions, even with closed eyelids.

Your breathing also becomes more rapid, irregular and shallow, and your heart rate and blood pressure increase.

This is the time when you dream.

Now your arm and leg muscles are temporarily paralyzed, so that you cannot carry out any dreams you might have.

You usually enter an REM state about an hour to an hour and a half after falling asleep.

These stages are continuously repeated.

The stages are repeated

As you sleep, the time spent in an REM phase becomes longer, while the time spent in stage 3 slow wave sleep is shorter.

By the time you wake up, almost all of your rest has been spent in slow wave and REM sleep phases 1 and 2.

If it is severely disrupted one night, it usually lasts longer than normal on subsequent nights to catch up.

Overall, about 50% of your total sleep time is spent in a stage 2 slow wave phase

About 40% is spent in deep sleep (stage 3 non-REM sleep) and REM.

In contrast, babies spend half or more of their total asleep time in REM.

As they grow older, the percentage of total sleep time they spend in REM will continue to decrease.

It will eventually reach the 40% level typical of late childhood and adulthood.

Why are dreams and REM sleep not well understood?

We know that the REM stage stimulates the areas of the brain that you use to learn and create memories.

Animal studies suggest that dreams may reflect the brain’s sorting and selective storage of newly acquired information upon awakening.

While this information is being processed, the brain can review scenes from the day and mix them up randomly.

We usually remember our dreams when we wake up briefly or are awakened by an alarm or other noise in the environment.

Studies show, however, that in addition to REM, other phases also form the brain connections that allow us to learn and remember.

What is sleep and why is it important? Conclusion

What is sleep and why is it important? Sleep is the body’s time to heal, regenerate and prepare us for the next day (meaning good sleep hygiene is essential for a healthy body and mind).

Our brain works at creating memories and replenishing our cognitive abilities.

We hope that after reading this, you will give your body and mind the time they need to recuperate to remain healthy.

For more frequently asked questions and answers about sleep, have a look at our other article Sleep questions and answers

About Megan Smith

Megan has been fighting overweight and her plus size since her teenage years. After trying all types of remedies without success, she started doing her own research. Megan founded Plus Size Zeal to share her findings. She also developed various detailed buying guides for plus-size people in order to make their lives easier and more comfortable. Read More