A good quality sleep

What exactly is sleep?

Loosely defined, sleep is the cessation of consciousness. When we fall asleep, all activity decreases and the breathing and heartbeat slow down. Sleep is divided into two distinct phases which alternate during the night. These are referred to as REM sleep and non-REM sleep. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement. During REM sleep the body’s heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rates rise. The eye twitch rapidly and mental activity closely resembles waking activity. This is the stage of sleep in which we dream and a person woken during REM sleep will often be able to recall his dream. The body enters a state of paralysis during the REM sleep cycle, so dreamers do not act out their dreams.

Non-REM sleep is split into four different stages:

  • stage one, during which the eyes are closed but the individual is easily awakened
  • stage two, or light sleep, when the heart rate slows and body temperature falls
  • stage three, when the body enters deep sleep
  • stage four, when sleep becomes even deeper

People awakened from stage one sleep often remember fragmented visual images. Many also experience sudden muscle contractions called hypnic myoclonia, often preceded by a sensation of starting to fall. These sudden movements are similar to the “jump” we make when startled.

Why is sleep quality important?

Just as important as your hours of sleep is quality of sleep. Many people wake after eight or more hours feeling unrested and groggy. This is usually to do with some disturbance how REM sleep. Although scientists do not yet understand how REM sleep specifically affects the body, it appears that it is more restorative than non-REM sleep. Rats deprived of REM sleep lived only to six weeks of age and people who are consistently woken during REM sleep – or have a REM sleep disorder – generally feel exhausted and unable to function properly the following day.

Getting enough quality sleep plays a key role in our health and affects everything we do. Study after study shows that good quality sleep, along with the correct of hours spent sleeping, may be as important to our well-being as living a smoke-free life, and more important than diet and exercise. Healthy sleeping is also vital to our well-being. More and more, experts are realizing sleep’s significance to our health, and many are now citing it as perhaps the most important contributor to continued good health, mental alertness and overall enjoyment of life.

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