“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” – Sir John Lubbock
In a previous post, I mentioned how everyone’s rest requreirements can be different. A healthy person’s body is able to handle a bigger blow of stress, and recover with less consequences. Chronic patients on the other hand, learn to pay constant attention to the state of their body. If there is one thing we can agree on through our assorted experiences, it is that sleep is a high impact factor in life. There are numerous factors involved in getting a good night’s rest, including good sleep hygiene, and if your bed is well suited for your needs and body type.
In modern society, sleep is often considered a luxury more than a necessity, but your brain isn’t loafing when you rest. It turns on switches for other modes, redirects blood and energy, and your body undergoes maintenance and repair.
Let us take a quick look at what happens when we sleep, and how it can affect us:
1. Garbage Collection
Our body has a garbage collection mode known as the Glymphatic System, which becomes 10 times more active when we are asleep. This system is in charge of taking out the protein trash such as amyloid-beta, where an accumulation can lead to neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. In fact, almost all neurodegenerative diseases is from a build up of this toxic protein.
Research has also found that the brain’s cells reduce up to 60% in size when we are asleep, allowing for efficient waste removal. (This fact fascinates me, as the surgeon who tried an experimental technique during my heart surgery mimicked this concept).
2. Cancer Killer
A cancer killer known as TNF (tumour necrosis factor) starts circulating when we are asleep. Research has shown that both the amount as well as effectiveness of it reduces by a third in those who slept after 3am.
3. Resistance and Recovery of the Immune System
You may already have noticed that sleeping aids in recovery when you are sick. This may be due to the immune system’s increased production of certain proteins during sleep, which helps to resist infection. Moderate amounts of sleep deprivation reduce levels of white blood cells, which are necessary for the body’s defense system.
Studies have also shown that with just one week of sleep deprivation, genes involved in inflammation, immunity and protein damage were activated. Millions of people are sustaining damage to their bodies in this manner.
4. Tissue Renewal and Repair
The artificial lights used round the clock in modern lifestyles reset the Circadian Rhythm as much as exposure to the sun does, forcing our bodies to work overtime. As a result, physical processes such as digestion and cell renewal become less efficient.
Every tissue in the body, from those in our muscles and bones right down to those at the cellular level, renews at a faster rate while asleep.
5. Processing of Blood Sugar
Studies have shown that the ability of healthy young men to process blood sugar was reduced by 30%, and their blood test results nearly matched those of diabetics, after getting only four hours of sleep per night for a week. There was also a huge drop in their insulin response, as well as elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to hypertension and memory impairment.
Research is ongoing from this finding, to understand the link between sleep and obesity.
6. Hormone Regulation
Sleeping moves our body from a catabolic to anabolic state. That is from one of stimulation, to conservation, repair and regrowth.
The top layer of our skin comprises of dead cells packed close together, which shed throughout the day. During sleep, the metabolic speed of our skin speeds up, enabling us to shed these dead cells at a faster rate.
A lack of sleep for a continued period of time can also cause premature ageing of the skin and permanent discolouration.
8. The Importance of Sleep Cycles
A typical night’s sleep consists of five different cycles, each lasting for about 90 minutes. Blood that usually flows to our brain redirects to our muscles for restorative purposes at stage 4. This is the stage where our brain waves have slowed down by 50%, and isn’t taxed mentally.
At stage 5, also known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, our brain is actually in a state of high activity. Whether we remember them or not, this is when our dreams occur, without which we would go mad.
9. Organisation of Memories and Thought
There is a sharp increase in blood flow to brain areas involved with memory and emotion processing during REM sleep. The brain may recharge its energy stores, and does some reorganisation by shifting the day’s information to long term memory storage.
This is a very brief list skimming the surface of sleep and its purposes. Yet it is enough to see that our bodies are hard at work not only when we are in physical motion, but also while at rest. So don’t feel bad about going to bed now if it’s time – your body has other very important jobs to attend to!
*Please Note: My research for this article involved various online sources. I have checked for the credibility of information to the best of my ability, but I am not a doctor. Always consult your physician before changing medications or routines!
For More Insight:
- While We Sleep, Our Mind Goes on an Amazing Journey (nationalgeographic.com): https://on.natgeo.com/2zZ3n5x
- What Happens to Your Body while You’re Asleep (dailymail.co.uk): http://goo.gl/rvItG
- How Much Sleep do You Need (helpguide.org): http://goo.gl/UoqyoP
- Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep (nih.gov): https://goo.gl/nzKa5Y
- Sleep and Disease Risk (harvard.edu): http://goo.gl/3XJwt
- Cellular Garbage Disposals Clean Up (livescience.com): http://goo.gl/qT1Mq1
- What Sleep Deprivation Does to Your Brain (mic.com): http://goo.gl/bkvzO7
- Why We Sleep: The Temporal Organization of Recovery (stanford.edu): https://goo.gl/7TDw2N
- Sleep Disturbance and Onset of Type 2 Diabetes (diabetesjournals.org): http://goo.gl/qtXvIx
- Global Sleeping Patterns Revealed by App Data (bbc.com): http://goo.gl/CKBDeP
- Body Clock: What Makes You Tick? (bbc.com): http://goo.gl/RmqSPf
- The Secret to Better and Improved Sleep (thrivewithjanie.com): http://bit.ly/2LiGk6h
- The Ultimate Guide to How To Sleep Better – Scientific Sleep Tips (countingsheep.net): http://bit.ly/2N0olHc