We all know what they say “get at least eight hours of sleep.” But why? We are all too busy rushing around and being social to retire early for the night. Then of course there’s the mentality that a few hours missed isn’t going to hurt anything, I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Or maybe I’ll nap later, but then our busy lives happen and we get caught up and don’t nap. What have we done, with the invention of artificial light, to our natural sleep cycle?
We are controlled by a biological clock known as circadian rhythm. Locatedx in the brain in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), made of 20000 neurons in the hyhpothalamus, just above the optic nerve (light and temperature are both factors of circadian rhythm, and this proximity to the optic nerve explains the light factor). The SCN signals functions: body temperature, hormone secretion, urine production, and changes in blood pressure. Also part of this clock are seratonin and melatonin. Back before artificial light, naturally melatonin level would rise when it got darker and then seratonin levels would rise when the sun rose in the morning. We would wake naturally feeling refreshed. This production of melatonin is important because it releases vital hormones (like human growth hormone) to restore the body.
So what benefits are there to sleeping naturally and rising without an alarm clock (alarm clocks raise insulin levels and increases stress and can cause inflammation over time). Good things about plenty of sleep cycles are:
- release of HGH,
- enhances memory
- creative problem solving
- helps you see the positive in your interactions
- boost athletic performance (speed, accuracy, mood, and overall energy)
- active immune system
- more resilient to daily stress
- successful aging
Not enough? From a dieter’s point of view, lack of sleep increases hormones that signals hunger and decreases hormone to suppress hunger (basically if you sleep enough you’ll be less hungry and inclined to indulge).
Negatives of sleep loss:
- long term memory
- generation nerve cells impaired
- increase dissatisfaction with primary relationships
Studies have shown that a single night of sleep loss can impair one’s ability to deal with oxidative stress (so pulling an all nighter really is only doing harm since sleep helps you retain knowledge as well). Also studies show less sleep can increase mortality risk.
Bottom line is that sleep restores hormones and decreases inflammation. Advice for getting more sleep? Keep to a regular sleep schedule. Decrease activities like tv or computers before bed (blue light rays in these affect the release of melatonin ). Try and eliminate stress, which maybe the number one cause of sleep disorders. Exercise promotes deeper sleep cycles to replenish muscle tissue. Avoid substances, like alcohol, which can reduce sleep cycles. Lights out! From personal experience following your natural sleep cycles and wake feeling recharged and ready to face any challenges.