You are here
STEM Matters: Science & Sleep
Have you ever felt exhausted after a night of shut-eye? Let’s look at some of the science behind this fascinating and mysterious phenomenon we know as sleep!
Although scientists are still doing research to understand exactly why we sleep, it is still a vital function to our own well-being. Not only does it allow us to feel well-rested and ready to go, it has a number of other benefits including helping us to maintain lower stress-levels, sort out our thoughts and learnings, and even better-comprehend what we learned earlier that day.
It is well-known that people go through different stages of sleep. Upon falling asleep, a person will enter the “Alpha” stage, which is almost equivalent to a daydream-like state. Then for a few minutes we will enter the “Theta” stage, which happens right before we fall asleep. As we sleep, we cycle through different stages of lighter and heavier brain activity, all of which can be seen with an EEG (an electro-encephalograph) which measures your brain’s electrical activity. What interesting is that during one stage of deeper sleep, called REM sleep, our brain’s activity is extremely active. It is often during this REM stage that we dream (although research is being done which is finding that this may not be the only stage of sleep during which we dream). It is also during REM sleep that our bodies will be paralyzed so that we don’t act out our dreams.
Throughout the course of the night, your body and brain will cycle through different stages of sleep until your “cycling” is complete and you wake up [naturally]. Sometimes, when you don’t feel like you’ve had enough sleep, it may be because your brain didn’t finish the complete cycling of the stages (and note, the brain doesn’t cycle through these stages just once).
Although scientists are helping us to learn about what sleep is and its purpose, there is definitely still so much to be learned. In the meantime, let’s keep tuned to science’s progressive discoveries!
STEM Matters Manager: Marisa Ostos. *Source: “Stages of Sleep,” Psych Central.”