There is so much more to sleep than just ensuring that we sleep for at least 6 hours a day. Did you know that there are different types of sleep, there are different cycles of sleep, and most importantly, something known as the quality of sleep?
In this fast-paced world, almost all of us have been romanticizing abnormally long hours of work, staying up late at night, waking up early or probably even around noon. These patterns might have made you sleep deficient and you probably do not even know it.
Were you aware that being sleep deficient and driving is as dangerous as driving while drunk? We have heard of drivers who have crashed their vehicles onto the divider and most have been attributed to dozing off momentary shut-eye due to sleep deprivation.
Sleep deficiency can affect one’s cognition severely. You might not be able to think straight, have difficulty concentrating, be physically present but mentally absent.
Have you ever sat through a lecture and some moments from it are totally blank? It often happens because your brain might have dozed off while you did not even realize that you were asleep.
People often argue that they are used to sleeping for 5 hours each day and can function perfectly well. For a while, you might not feel that you are sleepy or groggy. But each day that you sleep less, you are adding to your sleep debt.
One fine day it will backfire and, you might have an accident or a nervous breakdown or do some gradual irreversible damage to your immune system. Did you know that your body might not be able to fight infections if it does not get sleep?
Sometimes we nap during the day. While it might help you feel energized for a while, it does not count as real sleep. Sleeping in the day might also affect the quality of sleep at night.
Some people might sleep for a few hours here and there during the day and sum it up to 6 hours. It does not work that way. Our brain and body need to repair itself and, when you sleep in bouts, it does not finish the repair.
Types of Sleep
Now, there are two types of sleep, REM (Rapid eye movement) a.k.a light sleep, and non-REM sleep a.k.a deep sleep. While we sleep, each of these cycles happens about 3-5 times each night. If you have been dreaming, that occurred during REM sleep.
Another fascinating fact is that each one of us has a 24-hour body clock that controls when you wake up, when you feel sleepy, and fall asleep. It is called the circadian rhythm and is the reason why you wake up at a particular time that you decide the previous night.
In layman’s terms, we say that we feel sleepy by the end of the day because we get exhausted from the day’s work but, why do we feel sleepy even on the days when we might not have left the couch? The mechanism is something like this.
When we wake up, a compound named adenosine starts rising and keeps rising throughout the day that makes us feel sleepy as the day progresses. When we sleep, the adenosine breaks down and becomes low again.
Now, your body clock keeps releasing hormones throughout the day based on external stimuli. So, if your environment is dark (either night or a dark bedroom) your body releases melatonin that signals your brain that it is time to sleep.
But if you watch TV or bright screens before sleep, even though it may be dark outside, for your eyes and brain, it is not dark. Melatonin, paired with the higher levels of adenosine, you fall asleep in the night as it gets dark. There is a third hormone called cortisol that helps your body wake up when it is morning.
Depending on your age, the time or cycle durations might fluctuate. For example, an infant may sleep for 16 hours a day and a lot of this may be REM sleep. Teens sleep for about 8-10 hours a day and they sleep later in the night and wake up later too. As you age, this gets further reduced to 6-8 hours a day and you might fall asleep sooner and wake up sooner.
What Happens When You Sleep Less?
The effects of sleep deficiency are different for adults and children. In adults, it might cause memory loss, difficulty in concentrating, an increase in daydreaming, difficulty making day-to-day decisions, loss of balance, emotional instability, nervous breakdown. Adults might find a task that is usually very easy, is quite difficult. It might also be one of the main reasons for obesity in adults.
Sleep deficient children may, on the other hand, be hyperactive, aggressive, and might misbehave. Not getting enough sleep affects not only their physical growth but also hampers their performance in school, affects their memory, makes them impulsive, demotivated, or even makes them feel depressed.
When you do not sleep well, the level of ghrelin (the hormone responsible for hunger) goes up, and leptin (the hormone responsible for making you feel full) goes down. Thus, you might feel hungrier and end up consuming empty calories because well, sleep deprivation affects your state of mind too.
Increased generation of harmful free radicles also occurs in the body, in cases of sleep deprivation, and free radicles damage cells and lead to diseases and early aging.
How Sleep Works
So, what are the benefits of sleep? The list is long! Let us look at a few.
- It helps in improving concentration and cognition.
- It improves the immune system and overall feeling of well-being.
- Sleeping helps in boosting athletic performance.
- It helps deal with emotions better. It also helps to handle depression better.
- Sleeping improves memory.
- It does wonders for skin and hair.
- Improves digestion. Prevents many conditions of the digestive tract and also reduces acid reflux.
- Sleeping well reduces the risk of diabetes, heart diseases and strokes.
- It improves metabolism and helps the body repair itself.
- Improves skin health and prevents early ageing.
- It helps in keeping cravings under control.
- It improves the quality of social interactions and relationships.
Sleeping well increases your overall productivity and sense of wellbeing. While breaking habits may be difficult, with deliberate efforts, it can be done.
These days where technology can remind us to drink water, there are many applications and devices these days that help you track your sleep, quality of sleep and give you an analysis of your sleeping habits.
Did you know that some companies in India award people for sleeping more? One such company had a challenge where it offered citizens? 10 lakhs to be the sleep champion of the country.
The same company even offers a “sleep internship” to students where all that interns must do is sleep. We have also heard of how the Japanese reward their employees for sleeping at least 6 hours a day. Sounds like so much fun!
Sleeping is one of those times where you relax, recharge, and have nothing to worry about for those few hours. Why make it a chore? While a lot of us do enjoy sleeping and could sleep through the day, let us encourage those who don’t.