Wellbeing Manager, Peter Bell talks about sleep and its importance.
Sleeping is a basic human need, like eating, drinking, and breathing. Like these other needs, sleeping is a vital part of the foundation for good health and well-being throughout your lifetime.
Sleep deficiency can lead to physical and mental health problems, injuries, loss of productivity, and even a greater risk of death.
Sleep deficiency occurs when: You do not get enough sleep. (sleep deprivation)
• You sleep at the wrong time of day. (that is, you're out of sync with your body's natural clock)
• You don't sleep well or get all of the different types of sleep that your body needs.
• You have a sleep disorder that prevents you from getting enough sleep or causes poor quality sleep.
Understanding what makes you sleep
Many factors play a role in preparing your body to fall asleep and wake up. You have an internal "body clock" that controls when you are awake and when your body is ready for sleep.
The body clock typically has a 24-hour repeating rhythm (called the circadian rhythm). Two processes interact to control this rhythm. The first is a pressure to sleep that builds with every hour that you are awake. This drive for sleep reaches a peak in the evening when most people fall asleep.
A compound called adenosine (ah-DEN-o-seen) seems to be one factor linked to this drive for sleep. While you are awake, the level of adenosine in your brain continues to rise. The increasing level of this compound signals a shift toward sleep. While you sleep, your body breaks down adenosine.
A second process involves your internal body clock. This clock is in sync with certain cues in the environment. Light, darkness, and other cues help determine when you feel awake and when you feel drowsy.
For example, light signals received through your eyes tell a special area in your brain that it is daytime. This area of your brain helps align your body clock with periods of the day and night.
Your body releases chemicals in a daily rhythm, which your body clock controls. When it gets dark, your body releases a hormone called melatonin (Mel-ah-TONE-in). Melatonin signals your body that it's time to prepare for sleep, and it helps you feel drowsy.
The amount of melatonin in your bloodstream peaks as the evening wears on. Researchers believe this peak is an important part of preparing your body for sleep.
Exposure to bright artificial light in the late evening can disrupt this process, making it hard to fall asleep. Examples of bright artificial light include the light from a TV screen, computer screen, or a very bright alarm clock.
As the sun rises, your body releases cortisol (KOR-tih-sol). This hormone naturally prepares your body to wake up.
The rhythm and timing of the body clock change with age. Teens fall asleep later at night than younger children and adults. One reason for this is because melatonin is released and peaks later in the 24-hour cycle for teens. As a result, it's natural for many teens to prefer later bedtimes at night and sleep later in the morning than adults.
People also need more sleep early in life when they're growing and developing. For example, new-born’s may sleep more than 16 hours a day, and preschool-aged children need to take naps.
Young children tend to sleep more in the early evening. Teens tend to sleep more in the morning. Also, older adults tend to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier.
Sleep helps your brain work properly. While you're sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day. It's forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information.
Healthy brain function and emotional wellbeing
Studies show that a good night's sleep improves learning. Whether you're learning at work or how to perfect your golf swing. Sleep helps enhance your learning and problem-solving skills. Sleep also helps you pay attention, make decisions, and be creative.
Studies also show that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain. If you're sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behaviour, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behaviour.
Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and obesity.
Ongoing sleep deficiency can have a negative impact on your immune system, resulting in you struggling to fight off infection.
Next week we will discuss risk factors for sleep deprivation and strategies for improving sleep.
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