Sleep is a pretty magical thing.
It doesn’t exist only to give you rest so that you feel relaxed and ready to take on another day. Sleep exists to serve as the time when a number of integral bodily functions occur. It’s a time of regeneration, recuperation and growth. You just wouldn’t believe it from how peaceful you look lying in a bed, right?
But behind closed eyes, your body is quietly going about improving itself as you doze. Here are a few of the key things that are really happening while you sleep.
1. Your cells are regenerating
Just think about how busy and active your brain is during the day. All that thinking and remembering and processing. Your brain gets to have a rest at night? Wrong. Your brain is actually working just as hard as it does during the day while you sleep, only in a different way.
While you sleep, your brain is rewiring its trillions of nerve cells in order to strengthen your memory and retain information while you are awake. You brain is also beginning the process of storing information that you might have picked up throughout the day. It’s why you often dream of something that happened to you that day, or very recently: your brain is literally categorising it as you sleep.
It’s not just your brain cells that are regenerating. The majority of all cell repair is done while sleeping, especially skin cells. In that sense, you could say that beauty sleep isn’t a myth at all. (In fact, you can read all about that here.)
2. Your immune system is strengthening
Research has shown that if you have poor sleeping patterns, your immune system is in a weaker position to fight viruses and infections. That’s because it hasn’t had the chance to fortify itself against illness, something that only happens when your body is asleep. During sleep, your immune system is supposed to release a small protein called cytokine, which wards off inflammation and infection, but if you’re not getting enough sleep it won’t do that.
Disrupted sleep patterns can lead to your body producing less antibodies, leaving yourself at risk of getting sick. There is even some research that suggests that vaccinations will be less effective on those who are tired and have had a lack of sleep.
3. Your hormones are going wild
The first thing that happens when you sleep is your cortisol (or the stress hormone) goes down. This is the hormone most of us have a bit too much of (you can blame modern life for that!) so having a good night’s sleep and a reduced cortisol level is a beneficial thing.
Other hormones are release during sleep, like melatonin, the sleep hormone, and growth hormone, which is secreted from the pituitary gland and helps your body grow.
4. Your moods are regulated
We’ve all woken up tired and cranky after a bad night’s sleep. It’s not just a simple explanation of exhaustion. It’s also a question of your brain not having enough energy to better regulate moods and process emotional information. Sleeping well affords your body and your brain the rest that it needs.
5. Your balance and coordination gets better
One of the surprising things occurring in your body while you sleep is alertness. Or rather, your body is gearing up for the next day so that you can be sharp and focused when you wake up.
Ever wondered why athletes need to have as much sleep as possible before a big match? It’s because balance, coordination and alertness are all at their best when you are well rested. This is thanks to nerve recall linked to movement and coordination that only happens while you sleep. If you’re not well rested, you’ll notice a decrease in your motor skills almost immediately.
6. All your organs get a chance to recuperate
Everything gets a little… less when you’re sleeping. Your heart rate goes down, your blood pressure plummets, your breathing slows up. All of this is thanks to the state of restfulness we enter when we sleep.
It’s true of other organs in your body, too. Because your body is in repose, your muscles get the chance to recuperate, your adrenaline levels decrease because your fight-or-flight reflex is taking a break, and your digestion system, intestines and liver all get the opportunity to regenerate.
Think of sleep as your body’s big chance to detox itself. Sleep is much, much more than a case of getting some shut-eye.