Interestingly enough, not so long ago when perhaps our medical knowledge wasn’t quite the vast plunder of miracles that it is today, both doctors and psychologists presumed that when we slept, our brains are inactive; in a sense, they thought that they were turned off.
Of course, we now know that this is simply not the case as the brain can actually be found more stimulated during sleeping periods than it is while we are conscious.
With that in mind however, we still do not know everything about our sleep and most of the medical world still actually has no sure reason as to why we do go to sleep.
Although many presume we do so to conserve and or create energy, the equivalent energy that we conserve is comparable to the consumption of a single piece of toast.
But what actually happens during your sleep?
Although you may experience sleep as only drifting in and out of consciousness with a little bit of dreaming in-between, the truth is that throughout the night, your body undergoes a series of rigorous cycles during sleep.
There are 5 stages of the sleep cycle:
This is, of course, the lightest stage of sleep and is a transitional stage where you would feel yourself drifting into sleep. If you were to awaken naturally and not via an alarm, this would also be the last stage of sleep before you wake up.
Although stage 2 is perhaps deeper than the first, it is still considered a generally lighter stage of sleep than almost any other.
Here your heart rate slows, your temperature falls and you prepare for a much deeper sleep.
Stage 3 is the start of deep sleep also known as deep wave sleep. During this stage, your brain will emit slow delta waves though there are still bursts of faster brain activity. If you were to become awakened during this stage you would find yourself confused.
This stage is by far one of the deepest stages of sleep and is where your body ceases any activity bar delta waves. If you were to try and awaken someone during this stage you would find it an extremely difficult task.
The last stage of sleep is the most well-known stage and is often referred to as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. During this time, and unlike the other stages, your brain activity increases and your brain now is actually just as active as it is when you’re awake.
It is important to note, however, that these stages do not all happen in the exact order that their name suggests.
But how much sleep should you undertake?
Interestingly, according to the BBC, the standard 8-hour sleep may just be more than a little unnatural. According to a large and growing body of evidence, human beings of the past used to sleep in two distinct chunks, not one.
According to more and more historical texts, people would sleep in two chunks with an hour or two in between; finding time to visit the neighbours, smoke or have sex. Although today the practice may sound particularly outlandish, throughout a growing library of information, the sleep chunks are often referred in a sense of common knowledge; suggesting that it was definitely once the ‘done’ thing.
According to Stephanie Hegarty:
“A doctor’s manual from 16th Century France even advised couples that the best time to conceive was not at the end of a long day’s labour but “after the first sleep”, when “they have more enjoyment” and “do it better”.”
Interestingly, this sleeping pattern reportedly died away around the time of the Industrial Revolution where people would start working more fixed and permanent hours during the day.
How should you sleep today?
The truth is that everybody is different.
Although you may find on the internet advice that 8 hours is the optimum amount of sleep for an individual; this has been found to be untrue.
In fact, thanks to a recent study, it has been found that regular sleep over 8 hours can actually be damaging to your health, as can any sleep on a regular basis under 7.
The key to getting a healthy night’s sleep is to merely work out what works best for you, how well you rest in some hours, and not so much in others.