Sleep is an often forgotten commodity. In trying to get in all of our activities each day, sleep is something we frequently cut back on (to the detriment of our health). According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM), approximately 30 million Americans are affected by chronic insomnia each year. When we sleep enough, we wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on our daily activities. Sleep affects how we look, feel and perform on a daily basis and can have a major impact on our overall quality of life.
To get the most out of our sleep, both quantity and quality are important. Teens and young adults need at least 8.5 a night of uninterrupted sleep to leave their bodies and minds rejuvenated for the next day. If sleep is cut short, the body does not have time to complete all the sleep phases needed for muscle repair, memory and the release of hormones that regulate growth and appetite. We then wake up unprepared to concentrate, make decisions or engage fully in school, work and social activities.
Getting good sleep is crucial because sleep deprivation is associated with serious health problems such as obesity, depression, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Your emotional well-being, performance, productivity, and mental abilities are all linked with getting good sleep. The effects of sleep deprivation could arise from insomnia, disrupted sleep, snoring (yours or others), or waking up early. The five most serious effects of sleep deprivation include:
1 – Depression: Sleep-deprived children have longer illnesses, more severe depression, and greater fatigue than those who are not sleep deprived. Other studies link sleep deprivation with self esteem problems as well. Getting good quality sleep and curing insomnia helps with fight depression and increase self esteem.
2 – Weight gain: If you are losing sleep, your body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference are likely to increase. Your risk of becoming obese is almost doubled, according to Professor Francesco Cappuccio of Warwick Medical School. He detected this trend in adults and kids as young as five years old. Getting good sleep can help you lose weight. Sleep deprivation increases appetite through hormonal changes. Specifically, more of the appetite-increasing ghrelin is produced when you are not getting good sleep and less of the appetite-suppressing leptin is produced. Sleep deprivation and insomnia naturally cause you to eat more.
3 – Memory loss: Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen of the Harvard Medical School found that sleep protects memories from interference. The more quickly you fall asleep after studying for a test or learning a new skill, the more likely you are to remember it later. If you learn new information and then go about your daily business, you will have about a 44 per cent lower chance of retaining what you have learned. This research could be particularly helpful when you are learning a new job. Getting good sleep helps your memory, while sleep deprivation damages it.
4 – Intellectual impairment: Researchers at the University of Virginia have found that insomnia or lack of sleep can impair IQ and cognitive development in children. Lower grades and poor peer relations could also result from sleep deprivation. Getting good sleep increases cognitive ability.
5 – Physical impairment: According to the National Sleep Foundation, your body shows the effects of not getting good sleep. Your coordination and motor functions may be impaired, and your reaction time may be delayed. You may have reduced cardiovascular performance, reduced endurance, and increased levels of fatigue due to sleep deprivation. Tremors and clumsiness can also result if you are not getting good sleep.
How does sleep contribute to the functioning of the body?
Sleep architecture follows a pattern of alternating REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep in a cycle that repeats itself about every 90 minutes.
What role does each state and stage of sleep play?
NREM (75 percent of the night): As we begin to fall asleep, we enter NREM sleep, which is composed of four stages:
· Between being awake and falling asleep
· Light sleep
· Onset of sleep
· Becoming disengaged from surroundings
· Breathing and heart rate are regular
· Body temperature drops (so sleeping in a cool room is helpful)
Stages 3 and 4
· Deepest and most restorative sleep
· Blood pressure drops
· Breathing becomes slower
· Muscles are relaxed
· Blood supply to muscles increases
· Tissue growth and repair occurs
· Energy is restored
· Hormones are released (including growth hormone, which is essential for growth and development-especially muscle development)
REM (25 percent of night): First occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and recurs about every 90 minutes, getting longer later in the night. In REM sleep:
· Energy is provided to brain and body
· Supports for daytime performance are provided
· Brain is active and dreams occur
· Eyes dart back and forth
· Body becomes immobile and relaxed as muscles are turned off
In addition, levels of the hormone cortisol drop at bedtime and increase overnight to promote alertness in the morning.
Sleep helps us thrive during the day by maintaining a healthy immune system and helping to balance our appetites by regulating levels of the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which influence our feelings of hunger. So when we are sleep deprived, we may feel the need to eat more, which in turn can lead to weight gain.
The one third of our lives that we spend sleeping, far from being unproductive, plays a direct role in how full, energetic and successful the other two thirds of our lives can be.