As the modern pop sensation Billie Eilish sings, where do we go when we sleep? No one knows the true bio-evolutionary purpose of sleep but modern science has identified a few things that are crucial to the body running properly. Here is how you can improve your sleep.
Neuroscience tells us that our master switch deep in our brain acts as our master biological clock. Light sensitive cells in our retinas feeds signals deep into that brain switch. This trains brain neurons to sync up with Earth’s 24 hour cycle of day and night. We call these Circadian rhythms. These are the control switch which tells us when to feel sleepy or awake. When the world goes dark, this master switch tells our pineal gland to increase the hormone melatonin levels in the bloodstream, acting like a chemical lullaby.
Sleep seems to have many restorative functions and although the brain’s intense electrical activity uses 1/4 of the entire body’s energy supply, it never stops working. However, it uses the time you sleep to do the ‘repair and maintenance of the brain, body and blood circulation. It rebuilds cells, synthesises protein and lowers blood pressure and heart rate as you sleep.
All of this means: When it’s dark, it’s time to go to bed. However, modern society has changed the definition of dark with light pollution in cities and blue light from our devices. Our brain doesn’t know better that the sun is shining which can lead to sleep deprivation.
We need to combat this by simulating dark and cool conditions in the bedroom and staying away from activities that stimulate the brain before bed.
Inadequate sleep duration in the general population has been associated with a myriad of negative health effects including neurocognitive, metabolic, immunologic and cardiovascular dysfunction. People who are sleep deprived may have impaired brain function that could affect judgment and/or decision-making during athletic performance. Improving your sleep can have a big impact on the quality and speed of your recovery from physical injury.
From a metabolic standpoint, sleep deprivation has been associated with obesity and diabetes. Sleep-deprived individuals may crave unhealthy foods and show impairments in glucose sensitivity, which may impair glycogen repletion and potentially affect appetite, food intake, and protein synthesis. Remember, healthy eating is the first step of healthy living!
Impaired sleep also negatively affects growth hormone and cortisol secretion. Sleep deprivation increases pro-inflammatory cytokines, which impairs immune system function, impedes muscle recovery and repair from damage, leads to autonomic nervous system imbalance (simulating overtraining symptoms), results in slower/less accurate cognitive performance, and alters pain perception.
According to sleep scientist Matt Walker, men who routinely sleep less than 5 hours of sleep, show testosterone levels of a man 10 years their senior. They also have significantly smaller testicles than men who sleep more than 7 hours a night! We also see an equivalent reaction on female reproductive health for women.[ii] When Matt Walker researched people who got more than 8 hours of deep sleep daily, they showed brain waves that improve memory and slow down the aging process. Disruption of deep sleep is an underappreciated factor that is contributing to cognitive decline and increasing likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease according to the most recent studies.
In conclusion, there are clear negative effects of sleep deprivation on performance, including reaction time, accuracy, vigor, strength, and endurance. Cognitive functions such as judgment and decision-making also suffer. Sleep extension can positively affect reaction times, mood, and even athletic performance. Improving the quality of sleep will help you feel more alert, retain memories better and live with more vitality.
Many different sleep disorders exist, and often people remain undiagnosed and untreated. Sleep apnea is a common condition that affects at least 10 % of the adult US population.[i] Although typically considered a disease of obese men, lean individuals including elite athletes may suffer from this problem. Similarly, insomnia is a common condition that can be treated effectively if the problem is recognized and appropriately addressed. Sleep apnea is another common disorder which is basically heavy snoring. This can be diagnosed and treated! If you snore heavily go get a sleep test. 80% of people who have it are undiagnosed and sleep apnea is a killer. The treatment is a simple facemask that opens up the airway and has dramatic results with sleep improving and delaying onset of Alzheimer’s Disease and other issues!
Even in people without sleep disorders, insufficient sleep duration has negative health effects that can impact all aspects of an individual’s well-being. Improving your sleep can have a drastic effect on the rest of your health.
Furthermore, blue-light emissions from screens disrupt the body’s natural melatonin production which helps regulate one’s circadian rhythms, and can affect next-morning alertness. Sleep habits are affected by extensive exposure to electric light and evening use of electronic media devices. One thing we recommend is avoiding all screens before bed and making an effort to do some sleep journaling.
Bedtime worry is a significant factor in difficulty falling asleep. By slowing down and sorting your thoughts and emotions before bed will improve mental health. This help you improve your sleep by getting the deep, sound sleep that your body needs to function optimally!
In fact, a 2018 study by Baylor University required fifty-seven healthy students to do one of the following each night five minutes before bed: Create a to-do list for the following few days, or compile a list of tasks that they have completed each day. Participants who created a to-do list each evening actually fell asleep significantly faster than those who noted their completed tasks for the day.
Think of sleep like a life support system. You need good quality, regular sleep to make sure your body runs smoothly. Improve your sleep, improve your life!
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