March 24 2021
Sleep is a very essential part of our health. It helps to keep our body and mind in a healthy state by making us feel refreshed. Sleep allows our body to relax and prevent some disease conditions as well. If we do not get enough sleep then it can impair our ability to think and concentrate affecting the quality of life.
There is an internal body clock which moderates the sleep cycle when we feel tired. The clock operates 24 hours and hence known as the circadian rhythm. Light shows a significant influence on our sleep cycle. Our brain contains a centre known as hypothalamus which bears special cells which processes the signals when our eyes are exposed to light and in turn helps our brain to determine whether it is day or night.
Stages of Sleep Cycle
There are mainly four stages in our sleep cycle. The first three stages are called the NREM Sleep (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) and the fourth stage is called the REM Sleep (Rapid Eye Movement).
Stage 1: This stage consists of transitions between light sleep and wakefulness. During this stage our muscles are relaxed, eye movements, brain waves, heart and breathing rate slows (which are active during the day) begins to slow down.
Stage 2: At this stage, our body enters a deeper sleep wherein our heartbeat and respiration continue to slow down. The body becomes more relaxed and our body temperature will decrease. This stage is the longest of all the other stages.
Stage 3: This stage is the most important stage in terms of the amount of freshness we feel the next day. At this stage our body muscles, breathing and heart rate are to their lowest levels.
Stage 4: Dreams and nightmares are experienced during this stage. There is an increase in the: heart rate, breathing rate, eyelid movement and blood pressure. Moreover, our body will sort of becoming paralyzed so that we do not move during our sleep.
All these stages take about 90-120 minutes to complete.
How much sleep do we require?
On average, most adults require at least 6-7 hours of daily sleep for the maintenance of our health. If we do not get enough sleep then it can lead to several disease conditions in our body.
Some scientists believe that a lack of sleep can affect our: cognitive behaviour, intellectual thinking, attention, time of response and can lead to mood changes.
It has also been reported that some people develop resistance to chronic sleep deprivation. They may not be aware of that fact that their physical and mental well being is being affected due to the lack of sleep because it is normal for them to sleep less. A lack of sleep can also lead to the development of conditions such as type-2-diabetes, stroke, heart diseases, negative effect on mental health, heart failure, insomnia, hypertension and less life expectancy.
Moreover, lack of sleep can make your skin age faster. You may experience puffy under eyes after consecutive sleepless nights but if there is chronic sleep loss then it leads to the development of fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and dark circles. This happens because when we do not get through sleep, then our body releases a stress hormone known as cortisol which when present in excess quantities can break down the collagen in our skin which acts as a building block for your skin and helps keeps our skin looking spotless and amazing.
Losing sleep can also lead to weight gain because lack of sleep increases our appetite and contributes to the development of obesity.
How to get proper sleep?
- We need to stick to our sleep schedule. Remember that old phrase? ; “Early to bed, early to rise makes a person healthy, wealthy and wise”. So, keep this in mind and get that good night sleep.
- Always watch your eating habits. Avoid eating too many fried foods and drinking caffeine to consuming nicotine before going to bed (or in general also, limit the consumption of such products).
- Have a peaceful environment for sleeping. Room decor also plays an important role in your sleep so try to have a quiet place to sleep with dim or no lights and try to stay away from electronics. Looking at screens before going to bed can disrupt your sleep and you may feel difficulty in sleeping.
- Avoid getting daytime naps. When you sleep too much in the daytime, your body is already relaxed and you will not feel tired hence this reduces your tendency to sleep well at night.
- Reduce your stress levels. if you feel too much stress the entire time it releases stress hormones and this disturbs the sleeping pattern.
There is another important parameter in maintaining the sleep cycle in our body which is MELATONIN.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland which moderates the sleep cycle in our body. It is also known as “Hormone of Darkness” since it is released in response to darkness. It is the best factor to measure for an indication of the internal 24-hour clock (Human Circadian Timing) since it regulates various types of biological activities in the body through cardiac rhythms concerning environmental changes in an individual (environmental changes refers to the internal and external body changes). We easily adapt to such changes and this is made possible because of melatonin.
Natural levels of melatonin are the highest at night time and are reduced during the daytime. Hence it is advised to have a darker environment when you are trying to sleep. Melatonin also possesses antioxidant properties which provide various additional benefits to our body like; neutralization of free radicals which can provide damage to our body cells and even DNA.
It may help in the following conditions such as:
- Treatment of stomach ulcers
- Help in the maintenance of our eye health
- Reduce symptoms of tinnitus
- Helps to keep our skin healthy
- Maintains our sleep cycle
- Helps decrease jet lag
- Help to treat insomnia
How do melatonin functions?
In simple terms, melatonin sends signals to our brain by binding to certain receptors and helping to reduce nerve activity. Levels of melatonin increase as when it becomes dark outside. Moreover, it helps to reduce our; blood pressure, body temperature, excitatory nerve activity and helps us to relax.
Melatonin is also consumed as a supplement which is easily available as an OTC (over the counter dietary supplement). So, if you are not able to maintain your sleep or find it difficult to fall asleep at night you can use melatonin supplements to make this process easy for you. (It is advised to consult your doctor before starting ).