Sleep is by far the only constant component of the daily schedule for the majority of the world population. Your body requires sleep, just as it needs food and water, in order to maintain proper function and good health.
However, It would be so naive to believe that sleep is merely a passive or inactive state in which your body and brain “shut off” every night, to rest and recuperate from the day’s waking activities.
Indeed, when you are asleep, your body is still engaged and your brain is sometimes even more active than when you are awake. They both work hard for your optimal health and wellbeing.
That’s why consecutive lack of good quality sleep has been scientifically associated with many health problems and disorders that we will highlight in later parts of this article.
Let’s take a closer look at the importance of sleep, what you can risk if you are not getting enough and how to enhance this process for better overall health.
We will share some practical tips to help you sleep like a baby and take full advantage of your day.
What is sleep?
Sleep is the opposite of wakefulness. From an observational standpoint, a person is sleeping when they are lying down, with eyes closed and low responsiveness to external stimuli.
More accurately, sleep is a physiological state necessary for human health. On average, a person should sleep 8 hours a night, which represents one-third of their day, to regenerate their physical and mental fitness.
When you fall asleep, your brain and your body are both undergoing strengthening processes to restore cells, process information, and improve health.
Sleep is characterized by physiological changes such as a decrease in :
- Muscle Tone,
- Heart Rate,
- Body Temperature.
It is also the reason for the secretion of specific hormones such as melatonin into your body. More details about hormones will be discussed in the latter part of this article.
Like any other bodily activity, sleep is regulated by the brain. The brain is activated differently depending on sleep cycles.
What is the sleep cycle?
A sleep-cycle is alternating between non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep also known as quiet sleep and rapid eye movement (REM), also known as active sleep or paradoxical sleep and that’s when dreams occur. It lasts about 90 minutes, and during that time we move through five stages of sleep.
Sleep cycles through these stages approximately four or five times throughout the night.
While progressing through a series of sleep stages, different brain wave patterns are displayed.
Why is sleep very important?
Sleep is important to a number of body and brain functions, including how neurons communicate with each other.
One of the vital roles of sleep is to help us learn, concentrate and respond quickly. Without sleep, you can’t solidify and consolidate memories and information.
Our bodies also require enough time of good sleep in order to restore and rejuvenate, to grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones.
How can sleep disorders affect your health?
From the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance, sleep has been proven to affect almost every type of system and tissue in the body.
Many ailments and health issues appear to be on the rise due to chronic sleep disorders. When you don’t get enough quality sleep, your overall immunity is compromised which increases the likelihood of illness and infection.
In what follows, we will address the major health problems that sleep disorders can cause.
You might be sure that obesity happens when you eat too much junk food or you don’t exercise regularly enough. However, did you know that obesity has been linked to staying up late as well? Let me explain:
In fact, lack of sleep increases your stress. This means that the cortisol level also rises which consequently increases the secretion of insulin and your body becomes taking blood from the digestive system. As a result, you start feeling hangry and your appetite goes up because your body’s need for sugar rises.
If you think this is difficult to understand, just remember what happened the last time you stayed awake late at night watching your favourite series! I bet you were craving for something yummy to eat, so you opened the fridge hoping to find delicious food, or maybe you have ordered your favourite pizza. Ain’t it?
The second reason why sleep disorder causes obesity is that your body’s temperature decreases at night, therefore the metabolism rate also goes down. Actually, your body is designed in a way to store and stock any food that you eat at night, because the digestion process stops functioning by this time. And that is when you get more fat around your belly and gain more weight.
Four lifestyle elements reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke: a healthy diet, regular exercise, no smoking and limited salt intake. Researchers have found that adding a good quality of sleep reduces the risk even further (by additional 15-20%). Believe it or not, maintaining good quality sleep has become a factor in preventing cardiovascular risk.
From the first sleep deprivation, effects appear on the cardiovascular system. The contractility of the heart increases, blood pressure rises and the pulse rate increases. Cortisol levels, a marker of stress, skyrocket. It is, therefore, better to avoid accumulating sleep debt, otherwise, health problems will accumulate as well.
Several recent studies highlight the importance of sleep in preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes or limiting its worsening.
Researchers have found that sleep disturbances and sleep restriction promote the development of diabetes by causing hormonal disruptions, disturbances in glucose metabolism and appetite disorders.
Glucose metabolism, and thus the body’s glycemic control, is severely disrupted in the case of sleep deprivation. Studies have found that due to lack of sleep glycemic level is reduced by 40%, the amount of insulin produced is reduced by 30%, and insulin resistance increases by 50%.
Alzheimer disease occurs when the brain cells that process, store and retrieve information degenerate and die.
Sleep disorders are believed to promote Alzheimer’s disease by increasing the production of beta-amyloid peptide in the brain. This is considered as the primary cause of Alzheimer’s according to “the amyloid hypothesis” theory.
An experiment conducted by professor Randall Bateman and his colleagues from Washington University has shown that the level of Beta-amyloid peptide among sleep-deprived people of the sample was 25-30% higher than those who had slept through the night!
Therefore, If you want to prevent yourself from Alzheimer’s disease, make sure to get proper sleep every night.
lack of deep slow-wave sleep (non-REM sleep) causes fatigue and affects the immune system. The natural killer cells responsible for eliminating abnormal cells are also affected. Their quantity drops, making their action much less effective and potentially allowing abnormal cells to develop.
“According to the national highway traffic safety administration, more than 100k accidents are results of fatigue which causes over 1500 deaths every year in just the USA. Majority of these people are under 25 years of age.”
General fatigue of the body, over the long term, can, therefore, favour the development of tumour pathologies. Links have been suspected in the case of several types of cancer: intestine, prostate and breast.
Research has proved that Poor quality sleep can actually lead to depressive disorders.
However, if you still doubt it, just think about how you felt when you haven’t slept well. Perhaps you felt melancholic, or slightly aggressive towards others? were you reacting more strongly to sad news and events?
Just keep accumulating bad night’s sleep and you will systematically fall into depression.
The scientific literature seems to confirm that our ability to regulate our emotions is affected by a lack of good sleep.
chronic poor sleep quality has been associated with increased signs of ageing. During sleep your cells heal themselves, your body restores and eliminates toxins from the skin. This happens thanks to the Melatonin hormone which acts as an antioxidant that helps protect the skin from damaging free radicals.
Getting enough sleep is extremely important if you want to take care of your skin and always look younger than your real age. Otherwise, you will definitely get wrinkles in your face, lines around your mouth and bags or dark circles under your eyes.
How to improve your sleep?
So we learned about the reasons why sleep is important, learned how lack of sleep can affect your life but how can you make sure that you get good sleep on a regular basis. Here are some important points and tips to help you get better quality sleep.
Control your coffee intake:
Caffeine which is a natural stimulant that exists in tea and cacao plants, but found in higher concentration in coffee, works by stimulating the brain and central nervous system, which makes you stay alert and prevents you from sleeping.
Stop drinking coffee 8 hours before your bedtime because the average coffee’s effect lasts about 6 to 8 hours.
So if you go to bed at 10:00 p.m., make sure to have your last round of caffeine at least no later than 4:00 p.m. Same is valid for energy drinks!
Sleep in a cool place:
Your bedroom’s temperature has to be cool. It generally should be between 15° and 19° so that your body can be prepared to release the melatonin hormone that is indispensable for a good sleep. we will talk further about this hormone and explain its role in the section below.
Thus, if the weather is hot, make sure to use the cooler, the air conditioner or the fan to cool and refresh the air in your room before you sleep.
Sleep in a completely dark room to benefit from the sleep hormone:
Melatonin or the sleep hormone is released by the pineal gland located just above the middle of the brain. Because the pineal can’t be active during the day and even the bright light directly inhibits the release of melatonin, this hormone is sometimes called Dracula as it only comes out in the dark.
During the day the pineal is inactive. However, around 9 pm, when the sun goes down and there is no light, the pineal is “turned on” and begins to actively produce melatonin, which is released into the blood to regulate and promote your sleep.
As melatonin levels increase in your blood, cortisol levels, responsible for stress, decrease. Therefore, you feel more relaxed and drowsy in preparation for sleep.
Don’t eat at night:
It’s better to have your last meal 4 or 5 hours before you sleep. Otherwise, you will force your digestion system to do extra work and you will inhibit the secretion of the sleep hormone which is the primary prerequisite of good quality sleep.
Avoid using any digital device right before bedtime:
We all know how pleasant it is to lay in our bed at night in front of the TV watching a movie until we fall asleep. This may seem harmless but actually, it does prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep.
Above all, watching scenes of violence or horror can make you anxious and stressed which increases the cortisol level in your blood and disturbs your sleep.
Secondly, exposing your eyes to the artificial blue light, emitted by your Tv’s screen, your laptop, your smartphone or any other digital device, can keep you up and delay the onset of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and lead to morning drowsiness.
In other words, sitting in front of screens deceives your body by making it believe it’s still daytime. What’s more, the blue light impairs the secretion of the melatonin hormone by 80%. And you already know now how much this hormone is important for quality sleep.
Blue blocker glasses can be helpful as they block out harmful blue light and UV rays, but they are very expensive. So, you’d better avoid any exposure before bedtime.
Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. This is not just a piece of philosophical advice but also a scientific fact that going to bed early can have a huge impact on your life
If you are usually unable to sleep early, be sure that even though you wake up late in the morning assuming that you got enough hours of sleep, it wouldn’t benefit your body at all. The inevitable consequence of poor night sleep is that you will have bags or dark circles under your eyes, fatigue, migraine and a foggy mind during the whole day. I am pretty sure you must have already experienced this.
That is why you need to understand the relationship between the sleeping process and the human body so that you can sleep properly in order to protect your overall health.
In fact, the sleeping process consists of 3 cycles or stages, which are as follow:
- The stage of hydration: Starts from 8 to 11 pm and that’s when your body cells are watered and hydrated.
- The stage of regeneration: From 11 pm to 3 am. Within this timeframe, everything in your body, from hormones to cells, is repairing and fixing itself.
- The stage of the body’s rest: From 3 to 5 am your body is taking a rest break after considerable efforts.
In a nutshell, an optimal sleep schedule would be from 10 pm to 5 am. Generally, any hour between 8 pm and 10 pm can be a good bedtime while any sleep you get after 5 am is not really necessary for your body as it doesn’t give any beneficial effects.
Therefore, sleeping early allows your body to gradually go through the three sequential stages and take advantage of rest.
Get enough sleep:
As individuals, the amount of sleep we need varies from one person to another. But, it also depends on our age. For example, most healthy adults need an average of seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
In general, the National Sleep Foundation suggests the following durations for healthy sleep:
- Birth to 3 months: 14 to 17 hours
- 4 to 11 months: 12 to 15 hours
- 1 to 2 years: 11 to 14 hours
- 3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours
- 6 to 13 years: 9 to 11 hours
- 14 to 17 years: 8 to 10 hours
- 18 to 64 years: 7 to 9 hours
- 65 years and older: 7 to 8 hours
Other quick tips:
We highly recommend that you exercise during the day because physical fatigue can increase your need for sleep and push you to go to bed early.
Dedicate the last 30 mins before sleep to reading a book, listening to relaxing music, praying, meditating or practising bedtime yoga. This will help you enhance your sleep.
Your bed should be only for sleep. Don’t use it for other things like work, study, eating food, or watching TV. This way, whenever you go to bed your brain knows that you want to sleep and send signals to prepare your entire body for that.
Sleep is vital to your mental and physical health. When you don’t get enough quality sleep, symptoms of depression, skin ageing, and migraines worsen. You are likely to suffer from different health issues including cardiovascular diseases, obesity, cancer, high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s.
If you want to live longer and have more chances to profit from a better quality life, don’t ever mess with your sleep.