Sleep is much more complex than many people think, and the truth is, it is anything but calm! On average, sleep consumes or should consume about 1/3 of our lives. The ideal amount of sleep for an adult is about 8 hours, and that number is higher for children and lower for the elderly.
What Is Sleep?
Sleep is seen as a time when we rest. It is thought to have developed in most animals as a way to be safe during the night, instead of wandering in the wilderness where predators can get to them. More than just that, over time it has become very important for memory development, recharging the body, and even growth in children.
Sleep occurs in a few stages, starting right when you close your eyes. As soon as you close your eyes, your brain firing slows down. You progress from stage 1 sleep to stage 4 sleep, with stages 3 and 4 being what is considered deep sleep. Sleep walking occurs in some people during deep sleep, and it is during that deep sleep that it is hardest to wake up a person. During stages 1-4, the body repairs many things, such as re-building bone, repairing tissue, and strengthening the immune system. This is due to the secretions of many hormones, especially Growth Hormone, during the night, triggered by both, the dark and by sleep. After about 90 minutes, which is the approximate time it takes to reach stage 4, something very strange happens. Your brain begins firing as if it were awake, your muscles become paralyzed, and your eyes begin moving in very fast and very random ways. Your pulse becomes variable, your blood pressure starts to change, and you begin having vivid dreams. This stage of sleep is called Rapid Eye Movement stage, or REM, and is thought to be very important in forming memories. It occurs after each sleep cycle, meaning about every 90 minutes. It increases in duration throughout the night, peaking as you are about to wake up in the morning.
Typically, you have about 4-6 cycles of sleep per night, with about 4-5 REM moments, considered a completely separate state of consciousness than the rest of the sleep stages. As you age, you sleep less, and thus, you feel less "refreshed".
Is Sleep Really That Important?
Believe it or not, if you go a substantial amount of time without any sleep at all, it can be fatal. That is obviously a very rare cause of death, but more common is getting less sleep than needed. We all know that feeling, especially if we are students. With a lack of sleep, a person can find it hard to remember or recall things from previous days, and it has been shown in many studies that without proper sleep, concentration, learning, and daily functioning can all suffer significantly. Also, as I mentioned above, it is an important time for physical growth and repair, and thus, children who don't get enough sleep will not grow to their predisposed potential.
I Can't Seem to Fall Asleep!
If you have problems falling asleep, there are several things you can do. One thing is to cut all caffeine out of your system a few hours before sleep. If you really have a hard time, then cut the caffeine out of your diet after lunch, allowing more than enough time for its effects to go down.
Also, you can exercise 2-3 hours before your intended sleep time, which has also been shown to help some people. One thing you do not want to do is exercising right before you want to sleep, because then your body is still too energized and you will find it hard to fall asleep.
Reducing stress and finding healthy ways to deal with stress is another great method to help correct your sleep cycle, since anxiety and stress are major sleep killers! You can try to read some calming supplications or Qur'an and meditate throughout the day when you feel overwhelmed or stressed out, and with that, you will be surprised to see how your sleep can improve.
Try to do all your studying and work during the daytime as well, and not only will you feel relieved, but you will also find that you will be able to remember much more of what you studied after getting 7-8 hours of good quality sleep.
With better sleep, you will feel physically and mentally refreshed. You will have more energy throughout the day, and you will see an improved mood as well. It is very important for us not to neglect our sleep, and especially for children to be monitored and put to bed for no less than 8 hours to make sure they get ample time to grow and mature. For college students like myself, we need to remember that memory and sleep are intertwined, and if you neglect resting your mind and body, your mind and body may neglect many of their tasks as well.