Benefit of good sleep

A good night’s sleep brings more benefits than just the satisfaction of having slept well. It improves the memory, makes it easier to think clearly, make decisions, and reduces the risk of infections, diabetes, heart disease, exhaustion and other conditions.

Different people need different amounts of sleep. On average, adults need around seven hours of sleep each night. Babies need much more sleep, whereas it’s not uncommon for people to get by on five or six hours of sleep as they get older.

One common misconception is that we lie still when we sleep. That’s simply not true. In fact, we change position around five to ten times an hour. The reason for this is the body needs to increase the flow of blood to those parts of the body, which are under pressure, when lying in one position.

Many people who have difficulties sleeping feel they have hardly slept a wink during the night. In actual fact, that tends not to be the case. This is because you need to sleep for at least 20 minutes for the brain to actually register you have slept. Similarly, you need to be awake for more than five minutes in order to be aware that you have been awake during the night.

Losing essential hours of sleep harms the body. Our immune defences suffer, and we find it hard to concentrate. If you have missed out on part of your night’s sleep, experts recommend you make up for this by taking a nap during the day. You only need a ten minute nap in order to feel the benefit.

Sleep is made up of cycles. Each cycle includes a number of phases, including deep sleep, which is when recovery takes place, and REM sleep, which is when you dream. In the early stages of sleep, the periods of deep sleep are longer. However, towards the end of the night we sleep less deeply and dream more. Human beings are so cleverly designed that our bodies are aware of our sleeping needs and adapt our sleep accordingly. If you sleep less one night, you will have longer periods of deep sleep the next night. Sleeping longer is not recommended, since the crucial periods of deep sleep occur during the initial stages of sleep.

When you sleep a variety of essential processes take place within your body, carrying out intensive repair and rebuilding work. The more stress and demands you place on your body and mind during the day, the more important the night’s sleep is for recovery.

When sleeping, many important hormones reach their peak levels. For example, the number of growth hormones in the body increases. For children and young people, sleep is extremely important in order for them to grow and develop. Immune defence also improves during sleep. You grow stronger and become more energised.

Another advantage of sleeping well is that the number of stress hormones in the body falls while you sleep. This means that the risk of cardiovascular disease and other stress-related illnesses also falls.

You may wonder how it is possible to dream and to learn while simply lying in your bed and sleeping. But while your consciousness is relaxing, your subconscious is busy thinking and understanding. So improving the quality of your sleep is a simple, natural way of also improving your ability to learn.

Last-minute cramming and studying the night before the exam could help you to pass. But if you really want to remember what you’ve learned, the best idea is to get a good night’s sleep before the exam. A study carried out at Harvard Medical School has shown that the best way of remembering what we have learned is to let our brains help us to rehearse and learn by sleeping for at least eight hours after taking in the information.

When we sleep, we go through different stages of sleep. Deep sleep and REM sleep – also known as dream sleep are two of the most important stages in terms of our ability to learn. During deep sleep, our knowledge is cemented and our impressions are enhanced, allowing us to remember what we have learned for longer. REM sleep, during which we undergo rapid eye movements, has proven to be important for learning processes and behaviour. Quite simply, while we dream we carry on with what we have learned during the daytime. Deep sleep tends to be concentrated during the first part of our sleep, whereas we have more periods of REM sleep towards the end of the night.

The Harvard Medical School studies show that the learning process continues not only during the night after you have learnt something, but also continues as the brain processes the information while we sleep over the next few nights. After three nights of good sleep, the brain has trained the memory to the maximum, allowing you to perform at your very best.