The miracle of sleep
Sleep is one of those things most people take for granted – they shrug it off as not important, a waste of time, boring, procrastination, lack of discipline or just dull. Let that not be you!
The majority of society is suffering from poor sleeping patterns and deprivation. This kind of attitude and behavior has many short- and long-term consequences on health and longevity. Sleep is the state of rest and rejuvenation. It recharges our batteries and allows us to keep living. Sleep is more than just lying in bed. You might think being unconscious but we are actually very active in many other aspects. The brain undergoes intense neurological activity, such as memory consolidation, neurochemical cleansing, and cognitive maintenance, muscle recovery, and enhancement.
“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.”
Matthew Walker, PhD
Simply put, prolonged sleep is essential for optimum health. Sleep has survived millions of years of evolution and every living being sleeps even in the risk of it’s own existence.
Across the 24 hours there is normally a balance between catabolism (degradation) and anabolism (renewal). The activities of wakefulness enhance catabolism, while sleep shifts the balance in favour of anabolism and regeneration. This is a critical balance that we need to achieve every single day.
Sleep is part of our physiologoy. Here is an example.
Infections, stress, inflammation or injuries increase the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and increases secretion of catabolic hormones (such as cortisol, glucagon, and catecholamines) while inhibiting anabolic hormones (such as insulin and testosterone), leading to the loss of body nitrogen, indicative of a net loss of protein. It is not only that cortisol concentrations are low during most of a normal night.
Deep sleep is the normal stimulus for the release of most of our growth hormone, an anabolic hormone that increases the synthesis of protein and mobilises free fatty acids to provide energy, thereby saving amino acids from catabolism. Growth hormone acts, for example, directly to enhance the synthesis of bone, and to enhance the formation of red blood cells. Growth hormone improves nitrogen balance and while getting naturally during sleep we diminish the release of the catabolic hormones.”
Did you know?
- Birds, similar to many mammals, sleep while flying with half their brain off. The corresponding eye stays also awake. When one part of the brain get the NREM sleep it needs they switch.
- Even interesting is that when birds fly in flock many of them will sleep with both halves of the brain at the same time!
What happens during sleep?
We are still discovering the benefits of sleep, but one thing is for sure. Sleep has the most potent healing powers. Why?
Healing : As we fall into the deeper stages of sleep, our muscles will see an increase in blood flow, which brings along oxygen and nutrients that that help recover and repair muscles and regenerate cells. Bodily tissues are continuously degraded and continuously renewed. Wounds heal through the same processes as make possible the normal renewal, by cell division and protein synthesis, and these do appear to be aided by rest and sleep.
Additionally, when the body enters its deep sleep stage known as non-REM sleep, the pituitary gland releases growth hormones that stimulate muscle repair and growth. When the body doesn’t get enough rest, the secretion of this growth hormone declines, and it can become harder for your body to recover from injuries. There are also hormones released which helps regulate inflammation. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more likely to experience inflammation in the body, which can make injury recovery more difficult while also putting you at risk of further injury.
Detoxification : You probably heard about the glymphatic system. It controls the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and it’s main purpose is detoxification. When we sleep, this system “opens” allowing more rapid flow of fluid throughout the brain and thus detox toxic proteins such as amyloids which is strongly associated with Alzheimer’s disease. As we sleep, another detox activity is hormone release. Hormones released during sleep lead to slow breathing and muscle relaxation resulting in reduced inflammation. Lack of sleep raises levels of inflammation and makes it harder for the body to detox.
By flushing out these toxins, we are allowing the free flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to parts of the body that need them. Studies have shown a clear link between sleep and tissue regeneration following injury or illness. Exercise changes our body’s tissues such that they need repair. For instance, resistance training causes muscle damage to proteins that make up muscle fibers. The detox process aids in this repair. Hormones are released that encourage repair processes in the body, including muscle repair.
Memory consolidation : Sleep plays an essential role in the consolidation of memory and the selection of important information and stimuli received throughout the day. Naturally, individuals don’t remember every detail but tend to prioritize certain information, due to an emotional or other connection.
Sleeping and dreaming help in the process of sorting through experiences and memories to isolate and store the gist or specific detail of the memory hence the quote “When we dream, we get the pieces. When we wake, we can know the whole.” This is what NREM does!
- When tissues have been damaged, the rate of healing is greater during sleep, whatever the time of the injury. Cell division and protein synthesis reach their maximum during the hours of sleep and are minimal during wakefulness. This is even when in an increased food intake!!!
- Ensuring you get a good night’s sleep every night will help you function more effectively the next day and will allow your body to detox its way to optimal health behind the scenes.
- Deep sleep and NREM sleep are helping with creativity, memory sorting and memory consolidation.
What can you do
It may sound strange but respecting our sleep, means following the sleep patterns our ancestors have been following for million of years. As this may be a challenging task in the modern society here are some tips on how to biohack your bedroom environment.
Block blue light
Blue light does not exist on its own in nature. We did not evolve having exposure to fake / junk (or blue light on it’s own) after sunset (with the exception on fire). It messes up our daily biological clock which throws our hormones out, and that means we get hungry at the wrong time of day, tired too late, have energy crashes. All this because of blue light.
- Wear a pair of blue light blocking glasses 2-3 hours before going to bed.
- Replace all your light bulbs with Incandescent bulbs that operate at the full light spectrum.
Unfortunately EMF is everywhere. Power lines, wireless communication, microwaves. And even if I think there can’t be ever a study published to state the harmful effects of EMF (for obvious reasons) you need to read between the lines and listen to the concerns.
These concerns are shared by the World Health Organisation (WHO), while the results of recent studies not only clearly demonstrate that EMF exposure triggers oxidative stress in various tissues, but also that it causes significant changes in levels of blood antioxidant markers. Fatigue, headache, decreased learning ability, and cognitive impairment are among the symptoms caused by EMF. The human body should therefore be protected against exposure to EMF because of the risks this can entail.
More importantly, research has shown that EMF at night has more severe effects on health in comparision to EMF radiation in day time.
- Purchase a EMF blocking device
- Turn-off the Wi-Fi every night
- Ionize your bedroom with air-purifying devices , Himalyan rock salt lamps, and plants
Keep your bedroom dark
Darkness is essential to sleep. The absence of light sends a critical signal to the body that it is time to rest.
Light exposure at the wrong times alters the body’s internal “sleep clock”—the biological mechanism that regulates sleep-wake cycles—in ways that interfere with both the quantity and quality of sleep. Melatonin, a hormone produced in the brain’s pineal glad, is often known as the “sleep hormone” or the “darkness hormone.” Melatonin influences sleep by sending a signal to the brain that it is time for rest. This signal helps initiate the body’s physiological preparations for sleep—muscles begin to relax, feelings of drowsiness increase, body temperature drops. Melatonin levels naturally rise during the early evening as darkness falls and continue to climb throughout most of the night, before peaking at approximately 3 a.m. Levels of melatonin then fall during the early morning and remain low during much of the day. Evening light exposure inhibits the naturally timed rise of melatonin, which delays the onset of the body’s transition to sleep and sleep itself.
- Buy a sleep mask
- Have dark, heavy curtains
- There are simple techniques but very important techniques to improve your sleep.
- Try to block blue-light, EMF and light from your bedroom.
- Sleep serves many critical function for our health far beyond making us feel fresh in the morning.
- During sleep we heal, learn, detoxify so it is important to create an environment which allows us to get into deep sleep through the night
- If you are interested for more tips and to deep dive into how to improve your sleep check out the ketOntrack Sleep Series