What is Sleep?

When scrambling with tasks to meet deadlines, rationing your sleep might sound tempting. After all, you might say to yourself that you shall catch enough sleep once you’re through with the tasks. But you could be wrong. You’ll affect your mood, energy and ability to handle stress. 
Here are the basics of understanding what sleep really is: 
You see, exercise and proper nutrition is good for your health. But sleep too, is good for your health. That’s why you must get enough of it so your mental health, emotional health, productivity, vitality, creativity, or even weight is not affected. In fact, there’s no other activity you will take part in that will deliver so many benefits with the slightest effort applied. 
Many people assume that the body and brain shuts off during sleep. However, this assumption is wrong. That’s because when you sleep, the brain remains active, in that it over-sees a range of biological functions that are responsible for keeping your body operating in tip-top condition, thus preparing you for the next day’s activities. 
Therefore, without getting enough restorative sleep, you won’t be able to work, learn, produce or even communicate to a level that’s close to when you’re in the ideal state of yourself. Apparently, no one will force you to sleep. But on the other hand, if you decide to stay awake, it’s a ticket to heading towards a major mental and physical breakdown.  
But the good thing is that we don’t really have to choose between good health and productivity. That’s because when you start getting sufficient sleep, your energy and productivity levels will naturally escalate. In fact, chances are you’ll discover that you’re doing more during the day, compared to the times you skimped on sleep. 
The amount of sleep you need  
The National Institutes of Health says the average person sleeps for 7 hours or less. This is a fast-paced society, so sleeping for 6 or 7 hours would be ideal instead of extending those hours. But in reality, this could be the onset of chronic sleep deprivation.  
Again, there is a big difference between the amount of sleep you need to function optimally and the amount you need to just get by. If you’re able to operate fully on a 7-hour night sleep, it doesn’t mean you can’t get more done with additional one hour of sleep.  
It’s important to note that sleep requirements vary across person to person. So for instance, an average healthy adult will need between seven and a half to nine hours of night sleep for them to function at their best. On the other hand, teens and children will need more. It’s contrary to the notion that sleep requirements reduce with age. In fact, adults need seven to eight hours of sleep to function optimally. If not, daytime naps would fill in the gaps. 
To know whether you’re meeting your sleep needs or not, just evaluate how you feel as you go about your daily activities. If you’re catching enough sleep, you’ll feel alert and energized all day long, until your regular bedtime at night. 
Sleep Debt 
Will you really catch up with the lost sleep. Let’s say you deprived yourself 2 hours of sleep every night, everyday, because you wanted to finish a project that was due on Friday. Then on the subsequent days, Saturday and Sunday, you slept in, thus compensating the 4 hours.  
On Monday morning, you felt so bright-eyed, to the point of taking just one cup of coffee instead of two. You felt you had compensated. Don’t be fooled. You’re carrying a heavy load of sleepiness or sleep debt 
Sleep debt is the difference in the amount of slumber you should be getting and what you’re actually getting. Even if you skim a few minutes away from bed, it will count as a debt. According to psychiatrist William C. Dement of Stanford University Sleep Clinic, this is the worst form of debt because it causes foggy brain, impaired vision, or even memory trouble. And if you push it a little longer, you might end up suffering from obesity, insulin problems, heart diseases, and many more. 
The good news is that, like most debts, this one too can be repaid, even though it won’t happen in an extended snooze marathon. Instead, you could begin extending an hour or two in bed. If it’s chronic, you might want to consider slowing things down in a few weeks until you get to your normal sleep pattern. 
According to Harvard Affiliated Sleep Health Centers Director Lawrence J. Epstein, you can effectively handle your sleep debt by allowing your body to sleep in bed until it wakes up on its own — no alarms in the morning. In the first few days, expect to feel a little bit catatonic. In fact, you should expect to bank upwards, to the tune of 10 hours of shut-eye per night. Within a few days, this amount of time you spend sleeping will gradually decrease, and that’s when you’ll know you’ve settled the debt. 
Sleep cycle 
A lot of things happen the moment you start your ZZZZs. The sleep actually graduates from REM to non-REM phase (REM is the short form of rapid eye movement). During this phase, your eyes will move a lot in various directions. However, this never happens in the non-REM phase. 
It first starts with a non-REM sleep, then it gets to REM sleep before the cycle can start all over again. The dreams you dream at night typically happen in the REM phase.  
Non-REM phase has 3 stages that must be passed before entering REM phase. In the first phase, your eyes will be closed for 5 to 10 minutes, thought it’s easy to wake you up. In the second phase, you start sleeping lightly — your heart rate and body temperature drops, i.e. the body is getting ready to take off. 
Once you enter the third phase, it’s hard to wake you up. If someone attempted to do so, you’d wake up, feeling disoriented for a few seconds. This is also the time when the body repairs and re-grows tissues and muscles. It is in this stage that bones are built and immune systems strengthened. 
Then you should get into the REM phase, which is typically reached within 90 minutes of going through the Non-REM phase. The first stage of your REM sleep will last 10 minutes. However, the subsequent REMs will last longer. This is the time when your heart beat and brain activities get more intense. This is also the time you will dream more intensively because of the activities of the brain. 
The three areas above play a crucial role in your sleep and how you operate during the day. If you miss to go through any of those stages, sleep quality is affected, thus you won’t be as productive the following day.