With our lives becoming more demanding and the perpetual light from our never-sleeping cities, getting a good night sleep is getting more and more difficult. According to the documentary, Sleepless in America by National Geographic, 40 percent of Americans are sleep deprived and getting less than five hours of sleep per night compared to 8 hours in the 1950s.
Over two thousand years ago, a prominent researcher named Galan had a theory of why we needed sleep. While we were awake, the brain pushed a type of liquid fuel to all the parts of the body to give us life, leaving the brain depleted. Then while we slept, the energizing fuel would return the brain to enliven and refresh the mind. Today that theory has been debunked, but in retrospect, we have all experienced the sense of renewal and refreshment after a deep sleep or the sluggish feeling when we don’t get enough.
Many scientists and doctors have questioned why we sleep for the thousands of years, but only recently reasons why have been discovered. We spend one-third of our lives asleep. It’s known to every species today, and it serves thousands of vital biological functions. The top explanations for sleeping include restoration, conservation, processing, and consolidation, especially for the brain.
The brain accounts for less than 2 percent of body’s weight but uses about 25 percent of the body’s energy supply. Research shows that sleep is what restores the brain with demanded vital nutrients and rids it of toxic chemicals. When the brain is growing or undergoing brain cell reorganization after injury or disease, the amount of sleep is increased. That’s why when you are sick, you can sleep a whole day a way. Or why a baby sleeps so much and cries when it isn’t getting enough.
Despite the idea of our brain shutting down while we sleep, it actually becomes more active in certain areas. During sleep, your brain processes or replays the day’s events. It consolidates those events to make room to form new memories during REM and non-REM sleep. It prepares your mind for upcoming actions, essentially unconsciously giving us insight for the decisions we make the next day. During the REM stage, the brain is even more active resulting in dreaming and feel the need to understand what our subconscious is trying tell us.
The brain isn’t the only thing that needs sleep; our body needs it, too. We burn on average 110 calories a night while sleeping verses 63 calories per hour when awake to conserve energy for the next day. Sleeping isn’t a way to weight loss, but not getting enough can be a contributing factor for obesity and weight gain. Sleep-deprived individuals have high-level stress hormones called cortisol, which increases your appetite and encourages overeating. It also weakens our immune systems, which is why we tend to get sick if we don’t enough sleep.
Your Clock is Ticking
Our bodies possess an internal clock called suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN, that consists of a group of 20,000 nerve cells. It keeps tracks of time by what is called circadian rhythms, a series of internal cycles controlled by the brain occurring about every 24 hours. The rhythms control our sleep patterns and production of melatonin (hormone that makes you sleepy) and are very sensitive to light. The SCN is located in between our eyes behind our optic nerve, which takes in the light and tells the rhythms how much melatonin to produce. That’s why changes in the season and even daylight savings messes with how we sleep.
No Rest for the Wicked
Sleep deprivation can cause long-term health issues, especially to your heart. Poor sleep increases C-reactive proteins that are linked to injury and stress in the body’s blood correlating high blood pressure, clogging or hardening of arteries and heart attacks causing cardiovascular disease. It can also cause depression when deviating from healthy normal rhythms. The brain works to get back on track, which could be a reason why we tend to become lethargic and sleepy.
Go To Bed
You may think you only need a few hours of sleep or sleeping in on the weekends will help you “catch up” on sleep, but you’re really causing your body h