Here I am with my laptop at about 12am trying to do a blog post. My alarm just rang 12am (I set an alarm to ring every three hours just to keep track of time during the day) and a thought just crossed my mind. I am almost always awake by midnight and this has been the norm for the past six months. In the past, especially when I was still under the control of my parents, sleeping early was not a debatable issue and I often wondered why they were so keen on us going to bed early. On days like this, I end up getting between five to six hours of sleep and it didn’t take long for me to realise the huge difference in my day whenever I had enough night sleep and when I clearly need some more. From shortened attention span to restlessness, irritability, mood swings and all sorts. The thing is, up until I decided to write this article, I had never related any of those to sleep. I bet, just like me, you too have probably never considered what your habit of not sleeping well may be costing you.
WHY DO WE NEED TO SLEEP?
Sleep is a naturally recurring state of mind characterised by altered consciousness, relatively inhibited sensory activity, inhibition of nearly all voluntary muscles, and reduced interactions with surroundings. It is a period of time when the brain can replenish the adenosine triphosphate(ATP) stores from which it gets energy for cognitive and storage functions. Mammalian sleep is divided into REM (Rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep. REM is characterised by rapid eye movements, low muscle tone throughout the body and the propensity of the sleeper to dream vividly. In non-REM, there is usually little or no eye movement, dreaming is rare and muscles are not paralysed and because of this a person may be able to sleep walk. We interchange these two stages when we sleep.
Circadian rhythm is a term used to describe any biological process that displays an endogenous, entrainable oscillation of about 24hrs driven by the circadian clock. The circadian rhythm is what is responsible for the time of the day in which you sleep. It is affected by the presence or absence of some factors including light. It helps to distinguish between diurnal (active in the day, sleep at night e.g humans) and nocturnal (active at night, resting in the day e.g rodents)
This is the effect not getting enough sleep. A large debt causes mental, emotional and physical fatigue. Sleep debt results in diminished abilities to perform high-level cognitive functions. One neurochemical indicator of sleep debt is adenosine- a neurotransmitter that inhibits many of the bodily processes associated with wakefulness. Adenosine is an ingredient in adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and also a product of ATP metabolism. Thus as the brain uses stored energy in the form of ATP, adenosine builds up and subjective sleepiness increases. Caffeine and theophylline present in coffee and tea respectively temporarily block the effect of adenosine, thus allowing it to build up further before the need for sleep reasserts itself.
HOW MUCH SLEEP DO YOU NEED?
When you can wake up easily in the morning and stay alert throughout the day, you’re getting enough sleep. For most people, a healthy amount of sleep is seven to nine hours a night however a very few percent of people thrive on four to five hours of sleep. A study showed that people who regularly slept less than seven hours a night were at a 12 percent greater risk of dying than people who slept seven to eight hours every night according to the study.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF ADEQUATE SLEEP?
“Many things we take for granted are affected by sleep”, says Raymonde Jean MD and director of sleep medicine in a hospital in New York City. Some of the health benefits of sleep are unthinkable. Adequate sleep is definitely linked to a healthier life. Here are five benefits of sleep you don’t want to forget;
1). Live longer: Studies have consistently shown that sleep deprivation or sleeping less than five hours a night can lead to major health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer and ultimately an increased risk of mortality. Adequate sleep helps to curb the low grade inflammatory process associated with heart diseases and stroke. It also helps to reduce the risk of infection especially common cold.
2). Live happier: Non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) is necessary for turning off neurotransmitters and allowing their receptors to rest. This leads to improved regulation of mood. Adequate sleep helps to reduce anxiety. Studies also show that sleep deprivation increases stress hormones which may reduce new cell production in adult brain. Since adequate sleep is associated with more productivity, there is also a less likelihood of depression.
3). Live lighter: Researchers believe that a lack of sleep affects hormones that may increase appetite and lower energy levels. Inadequate sleep is linked to the secretion of “appetite hormones” leptin and ghrelin. Also, people who are sleep deprived are usually fatigued and less likely to exercise. Therefore for a healthy weight loss plan to succeed, a good sleep pattern must be achieved.
4). Live smarter: Adequate sleep has been linked to increased creativity, increased attention span and increased ability to retain. Adequate sleep also plays an important role when trying to learn new skills like playing the piano, a new sport etc. This is because sleep helps the body to consolidate memories, form new pathways for storage, reorganise and reconstitute itself. For athletes, sleep improves stamina and reduces day time fatigue. Adequate sleep has also been linked to making wiser decisions and improving productivity. Activities take shorter time to be accomplished.
5). Live safer: It is said that a sleep deprived driver is as bad as a drunk driver. Fatigue, decision making, anxiety could be the cause of an accident that could have been avoided whether on the road or at work.
WHY YOU ARE PROBABLY NOT HAVING ENOUGH SLEEP!
1). Poor planning: I chose this to be first on the list because I can totally relate. During the day, we find it easier to push things we need to get done till evening sometimes because we want the quiet environment or just as an excuse to procrastinate. It is wiser to finish as much work as possible during the day and leave the night for rest. You can start by planing your day in the morning with time allocated to each activity. With that, you can monitor and regulate how and when you want to sleep.
2). Bad sleeping habits: With the invention of smart phones and technology, for most people, bedtime is the time to look through the chats of the day, check up on who is doing what, when and where. There is always just enough to keep you searching for more on the net until it gets really late. Try to keep your phone away from you. Sleep time is precious and you don’t want to deprive yourself of it. Also, eating heavy meals at night does not help sleep patterns. Caffeine in coffee, alcohol and nicotine in cigarettes are all stimulants at different levels. It is always better to avoid them at least 4 hours before bedtime. For some people, the presence of light is highly disturbing; switch off the lights or wear a sleep mask for your eyes. It is more difficult to sleep if your bed is not comfortable, arrange it or change it if necessary.
3). Medical causes: There are so many medically related causes of insomnia. Some of which include depression, presence of underlying diseases, stress, anxiety, some medications (such as antidepressants, corticosteroids and some pain medications). If you feel the reason you cannot sleep is due to any of these causes, you may want to visit a hospital. Sleep is not something to be taking lightly. It is important to take responsibility for the amount of time you spend in bed because it really affects your lifestyle, relationships and work. Let us go back to the good ol’days when the saying, ”early to bed, early to rise” still held water.
Till next time, please endeavour to sleep well and of course in time! And by the way, Happy Valentine in advance!