You may think that sleeping is as uncomplicated as switching off a lightbulb. Your lightbulb. But behind the scenes, amazing things happen from your head to your toes, silently putting you back on tip-top shape before you wake up.
Like the elves that miraculously repair shoes at midnight, your body magically repairs you as you take your Zzzs. In fact, to some degree, your brain is awake more than ever, working out its functions to help you remember, learn and respond.
“Your brain is actually very active during sleep doing important things — it’s not just resting,” disclosed Columbia University neurological professor Carl W. Bazil. “And if you don’t get sleep, you don’t function on a number of levels the way you should.”
When you call it quits for the day, your brain barrels on, performing some serious work called consolidation. Here, your mind processes the day's information and stores it away for later use. According to Sleep.org, it is during nightly slumbers that your brain locks-in data that wasn't ingrained during the day (such as those hard-to-remember passwords). If you're planning to do an all-nighter, think again. According to Berkeley sleep researcher Dr. Matthew Walker, your ability to grasp new information during late hours could drop up to 40%.
Just like saving a file on the computer, sleep cements information for better recall. It also helps the brain to form new memories. During your Zzzs, your brain enhances the experiences most significant to you while downgrading those which aren't important. The hippocampus, brain's memory creatorand consolidator, is at work during both REM and non-REM sleep; if you want to remember better, take a nap.
Can’t make decisions? Sleep it off
The journal Current Biology reveals that the human brain processes complex responses during sleep, and uses this data to help you make better decisions when you wake up. To prove this, researchers asked participants to categorized spoken words into various categories that refer to animal, objects, real or fake. As the process becomes automatic, the participants were allowed to fall asleep in a dark room.
During this time, the researchers started introducing new words from similar categories while monitoring the subject's brain. They found out that the participants' brains continued to prepare responses based on the words they encounter. Surprisingly, when they woke up, the participants had no recollection of the words they heard during sleep, allowing researchers to conclude that our brains can process complex information even when we are unconscious.
Temperatures and weight drop as you snooze
Feeling cooler? Your body temperature drops when you take a nap. Why? The hypothalamus controls the body temperature all throughout the day, but sleep is only signalled (thanks to melatonin) when the core temperature lowers down. It spans from the non-REM to the REM sleep; the longer the non-REM episode, the more temperature dips down. You’ll be experiencing your lowest temperature two hours before your waking time.
Dr. Michael Breus, author of The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep, reveals that as you slumber, you lose water by breather and perspiring through humid air. While you do the same when you’re awake, eating activities make it hard to notice. If you want to lose weight, Dr. Breus recommends getting at least seven hours of sleep to get the best effect.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the body performs restorative processes during sleep. During the Stage Three of your sleep, your heart rate and blood pressure surges down. Breathing becomes slower, your muscles relax, and your body is at full rest. This allows your circulatory and cardiac systems to repair themselves along with other functions. Experts say that a good amount of sleep can reduce the risk of heart disease, and help power up your immune system, thanks to cytokines. This small protein is released only when you snooze, aiding the body from inflammation, infection and trauma.
You won't notice it, but you may also grow taller in sleep. For one, sleep is when the body releases the growth hormone, which is essential for muscle and bone development. Another reason: the discs in your spine rehydrates and gets bigger, as the weight of your body isn't pressing down on them. “If you have a firm mattress, sleeping on your side in the fetal position may be best for getting taller because it decreases the load on your back,” Dr. Breus suggests.
Have you ever wondered why you don’t need to go to the toilet for a full seven hours’ sleep? This is thanks to the anti-diuretic hormone ADH, which switches off your need to urinate often. It is activated by the brain under your body's own biological clock to keep you comfortably asleep. On the other hand, you may tend to feel gassy. The reason? Your anal sphincter muscles tend to loosen as you rest. The good thing is that you won’t actually smell it; your senses are reduced, so you don’t have to worry about your or your partner's flatulence.
During periods of non-REM and REM, your body feels completely paralyzed, but at some point, you may also experience a full-body jerk. This phenomenon is called “hypnic jerk,” which happens when muscles suddenly contract. Experts believe that this has something to do with anxiety. To avoid this, calm down your nerves with a calming tea or the serene scent of floral candles after a stressful day.
What scent is good for sleep? Try lavender, chamomile or eucalyptus.
Sleep and skin
The magic doesn't end there. Sleep is also a time for skin detoxification and repair. While the liver is at work to discard the toxins from our body, at the surface, the skin renews itself with the process of cell mitosis. During this stage, the cells require nutrients the most. When you are well-rested, your cortisol levels are low, which means less disruption to your body’s healing process. Collagen is produced, and your skin is more receptive to the serums and lotions you put on.Now, there's a good reason why less sleep leads to a bad skin day.
At best, slather on retinol and glycolic-acid rich facial creams for a more radiant skin as you wake up.