Ah sleep. We all love sleep. It’s the stuff of our dreams! No, wait. We dream while we sleep. Yes that’s correct. But is that all we do while sleeping? Sleep is an integral part of our day-to-day life, but we do not give it the importance it should be given. So let’s learn some more about it so that we don’t miss out on some much needed sleep anymore!
Did you know? You spend around 1/3rd of your life sleeping. Our prehistoric ancestors would go to sleep when the sun went down and wake up at sunrise. This large amount of sleep allowed them to function at peak levels so that they could hunt, protect themselves and survive. This was the norm for thousands of years. But since the invention of the light bulb, we have reduced the number of hours that we sleep because our eyes do not realize that it is night because of the bright light coming from bulbs and tube lights.
Importance of Sleep
Sleep is a biological necessity. Children need 10-12 hours of sleep, adolescents need 9-10 hours and adults need 7-9 hours. We grow sleepy due to signals from our body that tell our brain that we are tired and the signals from the environment telling us that it is dark outside.
Sleep inducing chemicals in our body like Adenosine and Melatonin send us into a light sleep which becomes deeper making our breathing and heart rate slow down and our muscles relax. This non-REM sleep is when our DNA is repaired and our bodies replenish themselves for the day ahead.
Sleep isn’t lost time. It is a critical function during which your body balances and regulates its vital systems regulating everything from circulation to growth and immune response by repairing damage in the body and by building muscle. You even grow taller while you sleep.
Our body uses energy even while we are asleep but it uses much less compared to while we are awake as the body slows down while we sleep. Our body uses this energy to grow and heal. Sleep also increases our emotional well-being. This means that we do not spend the next day cranky and in a bad mood. This is usually what happens when we do not get enough sleep. We become cranky and irritated.
So what about the brain? Does it stop working while we sleep?
Even the brain needs rest, doesn’t it? No it doesn’t stop, of course; but it does slow down. Our brains are the most important organ in our body. It coordinates the functioning of the whole body. It takes in everything we see and do during the day. It maintains our emotional state and our bodily systems and their functions throughout the day. It takes in information, the things we learn, new memories and much more. So if it is doing so much when does it get time to sort all this out?
This happens while we sleep. The brain doesn’t stop working but gets a chance to slow down a bit. While you sleep, the brain organizes the things you learnt in the day to remember them for later. It also sorts out your feelings while you sleep. Scientists say your brain needs sleep to help you concentrate and this helps you become better at solving problems at home and at school. Sleep also helps us remember things better. When we sleep, our brains get the chance to organize our new experiences and memories as well as what we learnt.
You may have heard of short term memory and long term memory. While we sleep, the information in our short term memory moves to the long term memory and is stored in a way that you can retrieve or recover it whenever you want.
What happens when you don’t get this much need sleep?
Too little sleep makes you tired. It makes it difficult for you to concentrate and solve problems. Since your brain sorts out your feelings while you sleep, you may feel cranky if you don’t get enough sleep.
When we lose sleep, learning, memory, mood and reaction time are affected. Sleeplessness may also cause high blood pressure and has even been linked to diabetes and obesity. Sleep deprivation can also cause death! Yes it sounds too extreme but it’s the truth!
During our waking hours our cells are busy using up our day’s energy sources which get broken down into various products including adenosine which is responsible for making us feel sleepy. As adenosine builds up, it increases the urge to sleep, also known as sleep pressure.
Other waste products also get collected in the brain and if they are not cleared away they overload the brain and are thought to cause the many negative symptoms of sleep deprivation which is the lack of sleep.
Scientists have found something called the glymphatic system in the brain. It is a cleanup mechanism that removes this waste from our brains and is much more active when we sleep. So if we do not sleep our brains are filled with unnecessary waste and that can slow us down during the day.
So now that we all know the importance of sleep, let us all sleep on time and get a good night’s sleep so that we can wake up refreshed and ready to start the day!