You love sleep. You know it does good things for your body. And you know you feel better when you wake up after a solid eight (or ten… or 12). But do you know exactly what goes on in your body after you close your eyes and drift off to dreamland?
As it turns out, your body is up to a million things while you’re out cold—it’s a wonder you’re able to sleep at all with everything that’s going on! So what happens? Well…
Your Body Starts Over. Not in a sheds-its-skin sort of way, but in a cellular, neurological, taking-out-the-trash kind of way. When you finally hit the hay at the end of the day, it’s your body’s chance to make system repairs and rebuild parts of yourself that need retooling. It also restarts your circadian rhythm, which is the internal clock that governs pretty much all your patterns. Which leads us to…
You Go Into Fasting Mode. Yup. Your body has a natural rhythm for fasting that kicks in after you’ve had your last meal of the day, and runs all the way through until the next morning when you decide to have breakfast. During this time, your digestive system gets a break and your body regulates itself in ways that may support weight loss and help to improve your blood sugar. These days, people are calling it Intermittent Fasting, or 16:8—it’s part of the movement to keep fasting going through breakfast, so you continue to feel the benefits of your fast as you start your day. And guess what else happens when your body goes into sleepy-time fasting mode?
You Release Hormones Regulating Growth and Appetite. Growth hormones that are responsible for your body’s growth and development get released while you sleep, and cortisol—the stress hormone that can affect your waistline—drops to lower levels (but picks up again as it nears time to wake). But most importantly, your appetite becomes balanced because sleep regulates ghrelin and leptin—the hormones that make us feel full or hungry. When you don’t sleep, or you don’t sleep well, it can mess with these hormones, which can mess with your appetite—and that can make you prone to overeating.
You Repair Yourself. When you hit the deeper stages of sleep, your muscles relax and blood supply increases, which allows for tissue growth and repair. But that’s not the only thing repairing in your body while you snooze. Organs and cells also get the repair treatment, and chemicals that strengthen your immune system start to circulate through your body. Plus, your pulse and blood pressure lower, so your heart and blood vessels can rest and prepare for the next day.
Your Brain’s Neural Connections Shrink. It sounds scary, but this happens for a very good reason. One study found that as the brain’s neural connections “scaled back” during sleep, it helped to keep circuits from overloading. Another study found that when the body lacked the protein Homer1a, which regulates sleep, brains don’t reset properly. And lastly, yet another study found that sleep helped the brain’s glial lymphatics to get rid of toxins and proteins that deposited themselves in your grey matter during the day. No wonder you feel fresher, clearer, and more functional after a good night’s sleep!
You Ward Off Illness and Depression. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: a lack of sleep is detrimental to your body, mind and soul on every level. Researchers have found that not getting enough sleep contributes to depression, seizures, high blood pressure and more intense migraines. As if that weren’t enough, your immune system gets compromised, leaving you open to a whole host of illnesses just waiting to attack. And it’s been reported that just one night of missed sleep can put a healthy person into a prediabetic state. So make sure you get your zzzzz’s!