Importance of Sleep

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Category: Health and Medicine

Almost everyday at work at Skelian Chiropractic Clinic in Bristol and Cheltenham I will have somebody tell me that they are tired. We seem to live in a strange society now where sleeping less and working more is praised, and people literally boast that they only require 4 to 6 hours of sleep a night. If you dare admit that you have to sleep in past 8 to feel rested, you are often branded lazy. I’m not sure at what point this shift came, as by nature we do have natural sleep patterns. The reason this interests me so much as a chiropractor, is lack of sleep directly affects your health. In this blog, I’m going to summarise some of the studies conducted and written about in Matthew Walker’s Book “Why We Sleep” – A book I urge you to buy if you want to improve your health, well-being and mental health. Hopefully, at the end you may think twice about why you shouldn’t “sleep shame” your partner who enjoys a lie in. 

A little bit of History about Sleep Cycles 

We all live by an internal 24 hour body clock called your Circadian rhythm. This clock is responsible for everything we do. It released hormones in the morning to wake up, to feel hungry at lunch time and to feel sleepy again at night.  We can split people into morning people and night owls. These two types of people actually run on slightly different circadian times. This originates from when we used to live in tribes and caves, and for the protection of the tribe, it wouldn’t make sense for the entire tribe to go to bed at once. Therefore, half the group would go to bed earlier, whilst the other half stayed up to keep watch. Then, later in the night the other half would go to bed. This means that you would only be exposed to dangers for say 2-3 hours through the night, rather than for the full 8 hours. This has been passed down genetically through centuries. It therefore explains why if your parents are early risers, chances are you are too because you have that genetic code which means your internal body clock will wake you up earlier. 

Unfortunately, for the night owls of our society, they have been shunned and our modern day life is very much in favour of the morning risers. Take a look at any motivational books that are published and they will be promoting early rises to ‘increase productivity’’. But what you’ll actually be doing, is depriving yourself of some much needed important sleep. 

So what I’m ultimately trying to say, especially if you are a manager or a boss, if possible think about flexible work hours. You will definitely see an increase in productivity if you allow your morning people to come in early, and your late risers to come in a few hours later. 

Sleep Cycles 

Our sleep cycle is divided into stages. It takes around 90 minutes to complete each cycle, and as an adult, to get adequate sleep we need to have 5 sleep cycles a night. 

This is only achieved by sleeping 7-9 hours. 

No single person on Earth can function adequatically on less than 5 sleep cycles – no matter what you may think. The idea that you’re fine on only 4-6 hours is complete misinformation, and you are actually chronically sleep deprived. 

  1. Stage 1 : 

Considered the light sleep stage. You’re easily awakened in this stage. You may experience some muscle contractions and eye-lid flickering, but muscle movement starts to slow down. 

2. Stage 2

You start to drift into deeper sleep. Brain and muscle activity starts to slow down with occasional bursts of rapid brain activity 

3. Stage 3

Deep Sleep. Your brain is only producing delta waves at this stage. You are difficult to wake in the stage, and if woken, you will feel very groggy, disoriented and tired.  

In children, this is where nightmares, sleepwalking and bed-wetting occurs. 

4. REM sleep (Rapid – Eye Movement) 

The MOST important stage of sleep! 

Until recently, REM sleep was hugely misunderstood. 

In this stage, you have more brain activity than when you are awake but your muscles are completely paralyised. This is the stage we will dream in, and so it’s important that our muscles are paralysed so that you don’t get up and start acting out your dreams. 

Whis is REM sleep SO important? 

All recent sleep studies have shown that this is the most important stage in brain and body recovery and functioning. The REM stage is where we develop our creative brain, process what we have learnt the day before and organise all our thoughts. 

Multiple studies have been done comparing the effectiveness of learning and sleep. Both study groups had to memorise information. One group was allowed to sleep as much as they wanted after studying, while the second group was only allowed 4-6 hours (therefore depriving them of their REM sleep). The first sleep group not only hugely out performed the sleep deprived group, but when asked a week and a month later, around 50% had retained the information in their long term memory.  So if you’re studying for an exam, make sure you are getting your sleep in! 

We also know that REM sleep happens after around 70 minutes of each sleep cycle, and with each cycle it lengthens. This means, that the sleep cycles you get in the last 7-9 hours of sleep ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT! So if you are sleeping less, you are depriving yourself of the most crucial part of your sleep. 

Lack of REM sleep is linked to serious Health issues. 

REM sleep goes further than just helping you memorise stuff. There are now also ample studies showing how sleep deprivation, and specifically of REM sleep is linked to heart disease, stroke, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes. 

A collection of studies conducted, took one group of individuals who were allowed as much sleep as they wanted, and another group only allowed 4-6 hours of interrupted sleep compared how they responded to food and exercises the next day. Both groups were presented with sugary foods the next morning. The majority of sleep rich group didn’t reach for the calorie heavy foods, whilst majority of the sleep deprived group did. 

Not only this, but when comparing efficiency of a work out, those that had ample sleep, physiologically had a better work out, burned more calories and had a faster recovery rate. 

So this means, if you’re looking to increase your work out potential, by depriving yourself of sleep you will not be working out to your maximum potential, and your recovery will be longer. From a chiropractor’s perspective – a tired body means you’re more likely to injure yourself, so this is really important to consider! 

Going back to the sugary food test. This is a very real, very serious health issue that we cannot deny is linked to some of the obesity levels we are experiencing in the UK.  As we are becoming more overworked, working long hours and sleeping less we are a nation of tired people. 

Countless studies show, and I’m sure even you can agree, on the days that you are tired, you are more likely to reach for calorie high foods and coffee. The problem with this, is it gives us a quick burst of energy, however we then crash hard a few hours later. Which in turn leads us to reaching for a coffee and a biscuit once again. I would say most people I meet are in this cycle (especially those reaching for a coffee).  Not only are you then taking in so many more extra calories, but because you’re also sleep deprived (as the study above shows), you’re then physiologically not able to burn it off as effectively and you can see how this leads to cycle of steady weight gain. Weight gain and obesity are directly linked to Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease and stroke. 

This short blog barely touches on the hundreds of other reasons why we should be getting our needed 7-9 hours sleep every night. However, I do hope that this has helped you understand a little bit more about sleep and why it is important. In my next blog I will give you suggestions based on sleep research data to help improve your quality of sleep.