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Why We Need Sleep

Sleep is important for not only our mental wellbeing but also our physical health. If we aren’t getting enough sleep it is likely we will feel irritable, have little patience and struggle to concentrate. We may notice a deterioration in mood and increase in anxiety. It may also put you at risk of serious medical conditions including heart disease, neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, hormone problems such as overactive thyroid, high blood pressure and obesity. 

Getting enough sleep can boost our immune system, improve fertility and increase our libidos. It can also affect our appetite. Those who are sleep deprived (who sleep less than 7 hours) produce increased levels of ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and less leptin (the hormone which tells us we’re full). 

Being well-rested can have a positive impact on our performance, improving our concentration and problem-solving abilities along with having a positive impact on decision-making and helping us to manage impulse control. 

Circadian Rhythm

The circadian rhythm is how our bodies regulate the sleep–wake cycle. It is influenced by external factors including light, exercise, social activity, lifestyle choices and temperature. Circadian rhythm is linked with the metabolism and endocrine system, which regulates hormones. Melatonin (the sleep hormone) and cortisol (which increases alertness) increases and decreases at certain times during the day, regulating the circadian rhythm. Creating a good bedtime routine can help with this. However research suggests exposure to blue light (electronic devices) suppresses the production of melatonin, having a detrimental impact on sleep and highlighting the need to turn off electronic devices before bed. 

Certain situations have a detrimental impact on circadian rhythm including: shift work, travel, lifestyle (late nights/ early mornings), stress, medication and mental health conditions. 

Stages of sleep

We have 4 stages of sleep which we cycle through while we sleep. On average each cycle lasts approximately 90 minutes. Depending on when we wake during the cycle will influence how we feel and what we remember from our dreams.

Stage 1 – The transition period between wake and sleep where you find yourself dozing off and when you start to wake up. You might notice you twitch during this period. 

Step 2 – Your body temperature drops and heart rate begins to slow.

Stage 3 – Deepest sleep occurs here. Muscles relax, breathing rate slows and blood pressure reduces. This phase is critical for restorative sleep to help us feel refreshed and for our bodies to recover.

Stage 4 – REM sleep – Rapid Eye Movement (REM) occurs and our brains become more active, this is essential for memory and learning. the period where we have our most vivid dreams. Physically our bodies are relaxed and immobilised. 

What Affects Sleep

It is important to consider how environmental factors may affect the quality of your sleep. Creating a tidy, calm, comfortable environment where you feel relaxed is conducive to a good nights sleep.

We encourage children to have a good bedtime routine; to calm down and unwind before sleep. As adults we have similar physiological needs but aren’t always as disciplined in our bedtime habits. Making time for our bodies to feel relaxed and calm in order to drift off to the land of nod is key to getting a good nights sleep.

It’s not just the physical side that prevents us from falling asleep. Often we get into bed and our head is full of thoughts from the day and things we need to do the next day. This often prevents us from being able to switch off and unwind, which keeps us awake.

Recognising specific factors that influence sleep can help identify any areas that we can work on to improve the quality of sleep.


National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes (NINDS) (2019b, August 13). Brain Basics; Understanding Sleep.Retrieved 13th March 2021 from https://www.ninds.nh.gov/Disorders/patient-caregiver-education/understanding-sleep

Sleep Foundation. Stages of sleep (2020, August 14) Retrieved 13 March 2021 from https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/stages-of-sleep

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