Why We Sleep

A lot of you seem to dislike the concept of sleep. A lot of you absolutely indulge in it. Today’s post is going to be another book summary on ‘Why We Sleep’ by Matthew Walker. All I have to say is that we need to start taking naps more seriously.

The book is broken down into 4 main parts. I’ll briefly touch on the first 3 sections in more detail and talk about some of the ways we can improve our quality of sleep.

  • This Thing Called Sleep
  • Why Should You Sleep?
  • How and Why We Dream
  • From Sleeping Pills to Society Transformed
Sleep is a Recovery Tool

This Thing Called Sleep

Have you ever thought to yourself “I’m just really not a morning person”? Well, apparently that could be true. We can divide people into more or less 3 categories; ‘morning larks’, ‘night owls’ and a combination of the two. Morning larks account for 40% of the population, night owls and the combination account for 30% each. This is known as a chronotype and it’s heavily determined by genes.

From an evolutionary point of view, it kind of makes sense. We needed people to stay up late at night to defend the tribe. If everyone went to bed at the same time, it would increase the risk of being vulnerable and getting attacked. However, in this day and age, being a night owl isn’t necessarily as advantageous. The systems and work schedules we have in place are biased towards the morning larks. This needs to change to accommodate those who are naturally inclined to work better at night.

So how does your body physically know when it’s time for bed? Melatonin. This chemical is released after dusk indicating to your body that it’s time to get ready for bed. It should be noted that it has little influence on the generation of sleep. It just informs your mind that it’s night time.

What actually does influence your tiredness and ability to sleep is a different chemical called adenosine. It essentially accumulates in your body from the time you wake up and increases your desire to sleep. This is known as sleep pressure and is what makes you feel sleepy.

How have we managed to overcome this urge for slumber? A lot of you might be familiar (and perhaps addicted) to the answer, caffeine. Just so you know, caffeine is classified as a psychoactive stimulant. It works by blocking the adenosine receptors; diminishing the sleep pressure. The problem is that the amount of adenosine in your system will continue to rise. So once the caffeine wears out, you often feel even more tired. Caffeine also has a half-life of around 6 hours. This means that after 6 hours, 50% of it will still be lurking in your system.

Your sleep can be categorized into 90 minute cycles of rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) which occur one after the other. This can be seen in the Figure below. REM sleep has similar brainwaves to your waking state. It’s essentially your dreaming state – where you’re temporarily paralyzed (if you ever sleepwalk, there’s essentially a disruption during your REM sleep). It’s also when you’re able to integrate your memories and solve problems. The NREM cycle is when you’re in a more logical, slow-waved and reflective state. It’s when you save memories and make sense of your experiences. Both cycles are extremely important and can only be utilized when you sleep for over 7 hours sufficiently.

Book Synopsis: "Why We Sleep" by Matthew Walker
https://enchiridion.red/media/images/book-synopsis-why-we-sleep-by-matthew-walker/Phases.png

Why Should You Sleep?

  • To be a functional human being and contribute to society
  • To remember stuff
  • To help your body recovery – especially if you’re active
  • To solidify your immune system
  • To get smarter (problem-solving and creativity)
  • To control your body weight
  • To enhance your social awareness (and emotional intelligence)
  • I could honestly keep going on…

I’ve gone into the previous chapter in enough detail. The abovementioned bullets provide enough evidence to support the claim of requiring at least 7 hours of sleep. Everything in moderation, obviously. Don’t go for more than 9-10 hours of sleep (if you’re a young adult).

The rate race will tempt you into sacrificing this invaluable coping mechanism. It’s not worth it. Find the right balance.

sticky comics | What’s “sleep”?

How and Why We Dream

It’s quite incredible how similar the state of psychosis is to dreaming, considering that you were:

  • Hallucinating
  • Delusional
  • Disoriented
  • Affectively labile (extreme swings in emotion)
  • And suffering from amnesia

These are normal biological and psychological processes that we experience when we dream. REM sleep specifically is associated with the active, conscious experience of dreaming.

We don’t just dream about the events of our day, but rather, the emotions that we’ve experienced. This allows us to effectively keep our mental health in check, alongside many of the other benefits I mentioned previously. The problem-solving and ability to form logical connections all occur during our dreaming state.

“Dreaming takes the approach of interrogating our recent autobiographical experience and skillfully positioning it within the context of past experiences and accomplishments, building a rich tapestry of meaning.”

Tips for getting better sleep:

  • Have a consistent time to go to bed and to wake up
  • Keep away from blue light at least 30 minutes before you sleep (don’t get into the habit of staring at your phone as you’re trying to sleep)
  • Keep the room temperature relatively cool (around 20°C)
  • Cut out your last cup of coffee more than 6 hours before you plan to sleep
  • Exercise regularly (not too late in the evening)

To summarize everything I’ve learned from this book: If you don’t get enough sleep, you will literally die. I’ve barely gone into the same level of detail as the book, so I highly recommend you give it a read for yourself to truly maximize the benefit you can gain from understanding the importance of sleep.

Moving forward, we need to really start appreciating the impact a consistent amount of good quality sleep can have on our lives. If you know anyone who argues against the requirement of over 6 hours of sleep, please recommend this book to them. More often than not, they haven’t done adequate research.

Have a great night and rest well! You deserve it.

Balance

Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’ve had to really juice out the time in a single day. Always so much to do, in such little time. The key question is, how do I juggle and keep entertaining without dropping it all?

When I talk about entertainment, I just mean finding ways to keep on keeping on. Back to my question then, isn’t it about balance? Well, let’s dive into the different aspects of balance that are important for us to keep juggling.

I’ve written something similar before on mind, body and soul. I’ll use that as a reference and remind myself of why that triangle is important.

Mind

The mind is one of the most extraordinary things in existence. It’s essentially a super-computer. You can process like a million things at once. But maybe that’s where a bit of the trouble lies; when we start taking on so much stimuli that it starts to distract us.

Fun fact about the brain: It takes up around 2% of our total mass but uses approximately 20% of the energy in our system. I think that kind of speaks to the level of complexity it has compared to the rest of our body.

The mind is like a muscle, it can be trained. That also means it needs to rest. We don’t usually accommodate enough time for rest though, especially in the rat race a lot of us find ourselves in. So what can we do to balance this leg of the trio? You should be able to guess that by now…

Meditate!

Last time, I spoke about the impact meditation has on our ability to concentrate. This time, I’m speaking about how it can be used to help us find calm, clarity and balance.

The thing about being mindful is that you focus on the present moment. You’re not getting lost in thought, worrying about the future or stressing about the past. You learn to breathe, accept, and let go. There can be different ways of doing this, journalling works wonders too. Find something that works best for you to stay present and keep at it. Your brain deserves it.

Dandelion seed, shallow focus

Body

Here’s something you might not have expected me to say about taking care of your body:

Sleep!

Sure, exercise is a fundamental aspect of taking care of your body. We’ve talked about that in enough detail before and I’m certain you know it too. But sleep is something we don’t pay enough attention to. I’m currently reading a book called ‘Why We Sleep’ by Matthew Walker. It’s what inspired me to emphasize the importance of sleep.

Did you know that the process of transferring short-term memories from the hippocampus into long-term storage in the neocortex occurs during sleep? Specifically, during the deep phases of NREM sleep.

This means that sleep protects newly acquired information (a process called consolidation), enables us to remember better, enhances our ability to learn, accelerates physical recovery, stimulates muscle recovery and helps our cells restock energy.

The catch here, is that you need to sleep for at least 7 hours a night. If you’re sleeping for 6 hours or less, you’re essentially depriving your body of a vital recovery process. Have you ever heard anyone say “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”?

Well, the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life span (and the quality of that life). I wouldn’t recommend pulling too many all-nighters.

I encourage you to take your sleeping routine more seriously. Pay attention not just to the quantity, but the quality too. Stick to a consistent time to go to bed and wake up every night. Take 20 minute naps during the day whenever possible. It will genuinely enhance your overall performance.

http://clipartmag.com/images/cartoon-pictures-of-people-sleeping-46.png

Soul

We’ve learned a little about how to balance the mind and body, but what happens when we add another ball to juggle? Harmony I would hope. The final piece of the puzzle is to look after your soul. This is probably the hardest aspect to keep in check, because it has to do with your purpose.

In order to find acceptance in the chaos, we need to live with intention. We need to realize how temporary we truly are. We need to detach and stop clinging onto materialistic desires. For some people, religious practices are what keeps their soul balanced. This is true for me, as I am a practicing Muslim. For others, it might be something different.

The point is to find a way to serve others. To express yourself in a way that contributes to the greater good. To be disciplined and authentic to your true self. To understand that it’s no coincidence that you’re here. You’re exactly where you are meant to be and for a specific reason. Realize that you matter and that you make a difference.

We don’t have a choice as to whether or not we want to play. We do have a choice as to how we decide to play. Juggling through the game of life is not going to be easy, but it is going to be worth it. As long as we remember to take out some time to relax our mind and be present, take better care of our sleep and live with the intention to serve others.

“The only guarantee for failure is to stop trying.”

Growth? Sleep!

I’d like to discuss a very critical aspect of growth in this post, which is related to sleep and recovery. This is especially relevant to my university peers as well as the working class, in fact to everybody. I’ll be discussing the inconsistencies in our day to day sleep schedules, the effect sleep deprivation has on memory, learning and immunity, as well as the effect technology has on our circadian rhythm. Finally, I’ll speak about what to do to improve the quality of sleep and how to fall off to sleep faster.

During sleep, when your body may be resting, your mind is busy with processing information that you’ve accumulated over the day. Sleep is required in order to consolidate memories, and has a profound impact on learning. A sleep deprived person cannot focus optimally and therefore their learning becomes inefficient, brain becomes foggy, mental health is affected and motor skills become hindered. Let’s dive into a little more detail on how sleep deprivation affects us.

Memory

Memories form through 3 different steps:

  • Acquisition: Introduction of new information into the brain.
  • Consolidation: Process by which memory becomes stable and ingrained.
  • Recall: Ability to access the information after it has been stored.

Acquisition and recall are both functions which are generally processed during wakefulness, whilst consolidation/storage, only occurs during sleep. This is because when the brain has adequate time and energy to rest, it can strengthen the neural connections between the neocortex and hippo-campus (part of the brain responsible for long term memory storage). During Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, memories become more stable. REM is also known as the time when you dream. Other types of memories form during non-REM, when you’re in a much deeper, slow-wave sleep. This helps the experiences that occur during the day to become more memorable and easily accessed. Sleep deprivation therefore hinders the ability to properly store new information, whether it be through acquired knowledge, experiences or muscle memory.

Learning

Sleep plays a vital role in our ability to learn new skills, especially those requiring motor coordination and optimal performance. Sleep deprivation doesn’t only affect the consolidation of memories, it also has an impact on how we receive and recall information. The neurons responsible for those connections become overworked, making it more difficult to access previously learned information.

The lack of focus, vigilance and attention due to inadequate sleep, also impairs decision-making and judgement. Subsequently, this affects our mood, which is directly related to our ability to acquire and recall information. For the gym-aholics and those who generally stay physically active, sleep is a key component for strength and endurance. This is proven in muscle recovery and growth, whereby during sleep, the blood supply available to your muscles increase, which in turn allows for extra oxygen and nutrients to be delivered. This facilitates further healing and growth, which muscles and tissues need for rejuvenation. New cell are also regenerated during sleep and this is coupled with our immunity.

Immunity

Whilst you’re asleep, your immune system releases cytokines. These are proteins which promote sleep, and are needed to deal with infections or inflammations. Lack of sleep therefore, affects the production of the cytokines, which directly affects the immune system. This decreases the body’s natural infection-fighting antibodies and can make you more sick-prone. This further affects inflammation within the body, which may assist in heart disease.

The following TED talk inspired a lot of what I’ve been discussing, and is a great watch:

Now I know a lot of that sounds quite dark and scary, especially since it’s not all that easy to get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep (keep in mind that anything over 9 hours of sleep also has similar health consequences). But there are a few ways to improve the quality of our sleep, to ensure we maximize the benefits and keep our health in peak condition. It’s quite important to be aware of these effects, since better awareness results in better choices, which ultimately results in better results.

Better Sleep:

  • No technology
  • Regularity
  • Cool temperature
  • Associate your room with going to sleep
  • Exercise

For better sleep, one of the first aspects is to stay away from technology at least 30-60 minutes before bed time. This is because of the blue light emitted from devices, which as a lot of you may already know, affects the melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone which regulates the sleep-wake cycles, and the secretion is suppressed when we expose ourselves to blue light. A way around this, is to use blue light filters, which are readily available on any app store. Regularity is another important factor in terms of getting healthy sleep. Waking up and going to bed at the same time everyday, complements your circadian rhythm, and facilitates your internal alarm clock; making it easier to fall asleep and to wake up.

Cool temperatures (16-21 degrees Celsius) allow for the body to fall into deeper sleep, faster. This stimulates the sleep cycles and helps with the REM stage. Physiological changes are also optimized, whereby the central core in the body naturally decreases in temperature. The low temperature also enhances the metabolism, which is responsible for the body’s energy extraction. This in turn, helps burn calories and store healthier fats.Another point in improving the quality of sleep, would be to associate your bedroom with going to sleep. Try and leave out other activities such as watching TV, playing video games, studying or doing any other form of work, out of your bedroom. This allows for your mind to associate your room with resting, and makes it easier for you to fall asleep at night. Exercising during the day is also an excellent way to help with sleep, as your body naturally feels the need for recovery and building up a sweat will make you feel tired. Combining these routines will ultimately improve your ability to fall off to sleep faster, which can sometimes be a problem on its own.

Islamic Perspective

From an Islamic point of view, there are a few Sunnahs (practices of the prophet Muhammed [Peace be upon him]) that one can follow. The most common would be to sleep on your right side, with your hand under your cheek. To perform ablution (Wudhoo) before going to bed and supplicating. The specific timings to go to bed and for waking up are after Esha (the final night prayer) and to wake up before Fajr (the first prayer in the morning), ensuring that the compulsory prayers are performed before going to bed. Another point would be to dust and clean the bed before going to sleep.

I’d like to also mention how important it is to wake up early. I’ve recently come across the book ‘The 5 AM Club’ by Robin Sharma, and it was phenomenal (highly recommended). I’ll dive deeper into it in the next post, where I’ll couple the benefits of a healthy sleep pattern with a healthy waking up pattern. Combined, it’ll hopefully allow you to maximize your day to day efforts in becoming legendary.

To put it all together, lack of sleep will not add any benefits to your life, in fact it only makes your life shorter. There’s no use sacrificing the precious hours you have to allow your body to grow and recover, in order to watch series, play video games or even party. Appreciate the fact that to stay healthy and live a better life, you need to focus on the very basic necessities needed as a human being. That’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy yourself or ever stay up late, but just keep in mind that in needs to be balanced. Missing a few days of healthy sleep can be tolerated, but once it becomes consistent, it can accumulate to detrimental effects. Being aware of the consequences enables you to make better decisions, which will support you in achieving better results. Your memory, ability to learn, energy levels and immunity are all at stake when you pull all-nighters, so think twice before making that sacrifice. Optimizing your sleep can be accomplished through several different habits; staying away from technology, regulating your sleeping pattern, keeping the environment at a cool temperature and associating your bedroom with sleep. I’ll leave with a brilliant quote and I wish you all a good night’s rest.

“Even a soul submerged in sleep, is hard at work and helps make something of the world.”

Heraclitus