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What you need to know about your body while you’re sleeping

October 12, 2016


What happens to your body while you sleep

For most of us, the idea of going to sleep means lights out, quite literally. Your head hits the pillow and your are out for the count. The next thing you know it’s the morning after and you are jumping out of bed ready to face another day in the trenches.

How often do you stop to think about what happens when you are asleep? Not very often I’m sure. Ever wondered what’s going on while you are having those weird lucid dreams that you can’t quite recall? Ever think about why on some nights the tiniest noise wakes you up but on other nights you’ve woken up to find you slept through all manner of loud noises? In this blog post we explain what sleep is and how we sleep.

That state of sleep, very simply put is a one of rest, where consciousness is all but suspended during which the body repairs and restores itself from the hours during which it was awake. There are several stages of sleep that occur. The first is the very light sleep you experience as you are dozing off, and you gradually fall into deeper and deeper sleep. This is known as a sleep cycle, and for the most part a single cycle will last up to three hours.

The cycle starts with non-rapid eye movement, or NREM. It often happens when dozing off in class or during a boring meeting. From here, if undisturbed, you drift deeper into NREM 1. This stage is the onset of sleep. You become disengaged from what’s going on around you, your heartbeat and breathing become regular and relaxed and your body temperature starts to drop. The body then falls into NREM 2 and then deeper into NREM 3. This is the deepest sleep where the body is at its most rested and restorative phase. The blood pressure drops, breathing becomes even slower and the muscles relax. Tissue growth and repair also happen. Growth hormones are released and muscle development occurs. NREM 3 is also known as slow wave sleep.

So, those nights when you woke up to the slightest sound you were probably in NREM 1 sleep, while the nights it was blowing a gale outside and you slept right through you were probably in NREM 3.

The final part of the cycle is rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep. This is the where you dream. During this phase of sleep, the body goes into a state of paralysis so as not to be able to act out what you are doing in your dreams. Ever dreamt you were running but not moving, or that your limbs felt so heavy you couldn’t move? You were probably trying to move your body but your state of sleep paralysis prevents this, and your subconscious imparts this in your dreams.

All in all the cycle takes between an hour and a half and three hours. At the end of REM sleep you usually wake up,even if you don’t remember, and then the cycle repeats again three or four times throughout the night.

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