Updated: Sep 26, 2020
What is sleep, really? How much sleep do you actually need? Can you survive without sleep?...
In this article we will discuss why sleep is important, common sleep biology, and some common sleep disorders.
What is sleep and why is it important?
Like many others, you may have wondered: why do we need sleep? We spend nearly 1/3rd of our lives sleeping, and that’s a lot of time. When sleeping, we become unaware of our surroundings, and we lose all perception of the outside world. In fact, as soon as we fall asleep, most of our senses are turned off, so we become unaware of the sights, sounds, and smells around us. That is an extremely dangerous state to be in, especially if you are prey to a larger animal on the food chain, which is why most humans and other living things prefer sleeping in a safe environment.
I am quite hopeful that after reading this article, you will have a better understanding of sleep mechanisms and how to make sure you are getting the right amount of quality sleep to maximize your health and happiness. So, let’s start with the benefits of sleep.
Benefits of good sleep
Many people think that they need good nutrition and exercise in order to stay healthy and keep their bodies in good shape, but only a few people know the importance of sleep, which is often considered the third pillar of good health. Did you know you can’t be healthy without good sleep? Here is a list of the most important benefits of sleep.
When we fall asleep, our brain becomes more active and many critical things happen to it. Our bodies produce a lot of toxins throughout the day due to the burning of energy while working, and all this accumulates in our brain. When we fall asleep, these toxins are flushed from our brain because the rate of flow of cerebrospinal fluid within the brain increases 20 times as compared to when we are awake.
Learning and memory:
Sleeping enhances our memory and ability to learn. When sleeping, we integrate the new information we have learned with information that we had previously learned. That mainly happens during rapid eye movement which is a sleep stage associated with vivid dreaming. Memory formation is broken down into 3 processes: Encoding, Consolidation, and Retrieval.
Encoding: Encoding is when you are awake and take in the new information.
Consolidation: Consolidation is when you sleep, and the new information is stored in your brain.
Retrieval: Retrieval is when the stored information in the brain is accessed or when you remember the stored information.
The deepest stage of the NREM< non-rapid eye movement> sleep, known as slow-wave sleep is when memory consolidation happens. So, how does this work? Sleep promotes the formation of new connections between brain cells, and these connections are called synapses. Synapses are where the memory is stored, and studies have revealed that more synapses are formed when sleeping versus a sleep-deprived state.
Keeps you healthy:
Adequate sleep boosts our immune system which enables us to avoid many diseases. When we sleep, an increased amount of growth hormone is released from our brains. This hormone is responsible for body growth, repairing damages to the nerves and tissues, and building muscle. Studies have also revealed that adequate sleep increases concentration levels.
When we get enough sleep, our stress decreases, which leads to less stress responses in our bodies, such as balanced appetite, no food cravings or sugar cravings and, potentially, increased metabolism, just to name a few.
Effects of sleep deprivation
You might be surprised to know that while sleep is a natural process, more than ½ of all adults claim that they do not get enough sleep. This is why it’s so important to learn about the side effects of it. Here’s the list of some of the most common adverse effects of not getting enough sleep.
It is not just the brain that needs sleep, but even our body needs sleep. So, if we don’t get enough sleep, the risk of cardiovascular disease increases. In fact, people who don’t get an adequate amount of sleep at night have a 300 percent increased risk of calcification of the coronary arteries over a five-year period as compared to those who are getting enough sleep.
When we don't get good sleep, our immune system weakens which can lead to many diseases. For example: If you're coming for a flu shot in the fall, and you haven't had enough sleep in the past week, you'll only get half the antibody response.
The metabolic system is also very sensitive to sleep deprivation. When we are not getting enough sleep, we become more hungry because somewhere in evolution sleep is linked to appetite. Lack of sleep results in the release of increasing amounts of the hormone ghrelin, which makes us hungrier.
Sleep deprivation adversely impacts the effectiveness of the insulin that the body produces. So, lack of sleep can lead to diabetic disorders as well.
So, why are people not getting enough sleep?
As the price of electricity has dropped, our exposure to artificial light has increased. That increased exposure to the artificial light tricks the brain to think that its 11 AM instead of 11 PM. So, the brain is sending out a strong drive to keep us awake at 11 o’clock at night, and this leads to chronic insomnia in many individuals.
How much sleep do you really need?
The amount of sleep you need actually changes throughout your life, depending upon your age and how much energy you spend in a day. Here's a rough idea of how much sleep is enough for you, depending upon your age.
Infants: 16 hours a day.
Teenagers: 9 hours a day.
Adults: 7-8 hours a day.
Above 60 : 8 hours a day.
The amount of sleep you need may also increase if you've deprived of sleep in previous days. On average, you should get one hour of sleep for every 2 hours you spend awake. Sleep is the body’s way of recovering from the full day’s work, so it can reenergize an get ready for the next day. So, try to get your beauty rest.