The mystery of sleep
THERE are many aspects of human biology and the process of sleep is much more complex than it appears to be.
These little periods of death like deep sleep are responsible for maintaining good physical and mental health.
We are spending 1/3rd of our lives in normal sleep of 7-9 hours. In fact, it is an altered mental state and emotions of a person, Our brain is ruled by white and grey matter during sleep.
Amygdala (an almond shaped structure in the brain tissue) is responsible for the emotional state of mind and is fully alive during sleep.
Poor sleep may generate a negative effect on the emotional state of mind, a person’s performance at work, being irritable and frustrated, but long time reduced sleep is associated with diabetes like blood changes, depression and cardio-vascular stress.
Un-interrupted sleep of an average person is vital to maintain good health. Some people claim to be fine with less than 6 hours of sleep, perhaps they get accustomed to the negative effect of a reduced period of sleep.
In fact, this functional decline happens gradually, which is not a viable option. Some people avoid naps during the day in order to have a good sleep at night.
During Ramadan, many Muslims sleep during the day rather than at night. However, a 20-minute nap is a good option which gives the body ample time to re-charge.
Day-time siesta (afternoon rest) is the norm in countries with hot climate. Research from Boston University observed that the brain goes through a cleansing process while asleep, it washes away toxic protein like Amyloid Beta, which accumulates during the day and damages the neurons leading to early aging and dementia.
It involves the Glymphatic system which clears toxic proteins and other waste products during sleep.
Scientists also claim if we sleep less than 4 hours for 20 years, we are likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s dementia.
Cerebro-spinal Fluid (CSF) in the brain washes the waste products in waves. During sleep immune cells are busy in the maintenance of this work and helps the brain to get rid of accumulated metabolic “trash” through electronic waves from neurons.
Sleep is a naturally recurring state of mind and body, characterized by altered consciousness, relatively inhibits sensory and muscle activity, helps to restore the immune, nervous, muscular, memory and cognitive skills.
Humans may also suffer from insomnia, hypersomnia, sleep apnea, walking during sleep and natural sleep rhythm.
Obstructive apneas occur when the muscles around the patient’s airway relax during sleep, causing the airway to collapse and block the intake of oxygen.
Simple sleep apnea is more common as the oxygen levels in the blood drops, the patient then comes out of deep sleep in order to resume normal breathing.
When several of these episodes occur per hour, sleep apnea rises to a level of seriousness that may require treatment.
Diagnosing sleep apnea usually requires a “sleep study” in a sleep clinic, because the episodes of wakefulness caused by the disorder are extremely brief and patients usually do not remember experiencing them.
Other factors for sleep apnea or snoring. include chronic fatigue, old age and obesity. Insomnia is the most common sleep problem, which have many different causes like psychological stress or poor sleep environment.
Insomnia is often treated through behavioural changes like keeping a regular sleep schedule, avoiding stimulating or stressful activities before bedtime, and cutting down on stimulants such as strong tea or coffee.
A review of scientific research in 2010, suggested avoiding exercise at least 4 hours before bedtime, generally improves sleep and helps insomnia, however exercise at any time of the day is beneficial.
The sleep environment can be improved by installing heavy curtains to shut out all lights from computers, televisions, and working materials out of the sleeping area.
Anxiety and depression cause further sleep disruption, which carries the risk of type-2 Diabetes, Cardio-vascular stress and obesity.
Therefore, sleep is essential in maintaining normal cognitive skills such as alertness, learning capacity, memory and emotional equilibrium.
Researchers suggest that going completely without sleep for 3 or more consecutive nights may result in perceptual distortion, hallucinations and delusions.
Social media like the internet, TV, smart phone and video games certainly hampers the sleep pattern.
It has been observed in 979 young adults that 20% of them sleep less than 6 hours at night and complain of mental health issues like depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenic issues, personality disorders even suicidal tendency.
Therefore, getting enough sleep helps in maintaining emotional equilibrium to enjoy life when faced with challenging events of life. A sage well said, “early to sleep, early to rise, makes the person happy and wise”.
—To be continued.
—The author is a retired Professor from Rawalpindi Medical University, and is frequently writing on the subjects of Health in medical journals.