Who among us has never peered over the edge of crib at the face of a sleeping child and experienced the mixed emotions of awe and envy? If only we could sleep like a baby, we say to ourselves.
Most people think of sleep as the absence of activity, but this could not be further from the truth. During sleep, your body is hard at work doing things that you don't give it time to do during the day. Your brain is finalizing the synapses that will help you remember all the new things you learned that day, and all of your body's systems are repairing damage, fighting invaders, and fine-tuning so that they can be in top shape for the next one. This is the reason that we actually expend more caloric energy when sleeping than we do while watching TV.
There are five stages of sleep: Stages one and two are considered "light sleep," stages three and four are "deeper sleep," and stage five is "REM sleep."
Adults spend about 50 percent of total sleep time in stage two, about 20 percent in REM (where dreams occur), and the remaining 30 percent in other stages. Infants, those little dreamers, spend more than half of their time in REM.
But do you need to sleep like a baby? Probably not. An infant is growing and acquiring information at a rate faster than at any other point in her life. She needs sleep in order to do this. As adults, our ability to sleep well each night is at least partially dependent on how much we did during the day: How much new information did we learn? How much did we use our body? Athletes, for example, spend more time in sleep stages three and four than non-athletes. When they lie down, their bodies get right down to business. If you are prone to tossing and turning, it could be your body's way of telling you it doesn't need as much sleep as you think it might.
Text by Dr. Brent Ridge