The science of sleep and why it matters
The ramifications of sleep deprivation strongly support the idea that sleep does not have just one biological purpose but in fact, through its complexity, contributes significantly to the proper functioning of almost every system in the body. body. Prestige takes a closer look at the science behind – and the importance of – turning a blind eye
Although it sounds like a luxury, we spend about a third of our lives sleeping, and it’s an important part of our daily routine for mental and physical well-being. Sleep quality, optimal sleep duration and sleeping at the right time are as essential to our survival as food and water; it affects our brain function, metabolism, immunity, heart, lungs, muscles, and mood. And while for some it’s a peaceful, positive and even restorative part of our day, it eludes many others – with one in three Thais reporting lack of sleep, and 19 million Thais suffering from sleep disorders. , known by the medical term ‘insomnia’. So how can we improve our sleep, and therefore our quality of life?
Although everyone needs sleep, the reason for its development is unknown. What we do know is that without it, our body is unable to function. Research has shown that people with chronic sleep disorders are more prone to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and depression. Until relatively recently, sleep was considered passive, a period of time when we remained asleep or unconscious until it was time to wake up again. However, studies beginning in the 1970s have shown that our brains are remarkably highly active.
In order to get a good night’s sleep, it is first important to understand the mechanisms behind it. The human body is a carefully designed – and very complicated – system and even during rest it works hard to ensure our continuation in life when we wake up. A complex cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters – chemicals that communicate between nerve cells – are released to send signals to different parts of the brain that control sleepiness and wakefulness.
Two distinct systems, the circadian rhythm and homeostasis, work together to govern your sleep. The circadian rhythm — also known as the biological clock — tells you when you’ll sleep and when you’ll wake up based on environmental cues like light and temperature. It’s based roughly on a 24-hour clock and tells your body to release neurotransmitters and hormones like melatonin at night. Meanwhile, homeostasis dictates your sleep need and intensity – the longer you’re awake, the deeper you’ll sleep.
There are two types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM), which are related to neural and brain activity. During a typical sleep period, you will go through four different sleep phases.
When you begin to doze off, you enter the first non-REM phase, a short, light sleep that lasts a few minutes and is characterized by relaxation and muscle contractions, slower heart rate, breathing, and eye movements. . Your brain waves begin to subside from their daytime patterns as you prepare for the next step.
You spend at least half of your sleep time in repeated non-REM stage two cycles. At this point, your heart rate and breathing slow down more and your muscles relax more, while your body temperature drops and eye movements stop completely. Your brain wave activity continues to decrease, but there are still small bursts of electrical activity.
Stage 3 non-REM occurs during the first half of the night and is deep sleep that makes you feel refreshed in the morning. This is when your body is most relaxed; heart rate and respiratory levels are at their lowest and brain waves are identified by a unique pattern called “delta waves”.
After the third stage comes REM sleep, usually 90 minutes after you first fall asleep. It is marked by rapid eye movement from side to side behind your eyelids. Your brain waves become mixed in frequency, more like when you are awake. Your arm and leg muscles become paralyzed and you tend to dream during this time. Your breathing and heart rate also become rapid and irregular and increase to a rate closer to wakefulness.
When sleep stages are regularly disrupted, it can significantly affect our health, emotions, and appearance. Insomnia is a problem that has affected most people in their lives at some point, we regularly cross the world and temporary jet lag is one of the less desirable effects of passing time zones, but some suffer from it chronically. Many factors – physical, mental, medical and environmental – can cause disturbances as well as specific sleep disorders, for example sleep apnea, which directly prevent sleep or affect the quality of sleep. While some will require medical intervention, such as those with conditions such as an overactive thyroid gland or severe depression, or people taking certain medications, there are science-based strategies to help people with insomnia.
First, clean up your sleep hygiene by improving your sleep environment, as suggested by the Sleep Society of Thailand. Tossing and turning, looking at your phone, watching the clock ticking later and later, calculating how long you’ll sleep before the alarm goes off – does this sound familiar? The blue lights from phones, laptops, and digital devices can stop us from releasing melatonin, which means our bodies don’t know when to fall asleep. Remove televisions, stop watching your digital devices an hour before bedtime, and keep your bedroom dark with blackout curtains to eliminate light pollution. Optimum room temperature is around 18 degrees Celsius, but you can adjust this to whatever works best for you, and if you’re a light sleeper, invest in good earplugs and a white noise machine to muffle the sounds of the city.
Next, work on your schedule. If you’re a coffee lover, a daily morning ritual for many, try to limit your caffeine intake and don’t drink it later than noon. Alcohol can also ruin plans for a good night’s sleep, so if you enjoy a hearty burgundy or smoky scotch with your dinner and want to drink, make sure it’s a few hours before bedtime. . Be sure to exercise, as numerous studies have shown that incorporating physical activity reduces sleepiness, which means it will take you less time to fall asleep. Finally, try to go to bed at the same time every day. turn it into a pleasurable experience with silk pajamas and pillows and soothing body lotion (Byredo makes beautifully flavored moisturizers).
If you still find you’re not able to fall asleep, there are sensory tools to quiet your mind and body for sleep. The practice of mindfulness and meditation has long been hailed as a wonder to calm the mind and allow us to focus on the present. This is particularly useful for people with anxiety or depression and there are apps, such as Calm, available that can guide you through the process to the sound of beach waves or tropical rain. Aromatherapy is another method offering relief from insomnia and a blend of lavender, chamomile and neroli has been shown to improve sleep.
After trying everything and still not being able to sleep, this could be an indicator of another problem such as sleep apnea, hormonal imbalances, or nervous disorders. See medical professionals at a sleep clinic like the Sleep Disorders Center at Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, where a team of medical specialists can assess your sleep and what might be causing your insomnia.
Rest assured that there are a plethora of options to support your rest. So, tonight, slip into your 600-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets, let your lids grow heavy, and let go knowing you’ll wake up to a healthier, happier future.