What is sleep?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines sleep as:
“a condition of body and mind which typically recurs for sever.al hours every night, in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended”.
Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together - Shakespeare. The average person spends 36% of their life asleep. Our ignorance about sleep is quite profound. Is it because we don't do anything much about it? Does it seem like a waste of time? It should not, because it is an incredible part of our biology. Just taking a natural sleep aid alone is not enough to truly improve the quality of our sleep long term. There are many aspects of our life that enhance and improve the quality of sleep, which you experience on a nightly basis.
The interesting thing about sleep is that it does not arise from a single structure within the brain, rather a host of networks. The brain does not actually shut down when you are asleep. In fact, some areas are more active than others during the sleep state than during the wake state. If you were to flip your brain upside down you would find just underneath would be where the hypothalamus is positioned. Around this area is where a vast array of complex structures are located, most importantly our biological clock. This clock queues us the proper time to wake-up, sleep and also interacts with other areas inside the hypothalamus such as the lateral hypothalamus and the ventrolateral preoptic nuclei. All of these combined send electrical messages down the brain stem, which further transfers these messages back up over the entire cortex (the wrinkly part of the brain). These messages are known neurotransmitters, which keep us awake allowing us to experience what we know as "consciousness".
Sleep comes from an entirely unique set of systems within the brain. In essence, sleep is either turned on or off as a result of interactions within the same area of the hypothalamus. There is an extensive amount of complex systems involved with sleep, but what is SLEEP about? Not all scientists and gurus agree on the reason why we sleep and even though there are hundreds of reasons why sleep is important (which we will be covering in other sections on this website) let's begin by outlining the most common ideas.
Why is sleep so important?
Restoration - Simple, all of the resources that we have burnt up during the day, we restore, we replace, we rebuild during the night. There has actually been shown evidence that certain genes only turn on when we are asleep. These genes are related to metabolic pathways and restoration.
Healing damaged cells (skin, wounds, infections, illness)
Boosts your immune system
Recovery from the day's activites
Recharges your nervous system, heart and cardiovascular system for the following day.
Brain Processing & Memory Consolidation - Sleep has been shown to be one of the most critical aspects when it comes to learning new things and remembering them the next day. Sleep has also been shown to greatly enhance our creativity as well as our problem solving capabilities to complex problems. Studies have shown that a good night's rest can enhance all of these abilities up to a threefold advantage. The synaptic connections, which are critical become linked and more durable while the less important neural connections tend to weaken and wash out.
Understanding the sleep cycle
So what happens during sleep? Well first of all, there are two recurring phases:
1. REM (rapid eye movement) - 20-25% of our total sleep each night consists of REM sleep. This is when we dream, consolidate emotions, memories, stress and is believed to be a vital part of our sleep for learning and developing new skills.
2. NREM (non-REM or non-rapid eye movement) - 75-80% of total sleep each night consists of NREM sleep. This is when our energy, hormones, tissue and other bodily functions are restored and repaired, which are essential for further development and proper regeneration.
Both phases are critical for multiple functions within our space suit. If either one of these cycles are interfered with during our slumber - either due to breathing difficulties (snoring/sleep apnea/etc.) or waking up frequently within the night (bathroom/light/sound/etc.) - then we are limiting our overall health and well-being the next day by short circuiting the miraculous regeneration process that occurs during the night.
What happens if you don't get enough sleep?
If you don't sleep, you don't fly.
Teenagers need around 9 hours of sleep - Most are getting around 5 hours.
Average Adult - 1950's - Around 8 hours of sleep.
Average Adult 2013 - Around 4 - 6.5 hours of sleep.
There is a huge link between mental health, mental illness and sleep disruption. In cases of severe mental illnesses, sleep disruption is always present. There has actually been research proving that anti-psychotics cause sleep problems. These anti-psychotics are given to mental patients who are already sleep deprived causing a whole host of other problems, a fact that is ignored very commonly today. Conditions such as depression and schizophrenia have been studied more recently showing remarkable data. The majority of the time spent during their days they were asleep and much of the time spent during the night they remained awake resulting in terrible quality of sleep and overall well-being.
Sleep and mental illness are not only correlated with one another, yet they are physically linked within the brain. The genes within our body which help us achieve normal sleep and mental health can eventually mutate and change, which can eventually lead to mental problems. Sleep disruption is the number one cause for these mutations occurring in the first place and making these conditions worse. When we are deprived of sleep, our body enjoys taking little naps known as micro-sleeps, which are a huge contributing factor resulting in dangerous and even fatal accidents. An estimated 31% of people will, at some point in their life, fall asleep behind the wheel. On average, over 100,000 accidents occur on the freeway each year within the United States, which have been associated with tiredness.
Not sleeping contributes to
Stress Overload with a suppressed immune function (leading to infections and etc.)
Weight Gain & Type 2 Diabetes
Cancer as well as Blood Pressure Abnormalities
Poor memory & creativity
Increased impulsiveness and overall poor judgment
It is so much worse than this. If you are tired your brain craves certain ways to make up the lack of sleep such as excess caffeine and other stimulants. We are then left tired and wired at night leading to other stimulants to help us fall asleep such as alcohol, excess supplementation, pharmaceutical drugs and other harmful "remedies". Not to mention the highest contributing factor being artificial light, which we are exposed to almost every waking hour of our life (being exposed to bright artificial lights at night is one of the worst possible things you can do to mess up your natural sleep rhythms.)
My top 7 contributers to poor sleep
Artificial Light - We need certain light at certain times of the day to stimulate our hypothalamus and nervous system to ensure that we wake up at the correct time and fall asleep at the correct time. (check out our in-depth blog post on artifical light, also see how I fixed this problem myself by clicking here)
Stimulants & EMF Exposure - Turn off your mobile phones, wi-fi routers and computers at-least 1 hour before heading to bed. Get out in nature, ground your feet and limit your exposure to technology and EMF radiation.
Stress (Mental & Physical) - Check this blog out here for a great article written about work-related stress and its affect on sleep.
Lack of Oxygen - Low level oxygen is not something that happens randomly. The major causes of this include: Alcohol Abuse, Smoking, Sleep Apnea, Sedentary Life-style & lack of exercise. Try incorporating deep breathing everyday with meditation alongside daily aerobic activities in the morning, chlorophyll, mullein tea as well as adding plants in your house. A drop in oxygen levels lead to a rise in CO2 levels in the blood, which leads to fatigue, restlessness, headaches and sleepiness during the day.
Jet Lag - Tens of millions of people suffer from jet lag.
Shift-work - This is extraordinary, 20% of the working population attends shift work and your body's internal clock never actually shifts to the demands of performing work at night. It remains stuck onto it's original coding (light-dark cycle) as the rest of humanity. This leaves the tired worker desperately trying to sleep during the day while their body's internal clock is telling them to stay awake leading to poor quality of sleep (5-hours average)
Poor Hydration & Nutrition - Poor diet, poor quality of water, lack of DHA, minerals and other critical elements are needed to create proper conductivity, which results in strong neural pathways leading to a more balanced, yet receptive nervous system.
Jim Butcher, the fantasy writer, said, "Sleep is God. Go Worship."
I hope you liked this quick over-view of sleep as we will be posting more in-depth content on all the categories listed above. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to reach out to me, I'm here to help!
Yours in health,
Nick Lamanna - Bio-Hacking Specialist