Social issues

The Science of Sleep


– by Simon Chitre

We spend a third of our lives doing it, and in our rushed, busy society it is very easy to sacrifice sleep in favour of other pursuits. But why do we need to sleep? According to BBC Science and Nature, it is because it is essential to maintain normal cognitive skills such as speech, memory and innovative thinking. Sleep occurs in a recurring cycle of 90 to 110 minutes and is divided into two categories: non-REM and REM sleep. Non-REM sleep is actually divided into four stages: light sleep, true sleep and finally two stages of deep sleep. The first two stages account for muscle activity, breathing and heart rate slowing down, while the latter stages are characterised by limited muscle activity, and rhythmic breathing as stated in BBC Science and Nature. Deep sleep is a very important time, as the brain flushes out impaired cognitive functions and muscle and tissues are repaired. We end up with around 4 to 5 sleep cycles per night.

The irregular working hours a lot of people endure today has a major impact on sleep quality and can lead to health problems such as diabetes and obesity. Stressed workers, parents with young children, over stretched students and those suffering mental health issues often report feelings of a lack of sleep or lack of quality sleep.

It is often said we should get a good night’s sleep for better health. A lack of sleep hinders brain development, so we can’t think as clearly and are more irritable. It also disrupts the body’s ability to fight infections.

A Norwegian study in Body and Soul quoted that people who have seven to eight hours of sleep a night have lower rates of heart disease. Further, sleep releases hormones that boost growth hormones, muscle mass, and repairs cells and tissues. A consistent lack of sleep can lead to obesity because of an imbalance in the hormones that regulate appetite. Quality sleep lowers the hormone Ghrelin which triggers appetite and raises leptin, telling your body you are full.

Within an hour of your bedtime, reduce unnecessary lights, noises and distractions like cell phones and electronic items. Electronic items and noise simulate the brain and make it harder to switch off before bedtime.

An Oklahoma State University study found that a new mattress is likely to improve a person’s sleep quality over older mattresses, so that is something else to consider. Another great tip is to avoid over sleeping and sleeping in, even after a big night, as it can disrupt your natural sleep-wake rhythm. Exposing yourself to natural sunlight as much as possible and exercising regularly and a healthy diet are also great tips. Finally, if you are stressed or worried before bed time this is not going to help you get good quality sleep. Wind down, use breathing exercises, let things go and meditate to calm your mind and body down.




Photo credits: Wikipedia; Women Daily Magazine. 


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