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The Powerful Effects of a Good Night’s Sleep on Your Brain and Body
Are you a burn the candle at both ends, all-nighter, "I'll sleep when I'm dead," kind of guy? If so, that sleep you keep putting off might come for you sooner than you think. Why do we think it's okay to ignore one of life's most vital biological functions?
We understand that we can't live without food, water, and oxygen but don't quite grasp that a lack of sleep is equally as deadly. A human can survive for months without food and only days without sleep. Yet, it's more likely that you would sacrifice sleep before skipping a meal.
Sleep is essential for the health and well-being of every animal on earth. Humans are the only animals that willfully forego sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 40% of adults suffer daytime sleepiness at severe enough levels to distract them from daily activities.
Lack of Sleep
If you were captured and held hostage by the enemy, which one of these methods of torture would get you to crack; Holding a cheeseburger just out of arm's reach or depriving you of sleep for a day? Rumor has it that hydration isn't a problem in modern methods of persuasion.
One reason sleep deprivation is a highly effective persuasive power is that sleepiness affects your decision-making abilities. When you're tired, you become vulnerable to taking excessive risks. That's why casinos don't have windows or clocks, always remain at a cool temperature, and have a combination of bright and soft lighting.
The next time you're in a casino, take a look at the banks of slot machines. The machines on the ends are brightly colored to attract you, but the hues become softer towards the middle. They do this because you'll move towards the warmer tones as you tire instead of getting up to leave. The longer you stay at the machines and the wearier you become, the more significant risks you are willing to take.
The most severe risk that Americans take regarding sleep is driving. The National Highway Safety Administration estimates 100,000 police-reported accidents are caused by driver fatigue every year. This estimate is considered conservative since attributing crashes to drowsiness is difficult.
A study conducted by AAA reports that sleeping only six to seven hours per night doubles your risk of being in a car crash than those who get eight hours of rest. Seriously sleep-deprived people with 5 hours or less rest increase their risk by five times.
Your Biological Clock
We have good news for you guys that like to stay up late and sleep in until noon. It's not your fault, and despite what your parents say, you're not lazy. You simply have a different circadian rhythm.
About 40% of humans are "early risers," and 20% fall into the "night owl" category. The remaining 40% are somewhere in between the two. Unfortunately for the night owls, we gear the modern work schedule towards morning people, so you're the most likely to suffer from sleep issues.
Humans, like other animals, evolved to have staggered circadian rhythms to protect the group. Every animal is most vulnerable when we're asleep. If the entire tribe slept simultaneously, there would be no one to keep watch and alert us to danger.
The phrase "sleeping with one eye open" refers to animals, and sometimes humans, who sleep with half of their brains. Sharks don't have eyelids but sleep with half their brain at a time. A flock of birds sleeps in a row so the middle birds can rest their entire brain while the ones on the ends keep one eye open, looking in opposite directions. Halfway through the night, they switch sides to rest the other half of their brains. Humans have a slight ability to keep half of their brains semi-alert in unfamiliar circumstances. That's why you don't sleep as well during your first night in a hotel.
The Sleep Cycle
Every night, ideally, two types of sleep occur, NREM and REM. Our body cycles through both kinds of sleep about every 90 minutes.
NREM stands for Non-Rapid Eye Movement and what we usually think of as sleep. NREM sleep does have multiple stages, but it's the progressive slowing down of your brainwaves. This type of sleep is when your body restores energy and conducts essential maintenance.
During deep NREM sleep:
- White blood cells get created, boosting our immune system.
- Wounds heal.
- Muscle tissue is restored.
- Growth hormone is released.
When you don't get enough sleep, these processes don't have proper time to complete.
Another process happening during deep sleep is the reorganization of the mental pathways of your brain. This restructuring is necessary for learning to take place. The best way to learn and retain anything is to study then immediately sleep. Those all-nighters before finals in college did more harm than good. A good night's sleep is the surest way to learning.
If you haven't figured out that REM is Rapid Eye Movement, then you probably need more sleep. This type of sleep is when you dream. During this period, your brain is awake while your body remains dormant. This time is when your brain processes memories and develops new skills.
Some scientists believe REM sleep is the human equivalent of half-sleep. REM happens after NREM and could create awareness without waking completely every 90 minutes or so.
The reason it's called REM sleep is due to brain activity during this stage. The body undergoes paralysis, and only your eyes can move.
The Value of Sleep
There are many theories as to why we sleep. The hypotheses range from Aristotle believing that your blood separates for health reasons to the modern science of maintaining systems and processing information.
We know for sure that every animal does it, so there must be a valid biological explanation. Sleep science is a relatively new discipline, and continued discoveries about sleep functions occur regularly.
The proven benefits of sleep are lower body weight, improved concentration, maximized athletic performance, boosted immune functions, and reduced inflammation. Studies link poor sleep to depression, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
Sleep is the cheapest, easiest-to-fill prescription your doctor can ever recommend. Do yourself a favor and get some rest.
Anther: Male wellness where it counts.