Do you know humans are the only species among mammals, who can willingly delay sleep? Yes, you read that right. However, knowing something is only the beginning of solving any problem. More than anything, getting a good nights sleep solves a lot of problems.
The benefits of good sleep are simpler to understand, compared to the actual concept of sleep. A good nights sleep is essential to feel fresh and active in the morning and during the entire day. It is no surprise that sleeping has always constituted a significant part of our lifestyle, since time immemorial.
Since sleep plays one of the most important role in our lives, anything that disrupts a peaceful sleep is considered a problem. Snoring is one factor that is as a hindrance to a good nights sleep, and therefore, has been widely studied and understood.
Nevertheless, delay in sleep, insomnia and sleep deficiency are relatively newer phenomenon. Introduction of technology in the form of television, mobile devices and tech gadgets have largely been responsible to play havoc with sleep. Evidently, your social media notifications are directly proportionate to the number of hours of sleep one gets every night. As a result, people are growingly feeling lethargic and finding it problematic to concentrate on anything for long.
To understand better why sleep is crucial for proper functioning of our body and all its senses, let us delve into what happens to the body while sleeping:
The body goes under many transformations, while it is in the state of rest during sleep. There are many essential functions that take place in the body such as tissue repair, memory and energy restoration, release of essential hormones, muscle relaxation, and others. While you are asleep, the brain releases indispensable hormones that promote tissue growth. This process helps your body rejuvenate from the daily hustle bustle. Moreover, tissue growth aids in the recovery from wounds or cuts. Sunita Kumar, Co-Director, Centre for Sleep Disorders, Loyola University Medical Centre, aptly remarks that during sleep the body produces more white blood cells, to fight countless bacteria and viruses<sup>1</sup>. The heart rate also registers a dip during sleep, which according to Ms. Kumar, strengthens the heart as it is at rest with lowered activity. Moreover, a good night’s sleep also reduces the chances of getting afflicted with heart diseases.
Sleep is a time, when becomes sharp and strong. Sleep quantity and quality play a fundamental role in determining what one remembers and what one doesnt. Therefore, development of long-term memory (LTM) from short-term memory (STM) happens during sleep. Scientific researches state that the brain follows a different mechanism for storing memories through the hippocampus and neo-cortex areas. Hippocampus helps you to remember your life experiences (childhood memories), while the neo-cortex is responsible for remembering the concepts you learn (name of a color). Communications and sync between the two, helps in learning new data and updating old ones.
Sleep not only affects your energy levels and mental functions, but also regulates your body weight. Improper sleep is related to the increasing cases of obesity, worldwide<sup>2</sup>. Many hormones which regulate the feeling of hunger (ghrelin) and signal the feeling of being full (leptin), are all influenced by the quality of your sleep. Leptin: This is also known as satiety hormone, which is produced by the fat cells of the body. It prevents overeating by sending signals to the brain that the body does not require more food, as there is enough to fuel the body. Ghrelin: This hunger hormone is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, which signifies the body that there is need for food. This hormone rises in the body, when you feel hungry and decreases when you have consumed some food. Studies show that people who have disrupted patterns of sleep - have larger appetite, because of higher ghrelin secretion and lowered secretion of leptin. This imbalance in the secretion of these hormones is a result of improper sleep patterns<sup>3</sup>.
Now that we have talked about why sleep is essential, in the next section - we will be discussing in detail some of the significant parameters, that define good or bad sleep.