Sleep is a completely natural thing that your body and mind needs when it reaches a point of being too tired to function properly. Just like eating and drinking, sleep is necessary for our health and well being. Understanding your natural sleep cycle will make it easier to get the proper rest your body needs, especially if you struggle with getting a good night's sleep.
The more we study sleep and the effects it has on the mind and body, the more we understand how vital sleep is for our mental and physical health. While we once thought that during sleep our body and mind lie in a state of relative inactivity, we now know that the mind is very active during sleep, and that the mind benefits from a night of restful sleep just as much as the body does.
You may have heard of the sleep cycle referred to as your internal clock or even your circadian rhythms, but they are all basically related to the same thing. They refer to some bodily functions that operate on a 24 hour schedule. These functions are based on the amount of darkness and light in our environment, and sleep is one of the big things these rhythms control. Your body has a natural tendency to prepare itself for sleep when the environment around you gets darker, and will naturally want to awaken during the daylight hours.
If for some reason you go against this natural cycle, such as abruptly switching your work hours to a different shift, or developing jet lag by traveling through different time zones, it's possible you could throw off this inner clock and disrupt your sleep cycle. If you're prone to sleep troubles anyway, having this natural biological schedule disrupted can lead to insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Melatonin is a substance which naturally occurs in your body. This substance makes you drowsy and helps you to falls asleep when enough melatonin is in your system. During certain periods of the day, such as when darkness comes around, your body will receive signals to release more melatonin and you'll naturally begin to get sleepy. As daylight approaches and your environment becomes brighter, less melatonin, or none at all, will be released, and you'll naturally awaken as your body begins to prepare itself for the day.
Most interruptions to the sleep cycle, such as having a newborn baby in the house or working a different shift for a few days or weeks, are temporary and will naturally right themselves. Things you can do to help get your natural sleep cycle back in proper order include preparing your mind for sleep by winding down in the evening, and sticking to a strict schedule when it comes to bed time. Creating an environment that is conducive to sleep by making it as dark as possible, and keeping the temperature cool enough for proper sleep, will also help send the signal to your body and mind that it's time for rest.
Proper and restful sleep is vitally important to maintain optimum health. By better understanding your natural sleep patterns, you can recognize when it has been interrupted and make the necessary changes to get your body back on track and getting the rest it needs.
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