Why Sleep is Important We hear it over and over again. Sleep is important. But it’s still not as important as that final Netflix episode, that last ten minute surge of your newsfeed, or that work assignment that needs to be finished. It still stalls behind exercise and nutrition when people try to take care of their health. So let’s throw out some facts to scare you. A study from the Journal of Neuroscience in 2014 found that mice who were deprived of sleep had brain cells that died out. A French study discovered that workers who had been on night shifts for longer than ten years aged by an extra 6.5 years. And finally, a study in the UK showed that the number of people diagnosed with insomnia and the number of people on sleeping medication has doubled in the past 20 years.
The Five Stages of Sleep
There are five stages of sleep, which is measured by brain activity. The first stage is the rest state where your brain starts to nod off (stage 1). This is a similar sensation daydreams or meditative states you would have during the day. Stage 2 involves the state where people are unsure if they’re awake or asleep, which isn’t helpful sleep at all. Body temperature begins to drop and the heart starts to beat slower. Stage 3 sleep is then the gateway between light sleep and deep sleep. Stage 4 is then a deeper sleep, where the brain is at its lowest state of activity. And finally, stage 5 involves our muscles going to sleep except for our respiratory muscles and our eye muscles, as they begin rapidly moving around. This is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and this is the stage of sleep where dreams usually happen. The reason our muscles become paralysed is to ensure that we don’t harm ourselves while asleep. It should also be noted that the sleep stages fluctuate throughout your sleep rather than just going straight up and then straight down to wakefulness.
Factors that Effect Sleep
When lying in bed, I remember I used to wish that there was an on/off button behind your ear that you could just flick off when you were going asleep. Unfortunately, that is not the case but if you are struggling to sleep, education about sleep is your saviour. The first thing that is important to know is that sleep is not something that you can turn on and off. It is based on an in-built clock, which is what we call circadian rhythm. This involves a window where our body temperature falls, our desire for sleep goes up and our levels of the sleep hormone melatonin increases. In relation to melatonin, it is essential to highlight that melatonin does not increase because of lack of sleep. It only increases because of lack of light. Therefore, our sleep cycle is based on our sense of time: Daylight and night time. But our perception of time is now changing because of several external factors.
Of course, one internal factor that impacts our sleep is worry. If you are interested in how to manage your level of worry, refer back to our blog post ‘Worrying about Worry’. This impacts our sleep because it enhances the release of hormones such as adrenaline rather than melatonin. Being a woman also doubles the risk of having a sleep problem because hormonal differences result in elevated body temperature, which may result in more night time awakenings. Lack of routine can also play a role. This is because routine can ruin our circadian rhythms, which has been noted in the routine blog post. This means that we should never sleep in too much.
Regarding external factors, the biggest danger has to be our phones. Fortunately, this has become public knowledge. The blue light that technology emits activates photoreceptors in our brains, which then keep us awake for longer. This also turns off melatonin, which tells our body it is time for sleep. Therefore, the more blue light we intake before we go to bed, the longer we stay awake. In fact, a study by the University of Houston found that protection from blue light increases melatonin levels by 58%. In 2016, a study from Kings College London found that children who used devices with blue light were twice as likely to have disrupted sleep. Sleep physiologist Breege Leddy also notes that what is even worse is if you wake in the middle of the night and check your phone because it completely ruins your sleep cycle. Our advice for this is never test your will power. Remove any technology from the bedroom. Your body and brain will thank you. But what’s that? You need something to engage in before you go to bed? Read a book. You need an alarm? Buy an alarm clock.
The Knock on Effects of Sleep
And lack of sleep has more of an effect than you’d think. Not only does it suppress the immune system and increase cardiovascular risk but it also increases our levels of anger, it impairs decision making and it actually damages our posture. 16% of car crashes in the US are a result of poor sleep. For children, lack of sleep can dysregulate hormone growth, which affects child development. Children who don’t get their required sleep are also more likely to get colds and flus. In relation to mental health, there is an extremely strong relationship between sleep issues and depression. In fact, 80% of people with depression have sleep issues. While it is like the chicken and the eggs in regards to which one comes first, we do know that depression has the ability to alter our circadian rhythm.
So what can improve our sleep quality? Routine
Firstly, our bodies operate on a body clock so try stick to that body clock. Go to bed at a reasonable hour in the night and get up early in the morning. Stick to this. Even lie-ins should not be longer than an hour maximum. Failure to do so stops the clock working and then your body doesn’t know when to prepare for sleep. Then control our exposure to both artificial light and sunlight. We are genetically built to wake to sunlight so try wake in accordance to the sun.
Then, judge your bedroom environment. Keep it quiet and associate it with sleep. This means that we should not work in our bedrooms or spend hours watching Netflix there. This will result in your brain mixing up its associations and not correctly preparing for sleep. And finally, do not pay attention to the time on a clock. As stated already, remove as much technology as possible.
You then also need to have a relaxation period before bed. And for temperature, cooler is better. Furthermore, having showers or baths at night is in fact a good thing because it escalates our body temperature and then allows it to fall (in accordance to what the sleep cycle wants). On the other side of your sleep, this also means that having a cold shower in the morning wakes us up quicker. External Factors
Along with getting rid of our blue light ridden technology, research has shown that music is actually extremely helpful. This is because it regulates our breathing. However, it should be limited to approximately 25 minutes (because it will put you into a rest state but it will also rewake you). Caffeine of course also keeps us awake so avoid coffee after 6, alcohol, and nicotine before bedtime. Medication has been found to be unhelpful for insomnia and should only be given in two week cycles. Please also note that there is a misconception that sedation medication is a sleeping tablet. However, these simply sedate the body and sedation and sleep are not the same thing.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy has been found to be helpful. This is because thoughts are the last thing we’re left with before we go to sleep. These thoughts then have an effect on our emotions, which then impact our physiological responses. For example, if you think about the thousands of things you have to do tomorrow, you worry and this worry then leads to an increased heart rate and extra releases of cortisol. Similarly, excitement about the party tomorrow releases serotonin in our brain, which suppresses melatonin. Research has found that insomniacs have higher levels of cortisol.
So in conclusion, sleep is more than important. It’s essential. There is much more to know about how sleep works, what can effect our sleep and why lack of sleep is dangerous. Following the above sleep tips is a good start if you’re not following them already. If this hasn’t convinced you to prioritise it, then I don’t know what will. If you’re not convinced, sleep on it. We also highly recommend that you follow The Insomnia Clinic online for more details and better expertise on how to improve sleep and deal with sleep disorders. Yours Sincerely, The Motus Movement.