Reboot Your System: The Power of Sleep

We all have read or listened to many fairy tales in our childhood. All these fairy tales carried some message. They had some symbolism. Remember Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and The Princess and the Pea? Sleep plays an important role in all these stories. It has restorative properties. In both Snow White and Sleeping beauty, the princesses don’t age. Their long, deep slumbers retained their beauty and youth.

The body never adjusts to shift work!

The idea of being well rested conjures up the notion of beauty sleep. I think the association between beauty and sleep will forever be connected. Closer home in the Ramayana, Kumbhakaran is shown as a powerful prince and he slept for six months at a time. It’s a metaphor for the fact that good sleep helps build immunity and helps one live a disease-free life.

Man is the only mammal that willingly delays sleep.

Sleep must be the most puzzling of all human behaviors. We spend almost one third of our life doing it. While slumbering we don’t work, gather food, mate or socialize. So, in effect, we just spend a crucial one third of our lives doing nothing. Every species studied to date, sleeps. This simple fact establishes that it evolved with life and its preservation throughout evolution means there must be tremendous benefits to it.  A balanced diet and exercise are of vital importance. Sleep is the preeminent force in this trinity.

Adults should sleep 7-8 hours; kids should get 9-13 hours; and infants should sleep between 12-15 hours.

What sleep does for you

Supports weight loss. Sleep deprivation causes binge eating. Studies have shown people who sleep four hours a night eat over 300 calories more than those who get eight hours. And most of this food is saturated fat. A good night’s slumber regulates our appetite. It reforms the body’s metabolic state by fine tuning the balance of insulin and circulating glucose.

Improves memory. Sleep deprivation compromises one’s ability to focus. Enough of it enriches our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions and choices. During sleep your brain files away your days learning for use some later day. A research conducted at the University of Notre Dame suggests that people who slept immediately after learning something recalled it better.

Helps improve your immune system. Sleep restocks the armory of our immune system. It helps prevent infections and safeguard you from all manners of sickness. A study done by Carnegie Mellon University shows those who slept less than seven hours were three times more likely to develop colds than those who slept eight hours.

Improves cardiovascular health and keeps blood pressure low. A finding published in a heart health study conducted by the magazine Sleep on 6000 individuals between age of forty to a hundred, showed a direct co relation on hypertension. Sleep affects processes that keep your heart and blood vessels healthy, including those that affect your blood sugar, blood pressure and inflammation levels. It also plays a vital role in your body’s ability to heal and repair the blood vessels and heart.

Helps Cancer Prevention. Regular good sleep helps fight malignancyAt the university of Chicago researchers separated mice into two groups. One group was allowed to sleep normally and the other group was woken up every two minutes. Both the groups were injected with tumorous cells. All mice developed tumors but the ones which were sleep deprived grew tumors double the size of well rested group.

In fact, this list is an endless one. We are forced to wonder if there are any biological functions that do not benefit from a good night’s slumber.

And still we don’t give sleep the priority it needs. Our fast-paced life leaves us with little time for a restful night. Despite knowing that going to bed would be the best thing to do, we prefer to watch one more episode of our favorite show, flip through social media posts, check our emails or have a one last drink at the evening with friends. We fear missing out and we want to do more, see more, work more. And in the process, we sacrifice our rest, the most important element for our health.

According to the recent statistics presented at an international conference organized by the South East Asian Academy of Sleep Medicine (SEAASM) and Getwell Hospital in Nagpur, the average sleeping hours per day has decreased globally. What’s worse is that with an average of 6.55 hours, India stands second to last on the list.

Sleeping Pills or Alcohol don’t assist in a good night’s slumber. They actually disturb the quality of sleep.

This is sleep data from a night after a party. I had two glasses of wine. I was in deep sleep for 75% of the time. But my heart rate was at 75. Usually my sleeping heart rate is 50-52. Alcohol slows down the central nervous system’s processes by reducing electrical conductivity in the brain. This means that neurons, which send & receive the electrical signals that cause the release of neurotransmitters, operate more slowly. That’s why iWatch results show significantly increased levels of stress for my body while I slept.

The liver has to work harder when it should be resting. This leads to a stressed state from which you’ll wake up feeling exhausted. Throughout the night, as the liver uses a higher proportion of the body’s energy than usual, the brain is starved of its usual resources. It’s a myth that you rest better with alcohol. I drink rarely, imagine how stressed people who drink regularly must wake up feeling. Sleeping pills work the same way. Doctors prescribing medication should be forthcoming and explain the side effects to patients more clearly.

What you can do to improve your sleep.
  • Stick to a schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. All seven days.
  • Exercise is great but not too late in the day. Try to exercise thirty minutes everyday but not later than two or three hours before bedtime
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Caffeine can take up to eight hours to wear off fully. Smokers often wake up too early because of nicotine withdrawal.
  • Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. Your REM sleep is robbed with two pegs or more. Avoid large meals at night.
  • Relax before bed. Some activity like reading or music may help. A hot water shower will help.
  • A dark, cool and gadget free bedroom should be your mantra for a good night’s slumber. Avoid having a TV in your bedroom or any gadget for binge watching.
  • Turn the clocks face out of view. Those who have insomnia often watch the clock.
  • Don’t lie in bed awake. If you find yourself awake after twenty minutes get up and relax. The anxiety of not being able to sleep can make it harder.

Know that Sleep can do remarkable things for you. It allows your body to rest and perform essential maintenance on your hormones, immune system, memory, heart and other critical functions. It’s deprivation will lead to serious health issues. So never compromise on it.

Photo by Chris Thompson on Unsplash

September 24, 2020

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