What is happening to your body when you are dreaming?

Did you know that we all spend around a third of our lives sleeping? That tallies up to around 25 years! But why is sleep so important and what is actually happening to our bodies during this dreaming state?

It’s important to note that there are two main types of sleep that we cycle in and out of when we rest, that being - rapid eye-movement (REM) sleep, and non-rapid eye movement (NREM). 

You begin the night in the stage of REM, and it is here where your brain becomes less responsive to the outside world making it harder to wake up. Some scientists believe that during REM, your brain transforms short-term memories into long-term storage.

During REM your body temperature adjusts dropping a couple of degrees. Interestingly, your brain also turns off its body thermometer making you not as affected to the heat or cold in the bedroom. Dreams are still a mystery to all of us as the cause or purpose of them remains unclear, however they are said to be most common during REM especially when dreams are visual. During REM one’s muscles are temporarily paralysed, and some scientists believe it is to ensure that we don't physically act out on these vivid dreams.

NREM can be characterised by electrical patterns in the brain known as ‘sleep spindles’ and high, slow delta waves. NREM accounts for 70 – 80% of our sleeping time, and it is the deepest part of our sleep. During the stage of NREM, your brain cells also appear to settle down and start firing in a steady rhythmic pattern sparking randomly when you start to dream. Falling more deeply asleep in this stage slows down your breathing and lowers your pulse and blood pressure giving your heart and blood vessels the time it requires to rest and recover.

Deep sleep is the peak time when growth hormones are released into the body, which helps in the reproduction and repair of muscles, organs and other cells. Furthermore, the levels of growth hormones go up and cortisol, related to stress, goes down. While sleeping the immune system releases ‘cytokines’ which is a small protein that helps your body if it is sick or injured in order to repair and restore its vital elements. During this stage chemicals also circulate in the blood to strengthen the immune system.

Sleep is an essential part of everyone's wellbeing and with the knowledge gained about what your body is really doing while it sleeps, it is apparent that your body does some of its most important work while it’s sleeping. If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping or achieving a good night’s rest it is recommended to visit your local pharmacist for assistance.

Adam Shakespeare