It’s been a long day, you haven’t had any chance to rest, stop me if you’ve heard this story before, and you know for a fact that it’s going to be a long night. You have deadlines to meet, things to take care of, and any second spent sleeping feels like a waste right? You’d rather spend it doing something productive, right? You couldn’t be more wrong! I’ll tell you why in a minute.
Sleep is a very broad topic of which scientists haven’t fully understood yet, so let’s get a bit technical.
Sleep is the natural state of rest during which there is an absence of wakefulness, you become unconscious, and awareness to environmental stimuli is reduced. Sleep is different from states of coma, hibernation and death by the fact that it can be reversed rapidly.
There are different stages of sleep, which are parts of two kinds of sleep; REM sleep which is Rapid Eye Movement sleep and Non-REM sleep, which is Non Rapid Eye Movement sleep.
REM sleep comes after Non-REM sleep in sleep cycles, and it’sthe part of sleep that feels like the brain is awake. We have most of our dreams in this stage.
Non-REM sleep is the sleep type which involve stages of light sleep and deep sleep. During this sleep type the brain is calm.
Now, for the important part
Benefits of Sleep
Spending your time not sleeping in the guise of being productive is actually counter productive, this is because the longer you stay awake, the more your brain slows down.
Have you seen the episode on the medical series, The Resident, where the doctor goes 30 hours without sleeping and falls about 30 feet? Yikes.
Sleeping helps remove waste products accumulated by the brain when you are awake. It helps in the creation of new memories, learning and remembering things.
Would you go days without food and water? I’d seriously advise you not to. Just as I’d advise you to sleep better.
It’s not only the brain that needs sleep, your body does too, restorative processes happens when you are sleeping.
Lack of sleep increases health risks, like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases etc and worsens symptoms or depression, seizures etc.
Improving the Quality of sleep
If you have to stay awake because of long working hours, you should work on the quality of sleep you get. You can improve your quality of sleep by taking note of the following;
First, stick to a sleep schedule. The recommended amount of time of sleep for an adult is 7 to 9 hours, teens and school children need about 10 hours, babies about 16 to 18 hours. So make sure you go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day.
Second, you should pay attention to your sleep mechanisms. We have two, first is our circadian rhythms, which is just a fancy way of saying your body’s internal 24 hour clock. This lets our body know its night, which means its time to sleep. Second is our sleep drive, which is synonymous to hunger drive, your body needs food, you feel hungry, you eat right? Thus, your body needs sleep, you’ll feel sleepy, therefore you should sleep.
Third, create room for sleep. This involves avoiding bright lights and loud sounds, keeping the room at a comfortable temperature, and reducing your screen time too, atleast a half hour before bed.
Fourth, fifth and sixth, try not to eat a few hours before bed, reduce alcohol, caffeine and nicotine intake late in the day and reduce naps to 30 minutes, also not so late in the day.
Seventh, and I can’t stress this enough, exercise during the day. Or atleast keep up some kind of physical activity.
If these do not help you sleep, or you notice any other form of sleep issues like snoring, you should see a doctor. You can also keep a sleep diary, to help you keep track of your progress.
Sleep is an important part of our daily routine, we spend about one-third of your time doing it, we should therefore do it well, qualitatively. Hopefully, with these, we get to sleep as well as we need to.
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An experienced biomedical researcher cum laboratory scientist. A teacher of the sciences. Self acclaimed health and lifestyle police, changing the world one article at a time.