Sleep Science; What is sleep and how do we get more of it?

My project idea is to research about the process our body goes through while sleeping, what happens in our brains while we are sleeping, why sleep is important for us, insomnia rates, how modern lifestyle disturbs sleep, and how to get better rest.
Zeel Parikh
Grade 7


Sleep is a vital often and often neglected. At the end of the day, we all sleep but some sleep better than others.THe trouble in sleeping is called insomnia. MIllions of poeple who have insomnia are tired of it and want to end the sleepless nights. So therefore, my problem is how do we get adequate sleep and how do we end insomnia? And why is sleep important? 


My plan/ method was to first research and learn a little about sleep. First, I collected background research that helped me solve and come up with a conclusion for my problem. Another thing that I did was accumulate data. I made a sleep survey, and 274 participants took it. This accommodated me to learn about the basic sleep hygiene people follow and how many of them suffered from insomnia. I also read many books about rest, including Insomnia by Marina Benjamin. This novel gave me a lot of information on what insomnia is. Furthermore, I made a brain model showing and understanding what happens in our brains when we sleep. And to conclude my project I made a slideshow that included all my research in it.


Process our body goes through when sleeping?

  • Our body stores new information and gets rid of toxic waste.
  • Nerve cells communicate and reorganize, which supports healthy brain function.
  • The body repairs cells, restores energy, and releases molecules like hormones and proteins

The sleep cycle:

There are 4 stages of sleep:

  • Stage 1: Non-rem sleep, is a changeover from wakefulness to sleeping.  During this short period (lasting several minutes) of relatively light sleep, your heartbeat, breathing, and eye movements slow, and your muscles relax with occasional twitches.  Your brain waves begin to slow from their daytime wakefulness patterns. 
  • Stage 2 non-REM sleep is a period of light sleep before you enter deeper sleep.  Your heartbeat and breathing slow, and muscles relax even further.  Your body temperature drops and eye movements stop.  Brain wave activity slows but is marked by brief bursts of electrical activity.  You spend more of your repeated sleep cycles in stage 2 sleep than in other sleep stages.
  • Stage 3 non-REM sleep is the period of deep sleep that you need to feel refreshed in the morning.  It occurs in longer periods during the first half of the night.  Your heartbeat and breathing slow to their lowest levels during sleep.  Your muscles are relaxed and it may be difficult to awaken you.  Brain waves become even slower. 
  • REM sleep first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep.  Your eyes move rapidly from side to side behind closed eyelids.  Mixed frequency brain wave activity becomes closer to that seen in wakefulness.  Your breathing becomes faster and irregular, and your heart rate and blood pressure increase to near waking levels.  Most of your dreaming occurs during REM sleep, although some can also occur in non-REM sleep.  Your arm and leg muscles become temporarily paralyzed, which prevents you from acting out your dreams.  As you age, you sleep less of your time in REM sleep.  Memory consolidation most likely requires both non-REM and REM sleep.

    What happens to our brains when we sleep?

   Several structures of the brain are included and play a role in sleep.

  • Hypothalamus: a peanut-sized structure deep inside the brain, contains groups of nerve cells that act as control centers affecting sleep and arousal.
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus: (SCN) – clusters of thousands of cells that receive information about light exposure directly from the eyes and control your behavioral rhythm.  Some people with damage to the SCN sleep throughout the day because they are not able to match their circadian rhythms with the light-dark cycle.  Most blind people maintain some ability to sense light and are able to modify their sleep/wake cycle.
  • The brain Stem: The brain stem plays a role in communicating with the hypothalamus to control transitions between wake and sleep. Sleep-promoting cells within the hypothalamus and the brain stem produce a brain chemical called GABA. GABA’s role is to reduce activity of neurons. Some researchers believe that one of the purposes that GABA serves is to control the fear or anxiety experienced when neurons are overexcited. Gaba also plays a special role in REM sleep; it sends signals to relax muscles essential for body posture and limb movements, so that we don’t act out our dreams.
  • Thalamus: acts as a relay for information from the senses to the cerebral cortex. During most stages of sleep, the thalamus becomes quiet, letting you tune out the external world.  But during REM sleep, the thalamus is active, sending the cortex images, sounds, and other sensations that fill our dreams. 
  • cerebral cortex: This is the covering of the brain. It interprets and processes memory from short term to long term. 
  • The pineal gland: The pineal gland is located between the two hemispheres of the brain. receives signals from the SCN and increases production of the hormone melatonin, which helps put you to sleep once the lights go down.  People who have lost their sight and cannot coordinate their natural wake-sleep cycle using natural light can stabilize their sleep patterns by taking small amounts of melatonin at the same time each day.  Scientists believe that peaks and valleys of melatonin over time are important for matching the body’s circadian rhythm to the external cycle of light and darkness.
  • Basal forebrain: near the front and bottom of the brain, also promotes sleep and wakefulness. 
  • Amygdala: an almond-shaped structure involved in processing emotions, becomes increasingly active during REM sleep. 

Sleep mechanisms: 

There are 2 types of sleep mechanisms. The cardiac rhythm and the homeostasis. 

CARDIAC RHYTHM:  direct a wide variety of functions from daily fluctuations in wakefulness to body temperature, metabolism, and the release of hormones.  They control your timing of sleep and cause you to be sleepy at night and your tendency to wake in the morning without an alarm.  Your body’s biological clock, which is based on a roughly 24-hour day, controls most circadian rhythms.  Circadian rhythms synchronize with environmental cues (light, temperature) about the actual time of day, but they continue even in the absence of cues. 

HOMEOSTASIS: keeps track of your need for sleep.  The homeostatic sleep drive reminds the body to sleep after a certain time and regulates sleep intensity.  This sleep drive gets stronger every hour you are awake and causes you to sleep longer and more deeply after a period of sleep deprivation.


Why is sleep important? 


 Sleep is a vital, often neglected, component of every person’s overall health and well-being. Sleep is important because it enables the body to repair and be fit and ready for another day.Getting adequate rest may also help prevent excess weight gain, heart disease, and increased illness duration. 

For physical health:

sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.

It helps you stay healthy.

For mental health:

Less sleep results in anxiety. Irritability. Erratic behaviour. Poor cognitive functioning and performance (e.g. forgetfulness, making mistakes and slower thinking than normal) It can lower your concentration and make you moody. Less sleep can also make you feel mentaly exhausted.


Insomnia rates 

According to the CCHS criteria, in 2002, an estimated 13.4% of the household population aged 15 or older—that is, 3.3 million Canadians—had insomnia.  On average, they slept 6.5 hours a night, compared with 7.5 hours for those without insomnia. But many insomniacs got far less than 6.5 hours of sleep. For example, 18% of them averaged less than 5 hours a night, whereas this amount of sleep was reported by just 2% of those who did not have insomnia. As might be anticipated, a substantial proportion of people with insomnia used sleep medication. In 2002, close to a third (29%) of them reported that they had taken sleep medication at least once in the previous 12 months. The percentage was much lower—7%—among people who did not have insomnia. Most of the sleep medication taken by insomniacs was prescribed: 23% had used prescription medication in the past year; 6.5% had used medication that was not prescribed. And when they did sleep, over a third (36.5%) of insomniacs often did not feel refreshed after awakening. This was far less common for people who did not have insomnia (9%). Research has shown a long list of factors to be related to insomnia, ranging from physical and emotional disorders to demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. However, many of these factors are interrelated, so what seems to be a direct association may disappear when the effects of the others are taken into account. Based on data from the 2002 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS): Mental Health and Well-being, this article presents prevalence rates of insomnia for the household population aged 15 or older. 


How modern lifestyle disrupts sleep

  • Light exposure (Bluelight and lightbulbs)
  • Dopamine- modern appliances such as phones give more dopamine than sleep
  • Jet lag
  • Shift work (night shifts and early shifts)
  • Stress- modern lifestyle include high amount of stress, which can affect sleep
  • No routine- sleep and wake up at different times of the day
  • Not good sleep hygiene
  • other

How to get better sleep

Sleep hygiene: 

Good sleep habits (sometimes referred to as “sleep hygiene”) can help you get a good night’s sleep.

Some habits that can improve your sleep health:

  • Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature
  • Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smartphones, from the bedroom
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime
  • Get some exercise. Being physically active during the day

Follow a Nightly Routine:How you prepare for bed can determine how easily you’ll be able to fall asleep. A pre-sleep playbook including some of these tips can put you at ease and make it easier to get to fall asleep when you want to.

  • Keep Your Routine Consistent: Following the same steps each night, including things like putting on your pajamas and brushing your teeth, can reinforce in your mind that it’s bedtime.
  • Budget 30 Minutes For Winding Down: Take advantage of whatever puts you in a state of calm such as soft music, light stretching, reading, and/or relaxation exercises.
  • Dim Your Lights: Try to keep away from bright lights because they can hinder the production of melatonin, a hormone that the body creates to facilitate sleep.
  • Unplug From Electronics: Build in a 30-60 minute pre-bed buffer time that is device-free. Cell phones, tablets, and laptops cause mental stimulation that is hard to shut off and also generate blue light that may decrease melatonin production.
  • Test Methods of Relaxation: Instead of making falling asleep your goal, it’s often easier to focus on relaxation. Meditation, mindfulness, paced breathing, and other relaxation techniques can put you in the right mindset for bed.
  • Don’t Toss and Turn: It helps to have a healthy mental connection between being in bed and actually being asleep. For that reason, if after 20 minutes you haven’t gotten to sleep, get up and stretch, read, or do something else calming in low light before trying to fall asleep again.

Cultivate Healthy Daily Habits: It’s not just bedtime habits that play a part in getting good sleep. Incorporating positive routines during the day can support your circadian rhythm and limit sleep disruptions.

  • Get Daylight Exposure: Light, especially sunlight, is one of the key drivers of circadian rhythms that can encourage quality sleep.
  • Be Physically Active: Regular exercise can make it easier to sleep at night and also delivers a host of other health benefits.
  • Don’t Smoke: Nicotine stimulates the body in ways that disrupt sleep, which helps explain why smoking is correlated with numerous sleeping problems5.
  • Reduce Alcohol Consumption: Alcohol may make it easier to fall asleep, but the effect wears off, disrupting sleep later in the night. As a result, it’s best to moderate alcohol consumption and avoid it later in the evening.
  • Cut Down on Caffeine in the Afternoon and Evening: Because it’s a stimulant, caffeine can keep you wired even when you want to rest, so try to avoid it later in the day. Also be aware if you’re consuming lots of caffeine to try to make up for lack of sleep.
  • Don’t Dine Late: Eating dinner late, especially if it’s a big, heavy, or spicy meal, can mean you’re still digesting when it’s time for bed. In general, any food or snacks before bed should be on the lighter side.
  • Restrict In-Bed Activity: To build a link in your mind between sleep and being in bed, it’s best to only use your bed only for sleep.

Optimize Your Bedroom:A central component of sleep hygiene beyond just habits is your sleep environment. To fall asleep more easily, you want your bedroom to emanate tranquility.

While what makes a bedroom inviting can vary from one person to the next, these tips may help make it calm and free of disruptions:

  • Have a Comfortable Mattress and Pillow: Your sleeping surface is critical to comfort and pain-free sleep, so choose your mattress and pillow wisely.

  • Use Excellent Bedding: The sheets and blankets are the first thing you touch when you get into bed, so it’s beneficial to make sure they match your needs and preferences.

  • Set a Cool Yet Comfortable Temperature: Fine-tune your bedroom temperature to suit your preferences, but err on the cooler side (around 65 degrees fahrenheit).

  • Block Out LIght: Use heavy curtains or an eye mask to prevent light from interrupting your sleep.

  • Drown Out Noise: Ear plugs can stop noise from keeping you awake, and if you don’t find them comfortable, you can try a white noise machine or even a fan to drown out bothersome sounds.

  • Try Calming Scents: Light smells, such as lavender, may induce a calmer state of mind and help cultivate a positive space for sleep.

Sleep hygiene is different for everyone so trying different things can benefit.


Power naps?

The 20-minute power nap -- sometimes called the stage 2 nap -- is good for alertness and motor learning skills like typing and playing the piano.

What happens if you nap for more than 20 minutes? Research shows longer naps help boost memory and enhance creativity. Slow-wave sleep -- napping for approximately 30 to 60 minutes -- is good for decision-making skills, such as memorizing vocabulary or recalling directions. Getting rapid eye movement or REM sleep, usually 60 to 90 minutes of napping, plays a key role in making new connections in the brain and solving creative problems.

Taking naps close to bedtime can ruin sleep so it is good to avoid taking a nap after 3 pm. Naps are better than coffee. 

What is insomnia? Reasons and causes.

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep. You may still feel tired when you wake up. Insomnia can sap not only your energy level and mood but also your health, work performance and quality of life. Insomnia can happen because of many reasons, some including stress, change in surroundings, bad sleep hygiene, and habits throughout the day. 

Short term insomnia (Acute): It Lasts for days and weeks. typically occurs when you experience a stressful event, such as the death of a loved one or starting a new job.

Along with stress, acute insomnia can also be caused by:

  • environmental factors that disrupt your sleep, such as noise or light
  • sleeping in an unfamiliar bed or surroundings, such as a hotel or new home
  • physical discomfort, such as pain or being unable to assume a comfortable position
  • certain medications
  • illness
  • jet lag

 Chronic long-term insomnia: insomnia is considered chronic if you have trouble sleeping at least three days per week for at least one month.

Chronic insomnia can be primary or secondary. Primary chronic insomnia, which is also called idiopathic insomnia, doesn’t have an obvious cause or underlying medical condition.

Secondary insomnia, also called comorbid insomnia, is more common. It’s chronic insomnia that occurs with another condition.

Common causes of chronic insomnia include:

  • chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, and obstructive and central sleep apnea
  • mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • medications, including chemotherapy drugs, antidepressants, and beta blockers
  • caffeine and other stimulants, such as alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs
  • lifestyle factors, including frequent travel and jet lag, rotating shift work, and napping

Practicing proper sleep hygiene can help get rid of insomnia.






To collect data, i decided to make a survey on sleep. This survey was sent out to a number of people and 278 people did it. Out of these 278 people, 99 had insomnia!

in my sleep survey, I had 4 questions. The questions were; how would you rate your sleep from 1-10, what is your basic night routine, did or do you use sleep medication, and lastly what are some problems that you experience with your sleep. 

This survey gave me plenty of data and a lot of useful resources. I am eternaly grateful to the people who took the survey!


My conclusin to the question is that insomia is a sleep disorder that unables you to have adequate sleep. IT occurs because of many thing. Some of them can be stress, change, and other disorders. There are plenty of ways to cure insomnia. The best way is to practice proper sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is habits you can develop to get better sleep, such as sleeping in a dark environment. Another thing that can cure insomnia is hope. Hope can help you lift your mood, be more happy, and never give up on yourself. If you have insomnia, it is important to stay strong. 


I am so grateful I got to take part in the science fair. It helped me in so many ways and increased my understanding of sleep. This was an amazing opportunity, and I am so lucky to have been able to experience it. 
I would like to thank the science teachers that helped me achieve this. And I would also like to thank all the participants who took my survey. 
And most of all, I would like to thank the CYSF community for giving us such a wonderful chance!