Do You Know Your Sleep?
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage
Ceylon Today Features
An average human being spends more than a quarter of their lives asleep. We all need sleep. It is a daily necessity. Scientists around the world have always been curious about sleep. Why do we need it? What happens when we do sleep? What is the most ideal amount of time we should spend sleeping? How can we sleep more productively?
While we still don’t know everything about sleep, we have discovered many key aspects to sleep and how important this bodily function is for our daily lives to operate without a hitch. You might already know some of the things we will share today, but it’s still important enough to have a quick refresh of the facts with some new tidbits of information for raising awareness of how essential sleep is for our lives.
Long time ago, scientists believed that sleep was a passive activity, where your brain and body were in a sort of ‘power saving mode’. Turns out they were wrong. Thanks to modern medical technology, we now know that our brain and body as very much active during our sleep, even though we aren’t completely aware of it during that time.
Turns out that there are several stages of sleep that we cycle through each night. Each phase of sleep leads into the next one until and the pattern repeats several times each night. These stages are separated into two types called REM sleep and non-REM sleep. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement. That’s because during REM sleep, your eyes are constantly moving behind your eyelids.
Although you may be fast asleep, your body is very busy during these sleepy cycles. Each stage lasts about an hour and 30 minutes but most of it is spent in non-REM sleep. When you lie down and successfully count your sheep, your brain goes straight into non-REM sleep. You gradually fall deeper into your slumber and when you do, you lose awareness of your surroundings and your body temperature drops.
Soon after, you reach a state of deep sleep, where your blood pressure drops, your breathing slows down and muscles relax. It’s at this moment when more blood pumps into your muscles and your body starts repairing any damages caused during the day. Your energy is restored and important chemicals in your body that trigger growth and development are released into the blood. The second stage is REM sleep. Just as the name states, your eyes start darting back and forth, moving behind your eyelids. Your brain starts firing up and energy is sent to your brain and body. You dream during REM sleep.
Although your brain is hard at work, your muscles are turned off and completely relaxed during REM sleep.
Your nights are spent alternating between these two stages back and forth. However, you tend to spend more time in REM sleep later in the night, when you are close to waking up.
All about timing
Ever wonder why you feel sleepy at night? Why you might wake up early in the morning during the weekend even if you didn’t set your alarm to ring? It’s all thanks to what is called your circadian rhythm, an internal clock that helps you regulate the cycle of you feeling sleepy and being active every day. In simple terms, it’s your internal body clock.
Your brain and body loves patterns. That’s why it’s so hard to break a habit once it’s formed. Once your circadian rhythm is set, your body tends to follow it without much hassle. This is why people struggle with jet-lag after travelling to a different country far from home. It happens when your body clock is adjusting to the new time zone you are in.
While circadian rhythms differ from person to person, there are some notable differences between men and women generally. Men tend to feel less tired in the evening, while women are found to be more likely to wake up earlier. This means that men tend to be more night owls while women are most likely to be early birds.
More important than you know
Sleep is important and I’m sure you’ve heard and read plenty to know that. However, you and I both know we sometimes overlook how important it is to maintain a healthy amount of sleep in our lives.
Remember, your body needs sleep so much that it will literally force itself to do so when you don’t get adequate levels of it.
Compare that with hunger; your body doesn’t force you to search for food when you get hungry. But it does if you ignore your body’s need for adequate sleep and rest.
Your body knows how important sleep is for you because it directly affects the function of the brain. If you don’t get enough sleep, it will severely impact the level of brain function you have the next day. Doctors know that a healthy amount of sleep every day is important to maintain ‘Brain Plasticity’, which means the brain’s ability to learn and adapt to new things and situations.
Also, memory and logical thinking capacities are directly affected if you don’t get enough sleep for even a day.
Researchers believe this is because a good night’s sleep is important for your brain to store valuable information gathered during the day. Another important thing they have learnt is that waste products released from brain cells are removed from our brains and nervous system during the time we sleep. Turns out that it’s a critical process that cannot happen efficiently during the time that we are awake.
The rest of your body is also affected by lack of sleep. Symptoms of depression, seizures, high blood pressure and migraines can worsen. Your immunity against various deceases drop as well as your metabolism. Remember, it’s only during the night when your body can truly focus on repairing any damaged cells and increase growth.
Quality or quantity?
You know now that sleep is really important. Do you think you can cheat the system and sleep less if you’re getting better quality sleep?
When it comes to sleep, there is no argument. Quality and quantity should be on your mind. The doctor recommends at least eight hours of sleep per day for the average person and the more quality sleep you get, the more effective you are going to be.
There are tricks to ensure you get the best quality of sleep possible. Reduce the amount of time you spend staring at your phone, TV or laptop before bed. They emit light that can inhibit hormones such as melatonin that trigger your body to go to sleep. Have a balanced diet and don’t tale long naps before bedtime. They can interrupt with your body clock and reduce your sleep drive.
Get plenty of exercise every day. It’s best to get some of that blood pumping in the morning to help you stay more awake the rest of the day as well as to help your body relax when it’s time for bed.
If you learnt something new about how you will spend one-third of your life, feel free to share it with others. More importantly, make sure you are making the best of the sleep you get, both quality and quantity wise. It helps flush out toxins built up in our brains, increase cognitive function as well as help your body repair, restore and revitalise.