Why Getting to Sleep and Staying Asleep Helps Your Body Do EVERYTHING Better

picture of a woman awake in the middle of the night
In a previous article, we discussed the importance of getting to sleep as it impacts wellness, health and fitness.  It is well recognized that sleep, or lack thereof, impacts the brain and body in myriad ways that may range from improvement and recovery in physical fitness, to insulin resistance and metabolic function, to illness prevention and healing, to overall brain function and the ability to consume and process information.

The CEO of Sleep

Most of us have been under the impression that sleep is a process happening at the surface of the brain.  In actuality sleep is an orchestrated process of communication between the very deep layers of the brain that we can refer to as the “CEO” of sleep. It is the CEO of sleep that directs various members of the “company” that exist in organs and hormones to do their essential duties and to report back with status and function updates.  The CEO receives information to make the final decision of whether or not you will sleep. In other words, if hormones are insufficient or if tissues are bombarded with toxins (like mold), the CEO is going to get the memo that operations are not optimal for sleep, and the process of falling asleep and/or staying asleep is likely to be disrupted or halted.

A great example of the CEO/company sleep-signaling process can be seen when the presence of light stimulates eye receptors to tell the CEO that it is “time to get busy and work” not “time to settle down and fall asleep”. The CEO then produces a series of more wakeful and arousing types of chemical reactions to stimulate the nervous system to be alert, ready to think, and take action.  Many other bodily factors act as reporters to the CEO as well—stress hormones, digestive processing after a large meal, blue light, and hot temperatures all have activating messages to the deep brain that switches on the arousal cycle rather than the sleep cycle.

Sleep Cycles Simplified

Not only is falling asleep important but the types of sleep that you experience during the course of the night is also important.  There are several phases of sleep, but I will focus on the ones that we hear the most about: REM sleep and deep sleep.

REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep, is considered a lighter phase of sleep and is the time that dreaming occurs.  REM makes up about 10-25% of total sleep and is when the brain restores its ability for problem solving and critical thinking.  Alcohol, sugar, caffeine and stress all play parts in decreasing REM sleep as do various hormone imbalances.

Deep sleep is exactly as described—deep, restful, restorative sleep.  Deep sleep makes up an average of 20-35% of total sleep time and is the period in which the body rebuilds itself from a musculoskeletal standpoint from exercise and workouts, as well as illness recovery.  Deep sleep is also very important in support of the immune system, as it is during this phase that natural killer cells are encouraged to be produced.  Natural killer cells provide immune defense throughout the body as well as immune balance, important for autoimmune issuesREAD MORE . . .


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