WHAT IS SLEEP?
For a long time, humans have defined sleep as the passive state where we slip out of consciousness and our minds cease to function. Recent research, however, has unearthed various processes that happen during this period of inactivity. These processes are crucial to our daily activities and continued existence.
IMPORTANCE OF SLEEP:
The importance of a sleep can be realized in such a way that is regarded as the third important pillar to a healthy life. 6-8 hours of a good sleep improves your mental health through the formation of neural pathways. In addition to that, it improves cardiovascular function by repairing blood vessels. It also ensures regulation of blood sugar and maintains hormonal balance as well. Therefore, insufficient sleep results in disorders arising from the improper functioning of the above systems. In short, your overall health will be impacted when you are not getting enough sleep.
THE TWO MECHANISMS:
Your sleep is basically controlled by two mechanisms; these mechanisms are listed and explained below:
- The sleep homeostasis cycle, also known as “sleep pressure”
- The circadian cycle, popularly known as “wake pressure” or alerting system.
How active or sleepy you feel depends on the stages of these two cycles as well as interactions between them.
SLEEP HOMEOSTASIS CYCLE
Homeostasis is a general term that describes a body’s internal regulatory mechanism (Alexander & Acherman, 1999).
More conveniently, it behaves as the bodies internal timer that generates the drive to sleep. Usually, this depends on how long one has been awake, and it works intuitively. The longer it has been since the last episode of adequate sleep, the most powerful the drive to sleep and vice versa. Although, a relatively misunderstood concept, scientists believe that it is naturally produced within the body. The main sleep hormone is adenosine, whose production inhibits processes associated with being awake (Dijk & Czeisler, 1994). There is a negative connection between the cellular volumes of Adenosine and glycogen (which provides energy for the cells). Therefore, when cells are depleted of glycogen, Adenosine produces the feeling of drowsiness, forcing the individual to go to sleep, replenishing energy reserves.
1. THE CIRCADIAN CYCLE
The circadian cycle is responsible for regulating the body’s alertness levels over a 24-hour period, governed by the body’s biological clock. The mechanism regulates the timing of sleep and does not depend on the previous episode of sleep or alertness. The body’s internal clock is synchronized with the day-night cycle and monitors sleep patterns, appetite, brain wave activity, hormone production among other biological activities.
Circadian rhythms are controlled by a group of nerves above the hypothalamus known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). This is an area in the path of the optic nerves, and thus circadian rhythms mainly depend on the light entering the eye. During the day, when a lot of light enters the eye, the SCN sends signals to the brain to raise body temperature and secrete hormones for alertness such as cortisol and serotonin (Subimal & McLean, 2007). As it gets darker, the SCN sends signals to suppress production of these hormones, instead of promoting the secretion of melatonin, associated with the feeling of drowsiness.
2. STEPS TO IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP
Good sleep hygiene depends on your activities and routines that promote healthy rest. If observed, these practices lead to a better sleep pattern, resulting in an improved well-being and productivity for the individual. Some action steps which you can take to improve your sleep are discussed below:
- Sticking to a consistent sleep routine, leads to a better and more efficient circadian rhythm, which will ultimately improve our sleep, production of hormones, brain wave activity and so forth.
- Well, if you enjoy taking naps then we suggest you not to do so, since naps only reduce the sleep debt causing insomnia that results from a difficulty in falling asleep.
- The American Sleep Association also warns against using the Internet, phones, watching TV and reading in bed, as our biological clock will begin to associate the bed with alertness (American Sleep Association, 2014). So we recommend you to avoid electronic use and stimulating activities for 2 hours before sleep.
- Exercise regularly, as this promotes the production of Adenosine, resulting in better sleep.
- Reduce brightness of lights and blue spectrum of light after sunset as this disrupts Melatonin
- You can also get amber glasses to wear in order to reduce blue lights (Uvex brand is available on Amazon) or blue blocker glasses.
- Alternately, get red LED bulbs to use at night (and turn off all regular bulbs)
- You can use LED candles or bees wax candles for night lighting
- Take an hour in complete darkness before bed (such as taking an Epsom salt bath in complete pitch black darkness)
- Install apps on devices like f.lux for the mac computer and use the setting on the newest iOS for iPhone to block blue spectrum
- First thing in the morning, get outside in bright sunlight for 30 minutes (or get a very bright full spectrum light to use inside)
Last but not least, people are advised to eliminate drugs such as caffeine, tobacco and certain pharmaceuticals as they affect sleep patterns, interfering with the sleep cycle. Adhering to these recommendations promotes a healthy lifestyle.
The most common sleep disorder is insomnia. An individual with this condition experiences a lot of difficulty falling and staying asleep. It is mainly caused by work-related stress, anxiety, some medical conditions, poor sleep habits and the use of drugs that cause fragmented sleep. Insomnia is mainly remedied by observing proper sleep hygiene, or in severe cases, a health practitioner may prescribe the use of natural sleep aid treatments.
Sleep Apnea is a condition in which the individual experiences difficulty in breathing while sleeping. It is caused by obstruction of the airways by relaxation of the windpipe and may last up to thirty minutes.
The other very common syndrome is pain in legs which is worse at night it involves sensation in the lower limbs. Moving the leg is the only option left for the victim that alleviates the pain which results in sleep deprivation and that’s why bearer can’t sleep.
The final disorder is Narcolepsy, which is a series of ‘sleep attacks’ that occur during the day (Thorpy, 2012).The individual is forced to involuntarily nap at day time. Any individual showing signs of these disorders should see a healthcare professional immediately for interventions.
Borb, Alexander A., and Peter Achermann. “Sleep homeostasis and models of sleep regulation.” Journal of biological rhythms6 (1999): 559-570.
Dijk, Derk-Jan, and Charles A. Czeisler. “Paradoxical timing of the circadian rhythm of sleep propensity serves to consolidate sleep and wakefulness in humans.” Neuroscience letters1 (1994): 63-68.
Datta, Subimal, and Robert Ross MacLean. “Neurobiological mechanisms for the regulation of mammalian sleep–wake behavior: reinterpretation of historical evidence and inclusion of contemporary cellular and molecular evidence.” Neuroscience &Biobehavioral Reviews5 (2007): 775-824.
American Sleep Association. Sleep Hygiene Tips. 30 November 2014. 10 August 2016. <https://www.sleepassociation.org/patients-general-public/insomnia/sleep-hygiene-tips/>.
Thorpy, Michael J. “Classification of sleep disorders.” Neurotherapeutics4 (2012): 687-701.