WHY DO I SLEEP?August 5, 2021
Can you think about the various activities you want to do in a day? The To-do lists you want to check before you finally take a break? Among all the activities, which of them would you want to spend one-third of your time doing?
Most of us are very much familiar with the sound of our annoying alarm clocks. What we don’t realize is that it distorts a very vital and biological experience that the body goes through in the night; sleep. It is no wonder research has shown that we spend one-third of our lives sleeping. An average person of 45 years has spent 15 years of their life sleeping. And if you are lucky to get up to 75 years, you have spent approximately 25 years of your life sleeping.
Most people believe that when we sleep, the body and the brain are just dormant. To reinforce this, popular cultural statements like, “Sleep is for the weak,” “Sleep is a rehearsal of death,” or “I will sleep when I die” have all made us neglect sleep so much so that it affects our daily activities, and leads to health problems.
“Just because we do not drink, hang out with friends, or work during sleep does not mean that we should neglect it,” says Dr. Tomkinson. “Do not forget the emphasis on the fact that just like food and water, we all need sleep to survive.”
WHAT IS SLEEP?
Sleep is simply a natural rhythm of life. Sleep is pivotal for good health and vitality. A popular English Dramatist, Thomas Decker, in the 16th century said that “Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.” Over the years, sleep researchers have studied so much about sleep and shown that a lot happens when we sleep.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE SLEEP?
Now the big question is, what happens when we sleep? According to Dr. Tomkinson, unlike passive activity, sleep is an active process where all energy is restored. The body has a natural clock. It’s called the circadian rhythm. Our body cycles through this “clock” on a 24-hour basis. During this time, the body produces chemical hormones that aid in regulating the daily activities of the body.
One of these hormones is melatonin, also known as the drowsy hormone. It is produced in the pineal gland in the brain when a signal passes from the retina to the suprachiasmatic nucleus. The retina senses light, and it’s able to send a signal to the nucleus, down to the spinal cord, and back up again to the pineal gland. Its production starts increasing in the evening and peaks at midnight, letting us know that it’s sleep time.
Its production decreases in the morning, letting us wake up and feel refreshed after a good night’s rest. This goes to say that light prevents the production of melatonin which can keep us awake.
THE SLEEP CYCLE
The two main categories of sleep are Rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (Non-REM) sleep. The human body cycles through these two categories and five stages before waking up. The sleep cycle starts with a transition phase where the eyes relax, the heart rate and breathing rate begin to slow down.
The transition period is usually a short phase between wakefulness and sleep. One can easily wake up and sleep back again at this stage. The second stage is Non-REM sleep, where most people spend a chunk of their sleep time. At this stage, the eyes relax more, the heart rate, breathe rate, and brain waves are very slow. The third stage is also Non-REM sleep which occurs in more extended periods.
The heart rate, together with the breathing rate, is at its lowest at this point. This is where it gets difficult waking the individual up. REM sleep happens at the fourth and fifth stages of sleep. Researchers have found that the body first goes into REM sleep 90 minutes into sleep. At this stage of sleep, the body is alternating between wakefulness and sleep.
REM sleep is where dreaming occurs. The brain paralyzes the arms and legs to prevent the individual from acting on the dream. A person needs these various stages of sleep; “deep sleep” is vital for the body to feel well-rested.
BENEFITS OF SLEEP
Deep sleep helps the brain to improve its ability to recall all information. It enables the body to replenish all the energy it has lost and also keeps the hormones balanced. Sleep allows the brain to re-organize and clear out metabolic waste, including proteins that can cause dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The body always has a natural drive for deep sleep, which decreases when the body gets enough of it.
HOW MANY HOURS OF SLEEP DO I NEED?
So, having extensively talked about what sleep is all about, now let’s delve deeper into what happens when you do not get enough sleep. Dr. Tomkinson stated that “When the body does not get enough sleep, it affects your whole day.” An occasional sleepless night will leave you feeling irritable and fatigued the following day. It may not necessarily affect your health, but it is sure to keep you groggy through the day’s activities.
It must be noted, however, that frequent sleepless nights will affect your physical and mental health. Lack of sleep can cause:
- Sleeping disorders.
- Metabolic disorders.
- It can lower your sex drive.
- It can make you gain weight.
Research has shown that people who get less than seven hours of sleep in a day tend to gain weight and are at higher risks of being obese. These effects are mainly due to the reduced levels of leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full, and increased levels of ghrelin, the hunger-stimulating hormone.
Studies also show that people who get less than five hours of sleep are more likely to get diabetes. This is due to the distortion in the way the body normally processes glucose.
- Do you know what happens to your brain when you do not get enough sleep?
- It leaves your brain exhausted.
- There is decreased concentration in your daily activities.
- Important signals in your body are delayed to response and reaction.
- Chances of accidents are increased, thus increasing the chances of injury.
You have not been getting enough sleep, and you want to catch up on your lost sleep? Simple, sleep more! We will also need to understand that this will not happen in a single full day. Instead, this can be accomplished by beginning now to get uninterrupted nights of sleep with no alarm clocks. As days go by, the sleep pattern will come back to normal.
IS THERE ANY SUCH THING AS EXCESSIVE SLEEP?
Although little information is known about sleep, recent reviews from National Sleep Foundation have coined a definition for oversleeping. When an adult between the ages of 18 and 64 years sleeps for more than eight or nine hours, it is considered oversleeping.
The average estimated hours of sleep for an individual are relative. It is dependent on how great the individual feels after that number of hours of sleep. Some people tend to feel refreshed after seven or eight hours. Others may require a little more. The value of sleep should be evaluated when a person continuously sleeps for over nine hours each night.
If an individual is not getting the restorative sleep the body needs, the body finds a way to adjust. What the body does is that it finds a way to prolong the sleeping period. This is to secure the right quality of sleep needed. So essentially, many people walk around having slept too little.
Do you want to know if you have been sleeping excessively? These are two major characteristics to look out for:
- Difficulty in getting out of bed in the morning.
- An overly feeling of sleepiness during the day to the extent that naps do not have any significance.
Asides from lack of sleep at night, excessive sleepiness is mainly due to an underlying condition that could be attributed to such factors as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, depression, and other mental health disorders. Just as less amount of sleep can distort your day, excessive sleep also does the same.
EFFECTS OF EXCESSIVE SLEEP
The effects of excessive sleeping range from mild consequences such as trouble staying awake during the day, difficulty focusing on activities, trouble making the right decisions, and memory problems to more external and dire ones such as:
- Decreased work productivity
- Decreased academic performance
- Social problems
- Reduction in one’s quality of life.
At the end of it all, there is always a need to balance everything. The role sleep plays in the human body cannot be overemphasized. Having understood why we need to sleep, it is essential to take practical steps towards getting the correct amount. One of such steps is to plan your day.
“When planning your day, do not forget to allocate enough time for sleep,” says Dr. Tomkinson. “While you are at it, turn off your alarm clock every once in a while and get just the right amount of sleep. A good night’s rest a day, also, keeps the doctor away.”
Disclaimer: The author of this article is not a medical professional. This article should not be construed as medical advice.
Medical Disclaimer: The information in this article is not meant for diagnostic purposes, and we are not doctors. Please consult your doctor before making any decisions concerning your healthcare.
- The Science of Sleep: Understanding what happens when you sleep. John Hopkins Medicine. Accessed on 5th June 2021. Available at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.orh/health/wellness-and-prevention.the-science-of-sleep-understanding-what-happens-when-you-sleep
- Why lack of sleep is bad for your health- NHS. National Health Service (2021). Accessed on 7th June 2021. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-lack-of-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/
- Medical and Brain Conditions that cause excessive sleepiness. Sleep Foundation (2021). Accessed on 5th June 2021. Available at https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-health/medical-brain-conditions-cause-excessive-sleepiness
- Why do we sleep? What happens during sleep? Accessed on 6th June 2021. Available at https://www.healthline.com/health/why-do-we-sleep
- Oversleeping: The effects and health risks of sleeping too much. Accessed on the 7th of June 2021. Available atCharacteristics of Sleep. Healthy Sleep (2021). Accessed on the 7th of June 2021. Available at https://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/science/what/characteristics \https://amerisleep.com/blog/oversleeping-the-health-effects/
- Photo by Lux Graves on Unsplash