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What is sleep and why do we need it?

What is sleep? Sleep consists of two stages – non-REM and REM. Non-REM sleep can be divided into four sub-stages; 1; light sleep, where you are between waking and sleeping, muscle activity slows down. 2; ‘true’ sleep, where your breathing and heart rate begin to slow down for a period of around 20 minutes. 3; ‘deep’ sleep, your breathing and heart rate slow to their lowest levels and the brain produces ‘delta’ waves. 4; the last part of non-REM sleep involves rhythmic breathing and limited muscle activity, before turning into full REM sleep. At this stage, sleep occurs in a recurring cycle between 90 and 110 minutes long. Disturbances during any of these stages can disrupt the process and limit the benefits of sleep.

Most of us in the UK sleep between 5 and 11 hours a night, with an average of 7 hours and 45 minutes*. The effects that can happen when we don’t get our usual amount of regular sleep range from the emotional to the physical, and the mild to the extremely serious. The lesser effects of having a disturbed night’s sleep are likely to be irritability, forgetfulness and lack of concentration to varying degrees. While not usually too bad, any of these can certainly be enough to ruin your morning! Continually disturbed sleep patterns over a sustained period of time can have more serious effects. The ability to rationalise is severely limited and sense of time is affected – both contributing to increased difficulty in responding to changing situations and making sound judgments. Stress levels are likely to rise in these situations, which can lead to anxiety and even high blood pressure. Depending on what you do during the day, your body and mind will most likely struggle to cope effectively, and many regular tasks – driving for instance – could become dangerous.