Most of us know that we should get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night, but about 30-40% of the population in the United States gets, on average, less than 6 hours a night. Being on call in the hospital taught me a lot about the importance of sleep. I am usually an easy-going person, but after being awake for 24 to 36 hours straight, I got a little cranky.

Being sleep deprived affected other areas of my life as well. In the middle of the night, it was harder to make good choices, for example about what to eat. And I certainly didn’t feel like exercising when I got home, because all I could think about was sleeping in my bed. And my poor wife told me stories of her residency experience. There were times she was so tired that she fell asleep sitting at a stoplight! Really, these exhausted residents are not the ones you want making decisions about your life in the middle of the night. Fortunately, hospitals are getting smarter and have hospitalist doctors who take the call overnight who are actually more rested.

So why is sleep important to you, even if you aren’t making life and death decisions on a daily basis? We still have a lot to learn about what exactly sleep provides for our bodies and minds but there are some benefits that have been shown in research.

For example, many of the major restorative functions in the body like muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, and release of growth hormone occur mostly, or in some cases, only during sleep.

Sleep is also very important in memory and learning. Slow wave (or deep sleep) helps us store facts and knowledge so this is very important for students and those trying to understand God’s word better. This is also called our declarative memory. REM sleep helps us recall skills that we have already learned. This is also referred to as our procedural memory.

So what are slow wave sleep and REM sleep? And what happens in each stage?

Stages of Sleep

Stage 1

* Between being awake and falling asleep

* Light sleep

Stage 2

* Onset of sleep

* Becoming disengaged from surroundings

* Breathing and heart rate are regular

* Body temperature drops

Stages 3 and 4

* Deepest and most restorative sleep

* Blood pressure drops

* Breathing becomes slower

* Muscles are relaxed

* Blood supply to muscles increases

* Tissue growth and repair occurs

* Energy is restored

* Hormones are released


* Provides energy to brain and body

* Supports daytime performance

* Brain is active and dreams occur

* Eyes dart back and forth

* Body becomes immobile and relaxed, as muscles are turned off

Sleep is important and we need to make sure we get enough to effectively keep our body and mind in top condition. Make it a point this week to make sure you getting the sleep that your body needs to function at its best.

Christopher Burton, MD
Christopher Burton, MD

Christopher Burton, MD is a physician, speaker, coach and author, practicing in Pensacola, FL. He specializes in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, which focuses on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of conditions - particularly those of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems - that may produce temporary or permanent impairment of function. Dr. Burton also provides one-on-one Health & Wellness Coaching for select clients who want to improve their life significantly. In addition to his practice and coaching, he actively lectures on health, nutrition and exercise for healthcare groups, colleges, and businesses, and travels internationally teaching on various topics including the treatment and rehabilitation of athletes.