Sleep is an essential functional part of being and staying healthy. For athletes, it is a strong factor in performance. Most of the repair and strengthening in your body occurs during stage 4 of the sleep cycle–your deepest sleep. But if you don’t go through all the cycles appropriately, you won’t get to the 4th stage, inhibiting many vital functions needed to repair, restore and strengthen your body.
Stage 1: In the first stage, your muscles relax as you fall asleep.
Stage 2: Five to ten minutes after falling asleep, you enter a deeper slumber and your brain starts to produce chemicals that release hormones.
Stage 3 & 4: These are the deepest and most reparative stages. The body releases growth hormone, which helps repair bone and muscle.
REM Stage: The 5th stage of sleep is vital for pain tolerance and motor skills. It strengthens cognitive and nervous system function.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, 75% of Americans have problems sleeping and are not getting the recommended 7-9 hours per night our bodies need to recuperate from the daily grind.
Here’s how sleep affects our system:
Repair for the daily wear and tear on the body is correlated with how much deep sleep you get. If you don’t have a regulated night cycle, you won’t get to the deepest stage of sleep that is required for release of growth hormone. These hormones shift the body’s process to anabolic–where it is able to initiate muscular repair, break down fat and stimulate cell division to replace old or malfunctioning cells.
Digestion and Weight Regulation
It is a digestion regulator, releasing hormones that break down fat to supply energy for tissue repair. Adequate sleep is required for weight management. Sleep deprivation causes hormones like leptin–a hormone that regulates a feeling of fullness–to decrease. You end up feeling hungrier without being satisfied by what you eat, causing you to eat more and gain weight.
During the night muscles can take a break and relax. Respiratory muscles also relax, resulting in the breathing rate slowing down. During REM sleep, muscles become so relaxed that they actually become temporarily paralyzed, called muscle atonia. When muscles are relaxed, there are less metabolites formed, allowing for additional cellular repair and replenishing.
It keeps the immune system in check by releasing hormones that act as messengers, telling the immune system to produce antibodies, kill potentially cancerous cells and decrease inflammation.
It also enhances cognitive function by consolidating memory. Storing short term memory to long term memory occurs during sleep through the strengthening of neuronal connections.