You’ll spend about a third of your life either sleeping or trying to sleep. Using the current estimated average lifespan of an American, sleep accounts for a little under 230,000 hours of your life.
Working two full-time jobs (80 hours a week) from the ages of 20 to 65 will account for less than 200,000 hours of your life. In other words, you’ll spend more time sleeping than doing anything else over the course of your lifetime!
The good news is that you aren’t exactly wasting your time by sleeping. In fact, sleep is considered to be one of the five basic needs for survival alongside air, water, food, and shelter. Going without enough sleep can have the same fatal consequences as going without any of these other needs.
The primary benefactor of sleep is your brain health, which controls the vast majority of your most important bodily functions. Your brain requires several hours of sleep and nutrients from your food to stay healthy and function properly. To be the best version of yourself, you will need consistent, high-quality sleep and a steady diet of beneficial nutrients.
What Happens When You Sleep?
The differences between being asleep and being awake are night and day. As soon as you fall asleep, thousands of neurons in your brain dramatically slow down, and your brain wave pattern changes.
These events are the result of a few actions taken by different structures in your brain, including:
- The hypothalamus contains nerve cell groupings that act as the control center of sleep and arousal. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is located inside the hypothalamus and uses thousands of cells to receive information from your eyes. The SCN is why you feel more sleepiness when it’s dark and helps initiate the waking process when the morning sun hits your closed eyes.
- The brain stem communicates with the hypothalamus and helps carry out the commands to either fall asleep or wake up. Together, the two structures create a neurotransmitter chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA helps to reduce the activity of your brain’s arousal centers and plays a crucial role in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
- The pineal gland receives signals from your SCN that tell it to increase melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone that helps you fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Your body slowly increases melatonin production during the evening to help it prepare for sleep. It’s why you start feeling tired around the same time each night.
As a result of this brain activity, your core bodily functions will undergo noticeable changes. For example:
- Breathing slows down as you enter the deeper sleep cycle stages. It could increase or become irregular again depending on what happens during REM sleep.
- Heart rate follows a pattern similar to your breathing. It will slowly decrease a little more during each cycle and potentially be disrupted during REM sleep.
- Muscles will slowly relax during sleep, and your total energy expenditure will decline. Muscles are often paralyzed during REM sleep (a condition known as atonia) to prevent them from reacting to dreams or nightmares.
- Body temperature will drop a few degrees before falling asleep and continue to fall through the night. You’ll reach your lowest body temperature about two hours before waking up.
What Are the Different Stages of Sleep?
Sleep is a very fluid activity that involves repeating several different stages during the night.
Here are the four different stages of sleep and what each of them causes:
- Stage One is non-REM (NREM) sleep that lasts one to five minutes. Your body is entering its lightest sleep, causing your brain waves, eye movement, heart rate, and breathing to slow down.
- Stage Two is NREM sleep that lasts 10 to 60 minutes. Your body temperature drops, eye movement stops, and muscles start to relax. Your heart rate and breathing also continue to decline.
- Stage Three is NREM sleep that lasts 20 to 40 minutes. You’ve entered into deep sleep with your muscles and eyes completely motionless. Deep sleep is the most restorative stage when most of the repairs to your brain and body occur.
- Stage Four is rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that lasts 10 to 60 minutes. Brain waves and eye movements increase along with heart rate and breathing. Dreams are commonly the result of REM sleep when your brain processes information.
How Much Sleep Do You Need Each Night?
The answer to this question will largely depend on your age. Assuming that you are in ideal health, here is the estimated amount of sleep that you should be getting each night:
- Newborn (0-3 months old): 14 to 17 hours
- Infant (4-12 months old): 12 to 16 hours
- Toddler (1-2 years old): 11 to 14 hours
- Preschool (3-5 years old): 10 to 13 hours
- Child (6-12 years old): 9 to 12 hours
- Teenager (13-18 years old): 8 to 10 hours
- Adult (18-64 years olds): 7 to 9 hours
- Elderly (65 years and older): 7 to 8 hours
The 10 Ways That Sleep Benefits Your Brain
Our ancestors knew the benefits of certain foods on their physical and mental health. They might not have known why, but they knew that eating certain foods was beneficial for them. Naturally, we now have extensive knowledge of which particular nutrients are good for our brains.
Knowledge about the act of sleeping didn’t follow the same path — it took a very long time to figure out the benefits of sleep. For a long time in history, studying sleep was not a priority. People just slept during the night, and that was that.
Different cultures had unique theories about sleep, but it wasn’t until the 18th century that scientists started to conduct research and experiments involving sleep. Since these initial breakthroughs, scientific studies have explicitly focused on the relationship between brain function and sleeping.
As a result, they’ve been able to discover the following 10 benefits that sleep provides to your brain:
1. Waste Removal. The central nervous system produces toxic waste byproducts that slowly accumulate in your brain throughout the day. During sleep, the brain uses the glymphatic system to eliminate these waste byproducts. This system clears your neural pathways of any buildup, just like a snow plow sweeps the roads after a snowfall.
2. Memory Function. During sleep, the thalamus relays information from your senses to the cerebral cortex, thus turning short-term memories into long-term memories. During this time, any pointless information from the day is deleted. Think of it as the period between taking 15 photos while on vacation, posting the best one online, and deleting the rest.
3. Replenished Cognition. Multitasking, paying attention, and decision-making use a lot of your cognitive capacities throughout the day. The brain uses healthy sleep as an opportunity to refrain from these tasks, rest for a while, and replenish itself. It’s basically the equivalent of plugging in your phone at night to recharge the battery for the next day.
4. Creativity. Sleep gives your brain the chance to operate outside of regular daily events. By thinking outside of the box, known as divergent thinking, your brain can create its own reality. The natural byproduct of this type of thinking is dreams, and it’s why you’ve probably had plenty of bizarre ones in your life.
5. Brain Cell Protection. Less sleep has a similar effect on your brain as drinking too much alcohol — it doesn't necessarily kill your brain cells but can severely damage them and impair their function. These effects might cause you to experience a delayed response time, poor decision-making, or a feeling of general sluggishness.
6. Hormone Production. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone in your body and does things to try to combat stress. While cortisol is absolutely essential to your body and brain functioning properly, having too much of it can be very unhealthy. Cortisol has an antagonistic relationship with melatonin. For example, high levels of cortisol suppress the effects of melatonin, but your brain inhibits cortisol production when you’re asleep.
7. Physical Health. Sleep is much more important for your brain than your body. But seeing how your brain controls your bodily functions, your physical health will be affected by your sleeping habits. A lack of sleep has been shown to increase your heart rate, blood pressure, and thyroid function. As a result, poor sleep and insufficient sleep can increase the risks of diabetes, cardiovascular issues, obesity, and cancer.
8. Mood Regulation. There is a well-documented connection between sleeping disorders and depression. Sleeping too little and sleeping too much can both have a negative impact on your coping abilities and overall self-esteem. In turn, these emotions can harm your quality and length of sleep, perpetuating the cycle.
9. Immune System Activation. Naturally, your immune system is always active, but it gets a special opportunity to fight back when you’re asleep. During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines that help to fight inflammation, infection, and trauma. These chemical messengers are the reason why doctors often prescribe plenty of rest when you’re sick or healing.
Looking for Other Ways To Support Brain Health?
It’s very clear that sleeping is extremely important to our brains. The ten benefits listed above are only possible if you get the proper amount of high-quality sleep each night.
Developing smart sleep habits can help you to increase your brain’s health and performance. But that’s not the only way to help your brain do its best day in and day out.
Here at MOSH, we offer a variety of delectably-flavored protein bars specifically formulated to help fuel your brain and body. Every MOSH bar is formulated with a curated blend of nourishing nutrients and superfoods that have been proven to support brain health.
Order a trial pack today to see for yourself how the right fuel can keep your brain and body feeling fit. Combine MOSH with a good night’s sleep and reward your brain for all that it does!
Maturation of the Adolescent Brain | PMC
Cytokines, Inflammation and Pain | PMC
Depression and Sleep | Sleep Foundation
What Are Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency? | NHLBI
The Relationship Between Melatonin and Cortisol Rhythms | Wiley Online Library
Selective Neural Lapses Precede Human Cognitive Lapse Following Sleep Deprivation | Nature
Divergent Thinking | Science Direct
The Neuroprotective Aspects of Sleep | PMC
A Brain Circuit in the Thalamus Helps us Hold Information in Mind | Science Daily
The Sleeping Brain: Harnessing the Power of the Glymphatic System Through Lifestyle Choices | PMC
History of the Development of Sleep Medicine in the United States | PMC
How Much Sleep Do I Need? | CDC
Stages of Sleep: What Happens in a Sleep Cycle | Sleep Foundation
Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke