Sleep must be the most puzzling of all human behaviors. We spend almost one third of our life sleeping. 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 has 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.
What sleep does for you
Supports weight loss. Sleep deprivation causes binge eating. Studies have shown people who sleep for only 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 day’s learning, to use on some other 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 cold 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 40 to 100, showed a direct co-relation with 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 malignancy. At 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, scoll through social media posts, check our emails or have one more drink 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 do not assist in getting a good night’s slumber. They actually disturb the quality of sleep.
My December Sleep data
I had gone to a party recently. I had two glasses of wine. I didn’t get a single minute of deep sleep and my heart rate was at 75. Usually my sleeping heart rate average is around 65 . 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, that night, Apple Watch results showed 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 those who drink often, how stressed they must be feeling while waking up the following morning. 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 bedtime. Some activity like reading or music may help. A hot water shower helps too.
- 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 clock’s face out of view. Those who have insomnia, often stare at 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.
- Catch some morning sunlight by going outside within 30-60 minutes of waking. On bright days, view for 10 minutes. On cloudy days for 30 minutes. No, you don’t have to look directly at the sun. Never look at any light so bright that it is painful to your eyes.
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 sleep.