The Importance of Sleep, Part One

My current reading is the book, Why We Sleep , Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker, PhD. He shares the importance of sleep. It’s an extensive explanation on sleeping patterns (from in utero until old age); who needs to sleep how long; how it affects the body; what diseases adequate sleep can prevent (or decrease the chances of contracting); stages of sleep and what happens in each stage; when we dream, what it may mean, & how science can interpret a limited meaning of dreams.

Chapters 1 & 2 introduce the need for sleep routine, the negative and dangerous effects of sleep deprivation, who sleeps how much, caffeine, jet lag, melatonin and circadian rhythm. Adults need a standard of eight hours of sleep each night. The shorter hours you sleep, the shorter your life will be. While we sleep, every single major organ in the body and brain, are enhanced during sleep (or harmed if we don’t sleep enough). If we adapt to the old saying, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”, that death may be a lot sooner than we think.

How does our body know when to sleep? Why does a cup of coffee keep us awake when we “need”it? Everyone has a circadian rhythm, the internal twenty four hour clock our brain helps to keep us awake and asleep when we need to. Our innate biological clock is technically 24 hours and 15 minutes – about the amount of time the Earth rotates around the sun. Our body adapts to the light and darkness as the most reliable source of keeping a circadian rhythm. (Does your body get off track when we change our clocks twice a year? Takes a little getting used to?)

Lastly, everyone’s rhythms differ from each other. Are you a night owl or a morning person? Our society revolves around the 30% morning people and causes the 70% of night owls to struggle with sleep deprivation. School, business hours, the bank, etc. favor the early morning person, 0700 – 1700 (7 a.m. to 7 p.m.).

Caffeine is the second most traded commodity in the world, second only to oil. It is the most widely used psychoactive stimulant in the world. Caffeine blocks what they call adenosine receptors in the brain and inactivate these receptors. Caffeine tricks the brain by blocking the sleepiness feeling and make us feel alert and awake. What’s the problem?

Caffeine shelf life is 8 hours. If you have coffee around 3 p.m., that caffeine isn’t out of your system until 11 p.m. (if you metabolize it in an eight hour average). Coffee after dinner? Not getting to sleep until 2 a.m. Drink decaf? Decaf still has up to half of caffeine in the coffee. Not drinking coffee? Caffeine is still found in some teas, sodas, energy drinks, dark chocolate, ice cream, some pain relievers, and some weight loss pills. There will be a caffeine crash to deal with. Energy level can plummet quickly.

Dr. Walker also advises against the widespread use of sleeping medications because eventually they will wear off.

Since I have been challenging myself to get more sleep, I feel better, even healthier. I have a weakened immune system from my transplants and sleep helps to strengthen my immune system. I feel happier when I have 8 hours of sleep.

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