What Happens When We sleep?

Historically, there is was little interest in why we need to sleep, it was simply seen as It a time when the body is inactive. In fact, what happens when we sleep is the complete opposite of this. Sleep is actually a very active time, and without sleep we couldn’t function.

Sleep is not voluntary, just like breathing, it is a necessity. While we sleep, our body carries out many essential activities. Whilst we sleep our muscles relax, heart rate & breathing are at their slowest, tissues repair, there is growth and cell regeneration. In addition the immune system is restored and strengthened and numerous hormones, part the our body’s complex communication system, are regulated. In turn, this controls our appetite, growth, metabolism, muscle development

Whilst we sleep, our brain is busy too, strengthening and reorganising memories, as well as processing emotional details to help us be creative.

On top of all of that, sleep also impacts our mood, and our relationships.

It hopefully won’t now surprise you to know that the quality and quantity of our sleep impacts every physiological function in the body. The evidence is incredibly complex and includes knotty interactions between hormonal, neurological and immunological systems.

How many hours of sleep do we need?

The National Sleep Foundation  reviewed hundreds of validated research studies about sleep duration and came to an agreement on the number of hours of sleep that we need. 

man and dog sleeping

Age, activity level, chronic illness and overall health impact the amount of sleep that we need. However on average most adults require between 7 – 9 hours sleep each night.  

How much sleep do we get?

According the a sleep surevy carried out by Philips, whilst approximately 86% recognise that sleep is important to our physical and mental wellbeing, about half of us (49%) don’t feel that we are getting a good night’s sleep.

These results are echoed in my own Sleep Survey, where about 65% of responders state they have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep and waking too early. You can answer the quiz HERE and compare how well you sleep with others.

Why we need to have enough sleep

It is likely then. that many of us are familiar with feeling groggy after a poor night’s sleep, but few of us are aware of the effect that poor sleep can have have on our health.

Research at the Clinical Research Centre at University of Surrey suggests that inadequate sleep for as little as one week of is enough to alter the internal workings of the human body. Carla Moller-Levet and her team of researchers tested and monitored 26 people during a period when they had plenty of sleep (up to 10 hours a night), and then again during a week when the participants were only able to snooze on and off for up to 6 hours a night.

The results from the study suggest that a lack of sleep affects the activity of more than 700 genes within the human body. Those same genes mentioned above, that strengthen the immune system, and control the release of hormone messengers that control crucial functions within the body.

It is not surprising, therefore, that to little sleep is often associated with health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and depression.