The Science Of Sleeping: How Sleep Works

Even after decades of research, the exact reason you sleep remains one of health science’s most enduring and intriguing mysteries. Specialists examine how sleep works and what happens when you don’t get enough sleep.

Studies show that sleep is incredibly complex and affects almost every system in the body. Several parts of the brain are part of the processes of generating hormones and substances that regulate wakefulness and sleep.

While there is still much that you need to learn about the complexities of how sleep works, the existing research clarifies the process of what happens in the brain and body during sleep. This knowledge reveals how sleep relates to numerous elements of physical, emotional, and mental health, and provides insight into how people can get better sleep.

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How does your body control sleep?

The body regulates sleep with two key factors: sleep-wake homeostasis and the circadian alarm system.

Sleep-Wake Homeostasis

This describes something you know implicitly from experience. The longer you’re awake, the more you feel the need to sleep. The reason for this is the homeostatic sleep drive, a self-regulating system in the body that increases the pressure to sleep depending on how long you’ve been awake. The same drive causes you to sleep longer or deeper after a period of insufficient sleep.

The circadian wake-up system

Part of the biological clock of your body, circadian rhythms last around 24 hours and play a vital role in many biological processes which include sleep. Light exposure has the greatest impact on circadian rhythms, promoting daytime alertness and nighttime sleepiness.

These two factors affect directly how much the body feels the need to sleep, as they reflect the biological clock, time of day, light exposure, and length of wakefulness.

In addition, a variety of external factors can affect the circadian waking system and sleep-wake homeostasis. For instance, hunger or stress can disrupt the normal process of sleep regulation. Caffeine ingestion or exposure to light from electric devices are other samples of how behavioral choices can change the underlying systems of the body that control sleep.

These complex processes are controlled by several parts of the brain. The fact that so many parts of the brain are involved in wakefulness and sleep, including the sleep stages, is further evidence of the biological complexity of sleep.