There’s a lot we don’t know about sleep. Scientists are still trying to figure out why we have sleep cycles, why we dream, and why humans need sleep.

But one thing is certain: when we sleep, and when we sleep well, we feel better physically and mentally and perform better throughout the day. Read on to find out some of the things we know about sleep and why it’s so important to our bodies and minds.

  1. Your brain sorts and processes the information of the day
    Don’t be fooled into thinking that your brain is also turned off while you sleep. While you’re sleeping, your brain is really busy, sorting through and storing the day’s information. This process is especially important for creating long-term memories, where your brain consolidates all the information it gathers throughout the day and stores it for later use.
  2. Hormones flood your body
    There are many different hormones released during sleep, all with different purposes. Melatonin, secreted by the pineal gland, controls your sleep patterns. Levels rise at night and make you feel drowsy. While you sleep, your pituitary gland releases growth hormone, which helps your body grow and repair itself.
  3. Your sympathetic nervous system relaxes
    When you sleep, your sympathetic nervous system, which controls your fight-or-flight response, gets a chance to relax. Studies have shown that increased sympathetic nervous system activity during sleep deprivation is associated with increased blood pressure. Scientists who study coronary artery disease are investigating whether there is a link between reduced sleep duration and an increased risk of heart disease.
  4. Low cortisol levels
    Levels of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, drop during the first few hours of sleep and peak shortly after waking. It makes you feel good when you wake up and helps fire up your appetite.
  5. Your muscles become paralyzed
    When you sleep, you go through periods of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. During REM sleep, we have our most vivid dreams.

During this stage, the muscles are temporarily paralyzed, so you cannot move. Some scientists believe that this may be to prevent you from realizing your dreams in person.

  1. Antidiuretic hormone (ADH) prevents the need to urinate
    Have you ever wondered why you have to go to the bathroom every two hours during the day to go to the bathroom, but you sleep for eight whole hours without going to the bathroom? Thanks to ADH, the anti-diuretic hormone is released from the brain in accordance with circadian rhythms, eliminating the need to urinate frequently overnight.
  2. Your immune system releases cytokines to fight inflammation
    While you sleep, your immune system releases small proteins called cytokines. If you are sick or injured, these cytokines help your body fight inflammation, infection, or injury. Without enough sleep, your immune system can’t function at its best.

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