Sleep, which we all take for granted, is critical in regulating important brain and body functions. From recharging our batteries after a long day at work to maintaining the complex hormone axis of the brain-body interaction. Sleep physiology and disorders are far too broad to cover in a single article, but I will walk you through the fundamentals, excluding the more technical details.
How Much Sleep Do You Get?
As we get older, our sleep requirements decrease. From nearly all-day sleep in toddlers to 7–9 hours on average for adults, to barely 6 hours in people over the age of 80. Individual differences exist in the number of hours required for a person to function at full mental and physical capacities.
Sleep is divided into two stages: non-REM sleep and REM sleep. The former is further divided into stages that are beyond the scope of this article, whereas the latter is when we dream. The brain moves through these phases in “cycles,” with a typical night’s sleep consisting of 3-7 cycles.
Why Is Normal Sleep Quality And Quantity Important?
An essential part of the “Rest & Digest” system is that when we sleep, our body’s metabolism kicks in full throttle and burns the food we have eaten for calories and energy. This comes under the “parasympathetic” nervous system. Not even that, but the fat deposits in the body at different sites are also subject to change. With fat redistribution and new muscle synthesis, proper sleep is required to make sure we are burning the excess calories and getting the full benefit of the hours we spend in the gym. New muscle synthesis can only occur if we give our body’s synthetic machinery “time” in the form of proper sleep duration and quality.
To Feel Refreshed:
We all know the feeling of having bloodshot eyes, a head-spinning like a carousel, and being finicky and fidgety. while spewing fire at co-workers or colleagues. All this can happen with improper sleep. Our brain needs time to reset and restore the “default” calmness in us. When we are deprived of it, the body perceives this state as stress and reacts accordingly.
Consolidation Of Memories:
Have you ever scratched your head while trying to recall the most mundane events in your life? Sleep deprivation is one of the most common causes of memory inconsistencies in normal adults. Consider the brain to be a massive office with thousands of cabinets and drawers. All of the office work done by workers during the day is laid out on the tables, while workers on the night shift scurry to adjust and set the files in the cabinets, only to restart the next day. That is precisely what occurs in our brains. Our day-to-day experiences are consolidated during sleep so that they can be accessed quickly when needed.
Synchronization With Hormone Release:
Certain hormones produced by the pituitary gland, particularly growth hormone (yes, as children were told, they grew in their sleep) and the male hormone testosterone, rely on sleep to be released in adequate amounts. As a result, sleep deprivation can result in lower levels of both. This is especially important during the growing years of children and adults who exercise to gain muscle mass (both hormones increase muscle strength and size). The good news is that once you get your lost sleep hours back, hormone release returns to normal. For example, taking an afternoon nap after a night of disturbed sleep the night before
When we dream, our brain’s creative and abstract centres are in top gear, and this happens during the REM sleep part of sleep. If we get the appropriate amount of REM sleep, our creative side flourishes when we are awake. And obviously, we all have our fair share of inspiration and epiphanies from our dreams.
Sleep-related Factors Include:
Our sleep-wake cycle depends on a lot of factors, namely our exposure to light, work hours, exertion and fatigue, use of caffeinated beverages and supplements, exercise and eating habits.
Tips For A Good Quality Sleep:
Screen Time at Night:
Nature has programmed our brain to release Melatonin from the pineal gland, which is a sleep hormone. When the sun goes down, this hormone begins to peak because our eyes are supposedly (note the word supposedly!) exposed to less and less light as the day turns into night. In today’s world, more and more nocturnal trends are keeping people awake late into the night, and sometimes until the break of dawn. This, combined with exposure to computer/mobile screens, instructs the brain to decrease the production of the sleep hormone. As a result, it is difficult to fall asleep. The culprit here is the blue wavelength of light. Hence the increased use of blue filters in screens and warm yellow or red night lights. Ideally, if you are not working late hours due to your work responsibilities, put away your gadgets with screens, preferably half an hour before you sleep. If it is necessary to use them, make sure you use the blue filters.
A cool, dark, and quiet room is the ideal ambiance to make you fall asleep. Turn off any appliances or gadgets in the room that may make noises loud enough to disturb your sleep.
At least a few times a day, we all love our cup of Joe. Caffeine, while giving us that extra oomph in terms of increased focus and agility, does mess around with our ability to sleep, especially if taken near to bedtime. Try skipping caffeinated products at least a couple of hours before bedtime.
Heavy meals, especially before going to bed, can disrupt sleep in a variety of ways. For starters, heavy meals cause a diversion of bodily resources to the gut, resulting in symptoms such as palpitations. The digestion process of heavy meals requires more blood supply, which interferes with the brain’s unhindered allocation of resources required to initiate sleep.
Certain foods contain an amino acid called “tryptophan”, which is required to synthesise “serotonin,” which is related to sleep. Bananas, pistachios, dark chocolate, cocoa, and milk can all help in initiating a calm snooze.
It’s the chicken or the egg for this one. Stress begets loss of sleep and vice versa. So it’s advisable to tackle either end.
Naps taken at the wrong time and for the wrong amount of time can cause grogginess. This is due to the fact that our brain goes through different phases of the sleep cycle, and if a cycle or more has passed and you wake up, you will feel as if you just had a power nap. However, if you are awakened during the sleep cycle and it is not completed, you may feel extremely miserable and have that all-too-familiar heavy-headed/groggy feeling. If possible, try to take short naps in the late afternoon; sometimes even 30 minutes of good quality sleep is preferable to the few hours of sleep you get in the afternoon and wake up miserable.
In conclusion, good quality and quantity of sleep are required to live a healthy life. Chronic sleep deprivation is perceived by the body as constant stress and sets off a cascade of events of acute and chronic inflammation, which can lead to diseases like Diabetes mellitus, systemic hypertension, and chronic fatigue. Its importance cannot be overstated.
Book an appointment now to answer all your queries. You can book an appointment with the top health specialists through Marham by calling Marham helpline: 0311-1222398 or by online booking facility through the website or Marham mobile app.
Can’t Find The App?
Drop a review for us at Playstore if you’ve had a good experience!
Dr. Syed Hunain Riaz: He is a Specialist Physician by qualification with expertise, interest, and experience in Endocrinology/Metabolism and infectious diseases. He has extensive experience in delivering talks to audiences regarding topics relating to Endocrinology/Metabolism and HIV & AIDS( on platforms of various international organizations). Has a few research articles under his belt. He likes to convey his thoughts through articles for the masses. Besides medicine has interests in astronomy/cosmology, traveling, photography, and philosophy.