Get Plenty of Sleep so Your Brain Can Take Out the Trash

While you’re powering down at the end of the day, your brain is blasting off like a rocket from the launch pad. Within minutes or sometimes even seconds of falling asleep, your brain starts along a well-established route.

It’s essential that your brain complete a sequence of tasks as you sleep so that you can be at peak performance while you’re awake. Sleep that is interrupted or too short does not allow the brain to finish its route. The short-term effects can include fatigue, poor decision-making and lack of alertness. In the long term, poor sleep will result in poor health. To understand how this is all interconnected, let’s take a look at the stages of sleep provided on the website of the National Sleep Foundation.

Stage I: An introduction to sleep

The first seven minutes of sleep are light, meaning you will easily awaken at a sound or movement, such as your dog jumping on the bed. This is the slow start that eases you into the next level of sleep.

Stage 2: Warming up the engine

While this stage is still on the light side compared to the later stages, the brain does busy itself with increased activity for a short duration before slowing down again. After that brief warm-up, it’s ready for some action.

According to an article on Scientific American website, the early stages of sleep are characterized by “large, slow brain waves, relaxed muscles and slow, deep breathing, which may help the brain and body to recuperate after a long day.”

Stage 3: Diving into the Deep

Your brain begins to dive into deeper sleep, making it less likely that you will awaken to the dog jumping or the faucet dripping. You continue into an even deeper level of sleep, when muscles and tissues are repaired, growth is stimulated, immune function is bolstered, and you are energized for the coming day.

Stage 4: Full speed ahead

You reach the next level of sleep, called REM (rapid eye movement), about 90 minutes after falling asleep. The Scientific American article describes REM sleep as “…bizarre…a dreamer’s brain becomes highly active while the body’s muscles are paralyzed, and breathing and heart rate become erratic.”

REM sleep is also when your brain takes out the trash, storing the important information of the day in your long-term memory and discarding the rest. That’s why an inadequate amount of sleep, especially on a regular basis, will impact your memory and ability to retain what you have learned.

The take-away

All sleep is not equal in quality. Short-term and long-term health is negatively affected if you are getting inadequate amounts of sleep or you are unable to make it through a sleep cycle without waking. For ideas on how to improve your sleep habits, read our blog, Sleeplessness spurs junk food eating.

Don’t forget that good sleep habits also apply to napping. The Sleep Foundation suggests you set your alarm to wake after 20 minutes, before reaching deeper sleep levels that will leave you feeling groggy. Or, if you have time, nap for 90 minutes, which will take you through a complete sleep cycle and have you waking refreshed.

All of us at Meth-Wick Community wish you good sleep and pleasant dreams!

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