• Rebecca Watts

Where the magic happens

Updated: Apr 25, 2020

When we shut our eyes at night, we go to the magical land of sleep, where our body and mind undertake incredible things

Im not talking about our imagination and dreams, I'm talking about the incredible physiological and psychological functions that occur during our sleep.

A good nights sleep is a critical to our physical and mental wellbeing.

Sleep is essential for life, like food and water. Sleep supports tissue repair, growth, our defences, memory and learning. It is connected to various hormonal and metabolic processes in the body and is important in maintaining a metabolic balance.

Generally, in pre lockdown life, in our busy modern life, it is generally sleep that is one of the first things to suffer. We sleep less or the quality of our sleep is reduced due to stress, stimulants, and other external sources.

Hopefully, many of you will be making the most of lockdown life and catching up on ZZZZZZZs. If not, then i suggest that you start. A good night sleep will not only improve your physical and mental health, it could also boost your immune system which is only a good thing full stop, even more so with coronavirus doing the rounds....

The definition of sleep

The dictionary describes sleep as – “A condition of body and mind which typically recurs for several hours every night, in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended”.

Sleep comprises of different stages, non rapid eye movement (NREM) stages 1,2,3 and rapid eye movement (REM), with NREM considered deep sleep.

Experts have stated that we need 7-9 hours (more for children) and studies have shown sleep deprivation and sleeping disorders can have an adverse effect on health.

What is the magic?

The way the human body works may be science, but it is often magical. Much of that magic occurs during sleep. Our body and mind do not shut down, it works hard through the night repairing, processing and balancing.

Repair and growth

during sleep the tissue and nerve cells in our body repair and renew, our body clears out toxins and balances. Without this process, we would not recover from injuries, our immune system would be effected.

Memory back up

One of the central functions of sleep is that it helps build long-term memory through processing memories, saving important ones and cutting back on unwanted, unimportant ones.

Cognitive function

we all know what its like to try to function on little or no sleep. Cognitive function is said to be impaired similar to alcohol with sleep deprivation

memory. Good sleep has been shown to give higher levels of reasoning, problem-solving and attention to detail. Have you ever struggled to focus working late but then after a good nights sleep it all seems clear again - that is the magical work your brain has done whilst you slept.

Immune Boosting

Numerous studies have reported the benefits of a good night’s sleep, including that a goods night sleep helps improve the production and activation of immune cells known as T cells.

T-cells are a types of immune cell that fight against pathogens such as viruses.

For people who get poor sleep, stress hormones may also inhibit the ability of T cells to function as effectively. In simple terms, sleep deprivation suppresses the immune system function.

Creativity needs sleep

functions like thinking outside the box, thinking more imaginative ways tend to be more effected by lack of sleep, and creativity seems to bloom with good sleep.

Emotional processing

sleep plays an important role in processing and regulating our emotions. Some studies have shown hyperactivity / over sensitivity of emotions and de- sensitivity to facial expressions after lack of sleep. With consistent lack of sleep, will this not lead to losing touch with the real world?

Hormonal balance

One of the functions during sleep is hormone regulation, your bodies attempt to balance its hormones. As well as throwing your moods and emotions out, our hormones can play an important part on our physical being.

Insulin - is our hormone response to glucose in our blood. Some suggest that lack of sleep can mess with your insulin response and lead to type 2 diabetes

Leptin and Ghrelin - are our appetite hormones, they tell your mind when you are hungry and when you are full. Lack of sleep can interfere with their balance - increasing appetite and suppressing the feeling of fullness. Both of which can effect your weight management.

Lack of sleep has also shown to effect the heart, levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, the thyroid hormone, inflammation in the body. The benefits from getting a god nights sleep is incredible.

So what is stopping you

There are many things that may be preventing individuals from getting a good nights sleep, key sources that we can do something about are stress, stimulants and technology.


Consistent states of stress can have negative effects on our health as well as our sleep. When stressed our mind goes into overdrive, when we try to sleep leading inability to get to sleep or broken/ disturbed sleep. The stress hormone cortisol is a defence mechanism which helps us in a fight or flight situation making us more alert to be able to respond. Unfortunately, stress can be an everyday problem in todays society, the key is how you manage it. In many cases this is easier said than done, but if you find you are struggling to cope with stress levels find something that helps you relax and unwind, ie yoga, a good book, exercise, walking, a hot bath.....

If your mind is overactive at night, try taking a notepad and pen to be with you and write down things that are on your mind, helping to clear your mind to help induce sleep.


In general terms, stimulants are drugs that make you feel more alert. They increase alertness, attention, and energy, as well as elevate blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration. We are not talking the illegal type of drugs, although I'm sure that they would have a negative effect on your sleep, but other stimulants such as coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, sugar.

- Coffee helps many people get through the day but too much coffee can significantly effect sleep patterns. people have different tolerances to coffee for some they can't drink it past lunchtime to avoid sleep problems where others are more tolerant and can drink throughout the day. However, drinking coffee later in the day can effect our sleep even if you are more tolerant.

- You may not see sugar as a drug but it can cause severe addiction symptoms if you have too much of it. Avoid too much sweet treats in the evening, as a rush of sugar at night is likely to effect your sleep.

- Many people get into the habit of a drink or two to unwind at night, but this can have an adverse effect on your quality of sleep.


Technology especially phone use can interfere with sleep patterns. This is mainly to do with our natural sleep patterns and melatonin, our so called sleep hormone. In simple terms serotonin and melatonin are our internal alarm clock. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, chemical messenger that communicates information throughout the body and brain. Serotonin, often referred to as the feel good hormone - helps balance our moods, control our hormones and manage appetite. Melatonin is a hormone but neurotransmitter like, and works in a similar way to a neurotransmitter, sending signals.

Melatonin aids body clock regulation and helps us get a good nights sleep.

Together they work to keep us balanced.

During the daytime, our production of serotonin is high and melatonin low, when light levels are lower we convert higher levels of serotonin into melatonin making us tired and sleepy and lower in mood. This is a natural part of our body clock, melatonin helps you sleep at night and serotonin helps you get up the next day. These reactions are triggered by light, sending signals to our brain to produce serotonin or melatonin according to the light.

However, our increasing use of technology such as laptops, phones, tablets, and even television can create confusion with light. In the evening when we are trying to unwind before bed, these artificial lights triggers the signals that it is daylight and our serotonin is increased rather than melatonin. It may seem that you are relaxing but the following increase in melatonin is likely to disturb our sleep quality or keep us waking up.

Swap your bedtime technology dose with a relaxing routine - use a traditional alarm so you can turn your phone off an hour before bed, practise yoga, meditation, read, take a bath, or have a routine of stretches. All will help you relax, encourage better sleep and set you up to conquer the next day!