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Sleep and health

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By Ida Jeng, 4th year medical student

Sleep is the single most important effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health. “The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep”—Mathew Walker. Sleep plays a vital role in our health, yet to most people, sleep is a mystery. Scientists are now starting to understand that not only the quantity, but also the quality of sleep impacts our health and well-being. Most of the modern world is now sleep deprived, and is hard to improve something that you don’t fundamentally understand. A good night’s sleep can brighten the world with endless possibilities, and a bad night’s sleep can turn simple tasks into overwhelming challenges and overall, the better you sleep the longer you live.

Why should we sleep?

“Sleep is the chief nourisher in life’s feast”—Shakespeare.  Sleep is an essential function that allows our body and mind to recharge, leaving us refreshed and alert when we wake up.  Sleep provides the release of growth hormones necessary for the body’s tissues to grow, repair damage and support our immune system. This helps the body remain healthy and stave off diseases. Sleep serves a variety of importance in the body, especially the brain which is one of the most important organs that control all other systems. “Sleep has proven itself time and again as a memory aid: both before learning, to prepare our brain for initially making new memories, and after learning to cement those memories and prevent forgetting”—Mathew Walker.

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· Memory consolidation: sleeps play an invaluable role in the consolidation of memory.  Prior to learning, it’s refreshed our ability to form new memory, and post learning, it solidifies these memories reducing the likelihood of forgetting. At its core, sleep functions as a memory aid that operates on a daily cycle. When it comes to memory and sleep within your brain, you can think of your hippocampus like a thumb drive with limited storage and your cortex as the main hard drive. During deep sleep, short term memory stored in the hippocampus unlimited capacity brain region is shifted to the cortex with a larger capacity of longed memory store. This transfer process serves dual purposes of freeing up space for new information absorption and preserving valuable information for long time used.

· Creativity: sleep nurtures creativity by associating disparate memory experiences and skills thus enabling the birth of fresh ideas and insights. This creative enhancement is particularly linked to the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep stage. REM sleep is often associated with dreaming and function as an informational alchemist, merging diverse knowledge stores and facilitating innovative problem-solving abilities. REM’s sleep influence extends to some of the most transformative thinking in human history.  Healthy sleep supports sound judgement, good decision making, and improves our problem-solving abilities.

Effects of quality sleep deprivation

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Sleep deprivation is a serious issue that damages every aspect of our physiology contributing to the host of diseases and shortening of lifespan. The shorter you sleep, the shorter your life. The consequences of sleep deprivation include:

· Cognitive decline: lacks of sleep notably impairs focus and concentration due to decline in cognitive functions.  Studies have shown that long term sleep deprivation damages our brain cells, DNA and learning associating genes, disrupting our capacity to learn and retain new information. It also increases the risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This is because the brain lymphatics system is 60 percent more effective when we’re sleeping, which is responsible for removing toxins in the brain including amyloid beta which is known to cluster in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease.

· Immunity. The immune system relies heavily on sufficient sleep. Lack of sleep can suppress the immune response, reducing the number of natural killer cells that forms the body’s first line of defense against infections. Chronic sleep deprivation can result in 40 percent increased risk of developing cancer compared to those who get quality sleep. A 2015 study conducted at the University of California found that, out of all the people who might be exposed to a cold virus in the course of their day, the people who typically get less than 6 hours of sleep at night are significantly more likely to catch a cold.

· Cardiovascular system: Research shows that unhealthy sleep leads to unhealthy heart. People deprived of a quality sleep have increase in the risk developing high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and other heart-related problems. This unhealthy sleep often results from an overreactive sympathetic nervous system that triggers stressful flight or fight state leading to increased heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol level.

· Metabolisms: Sleep deprivation also detrimentally affects metabolism significantly contributing to weight gain and increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. With sleep loss, appetite increases due to changes in hunger and satiety hormones leading to over eating and weight gain. Furthermore, a lack of sleep can make your body less able to manage calorie intake effectively. This inefficiency extends to how the body processes blood sugar with insulin reception compromised after a week of 4 to 5 hours sleep per night.

· Emotion regulation:  This is another facet severely impacted by sleep deprivation.  Lack of sleep heightens activity in the amygdala, the brain emotional center, overpowering the logical prefrontal cortex. This imbalance results in alternating extreme moods including negative ones associated with aggression and bullying and positive ones that can lead to risky behavior and addictions. Poor sleep makes us risky, rash decisions and it drains our capacity for empathy. Sleep deprivation literally makes us more sensitive to our own pain.

· Reproduction: The ramifications of sleep loss also extend to the reproductive system; men face a significant reduction in testosterone level equivalent to aging 10 to 15 years with sleep deprivations. Similarly, sleep deprived women face fertility issues including a 20 percent reduction in follicular releasing hormone necessary for conception and are at an increased risk of miscarriages.

· Finally, sleep deprivation can attack the very structure of our genetic material. Thousands of genes rely on consistent adequate sleep for stable regulation. Insufficient sleep can alter the activity of 711 genes, increasing those linked to chronic inflammation, cellular stress and cardiovascular disease while decreasing those that are promoting stable metabolism and optimal immune responses.

How much sleep do we need?

Experts generally recommend that adults get at least seven hours of sleep per night. However, sleep needs can vary dramatically from person to person. Our activity level, our health status, age range and many other factors influence how much sleep we need. Sleep need reflects both quantity and, perhaps more importantly, quality. Focusing your effort on simple behavioral changes can yield benefits to both your sleep quantity and quality.

How to get a good night’s sleep

· Regularity: Going to bed at the same time and waking at the same times is essential for maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm. it will anchor our sleep, optimize the quantity and quality of sleep and minimize fique.

· Keep the room cool: Your body needs to drop its core temperature by about two to three degrees Fahrenheit to initiate sleep and to stay asleep; it’s the reason you always find it easier to fall asleep in a room that’s too cold. Aim for bedroom temperature of 65 Fahrenheit or about 18 degrees Celsius, which is the optimal for the sleep of most people.  Taking a shower before bed time also keeps your body cool.

· Darkness:  Light keeps people awake; the body needs total darkness to facilitate deep sleep. The eyes are sensitive to darkness and when it’s dark it signals our brain to produce melatonin which is responsible for making you feel sleepy. This process can be interrupted if your body is exposed light.

· Avoid screen lights before bed: Electronic gadgets like mobile phone, TV and computer constantly emit artificial blue lights that disrupt our sleep circle, make it difficult to fall asleep and prevent us from getting a high-quality sleep thus screens light from electronic gadget should be avoided about 2 hours before sleeping.

· Food: Eating heavy meals during the night should be avoided and eating dinner early part of the night is highly encouraged. This keeps our bodies metabolism down during sleep, which    enhances good sleep and prevent indigestions. stimulant like caffeine, alcohol and nicotine can disrupt deep sleep, and should be avoided 5 to 8 hours before bedtime. Limited water intake 2 to 3 hours before sleep prevent sleep disruption for bowel movement during the night and enhances a good night sleep.

· Sunlight:  Sunlight exposer during the morning is a key factor in regulating and resetting our bodies circadian rhythm. Getting sunlight early in the day give our body a clear signal that it is now daytime and help us fall asleep better later in the night.

· Exercise: research has shown that exercising in early hours of the day increases our ability to fall asleep easily during the night and improve a good night sleep. Exercise reduces stress level and stress have shown to interfere with sleep quality

Conclusion

The mission-critical statement is, sleep, unfortunately, is not an optional lifestyle luxury. Sleep is a nonnegotiable biological necessity that enables our ability to learn, for our cells and body to recover. It is our life-support system, and it is mother nature’s best effort yet at immortality. And the decimation of sleep is having a catastrophic impact on our health, wellness, and even the education of our children. Sleep deprivation is a silent epidemic, emerging as one the most important public health challenge in the 21st century. That’s why it important to take steps that improve your sleep quality like adjusting your circadian rhythms by practicing good sleep hygiene and developing a regular sleep schedule.

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