A good night’s sleep is essential for the healthy functioning of the body during wakeful hours of the day. A lack of sleep can result in feelings of irritation, grogginess and confusion. It also inhibits a person from being able to concentrate and can cause accidents that can put one’s life in danger. Not getting enough sleep can cause damage to the brain, while also causing damage other organs of the body such as the heart, kidney, liver and brain.
Sleep requirements vary from person to person. An adult needs at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep while a child or teenager needs even more.
The science behind sleep
The sleep-wake cycle is regulated by the circadian rhythm, which are 24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock. The circadian rhythms are influenced by environmental cues such as light, and hence our sleep cycles are aligned with the cycle of day and night. Sometimes, the circadian rhythm is thrown off which can create sleeping problems such as insomnia.
An organic compound, known as adenosine is produced in the brain is linked to the sleep wake cycle. Adenosine levels increase steadily throughout the day as you to become tired, and is then broken down by the body during sleep. During sunlight hours the body releases the hormone known as cortisol that promotes energy, alertness and wakefulness. As evening falls, and natural light disappears, the body releases the hormone melatonin that induces drowsiness.
Benefits of good sleep
Improves memory: While we are sleeping, our brain consolidates the information we have gathered throughout the day, sorting it, and making connections. Sleep also helps our minds organize our memories and makes them stronger. According to research, sleep deprivation makes it difficult for the brain cells to communicate effectively, leading to mental lapses that effect memory and visual perception.
Strengthens immune system: Functioning on less sleep reduces the body’s abilities to fight off bacteria and infections as the production of T-cells, also known as T lymphocytes, go down. These cells are one of the major components of the immune system, helping fight of diseases of all kinds. Getting enough sleep ensures that the immune systems stays uninterrupted and keeps working smoothly.
Controls weight: In the long term sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain related heart diseases. This is due to the body’s craving for junk and unhealthy foods when it is functioning on less sleep. It results in poor self-control and hence, indulgence. Getting adequate amounts of sleep helps make better food choices as one feels a greater sense of self control. It also helps to keeps weight fluctuations in check and prevents illnesses linked to weight gain such as diabetes and high cholesterol.
How to get good sleep?
Keep the rhythm in check: The most important step to achieving a good sleep is to keep the circadian rhythm working properly without any disruptions. Some ways to achieve that include being outdoors during the daytime and getting enough sunlight, having a consistent sleep routine so that your body’s clock is tuned, exercising regularly, limiting light and screen exposure before bed and also keep daytime naps short.
Avoid caffeine: Many people enjoy the tea-drinking ritual before going to bed as it has a calming effect on the body. However, it is important to ensure that the tea is free from the sleep disrupting caffeine. Herbal teas such as chamomile and peppermint herbal teas are free of caffeine and have sleep inducing properties. The aroma of the tea is relaxing and calms you down, helping you settle in for a good night’s sleep.
Don’t look at the clock: this seems to be a weird way of getting a good amount of sleep, however, it is quite effective. When we’re first trying to fix our sleeping patterns, we become obsessed with the “hours” we get to sleep. We keep looking at the clock as the time ticks away but sleep is far from coming. This makes getting enough sleep seem like a chore. Once that pressure is off, sleep will come easily.
Much about the human need for sleep is still a mystery and there is ongoing research about how it effects almost every function of our body without us even being conscious and aware of it. Lack of sleep can kill a person, literally. Hence, it is extremely important to cherish our body’s ability to go to sleep, helping us recharge and reset. If one suffers from sleep deprivation of any sort, it is important to rectify the situation and seek immediate professional help.