Sleep is an integral part of life, we spend about one-third of our lifespan sleeping, yet many of us know so much less about the phenomenon of sleep.
For centuries, sleep was considered a passive activity where the brain and body become dormant.
It was only after 1950 that we started understanding the science of sleep because of breakthroughs in technology and realised that sleep is a dynamic process where the brain and body rest and rejuvenate but many parts of the brain stay active to improve quality of life and perhaps its longevity.
Sleep has two stages - Non- REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and REM. In the first one, there are no eye movements behind the closed eyelids while in the second one the eyes move rapidly behind closed eyelids.
Non- REM (NREM) has four stages - in the first stage you are in between being awake and falling asleep, then there is the stage of light sleep when the body temperature drops lower, heart rate and breathing fall in a certain rhythm followed by third and fourth stages where your sleep gets deeper and deeper and most of the non-vital activities of the brain are closed but even then some parts of the brain might be working silently to improve memory and learning especially in children and young.
Each of the NREM stages lasts between 5-15 minutes. Young people get about 2 hours of this restorative sleep which gets shorter and shorter as we age and elderly people hardly get 30 minutes of NREM sleep.
During REM sleep, breathing rate goes up and becomes irregular, brain waves occur as during the awakened state, the body becomes paralyzed, we cannot lift our arms or legs as you might have experienced during some vivid or fearful dreams.
RME sleep usually begins 90 minutes after falling asleep. RME sleep is much more in children and helps them learn and enhances memory by playing dreams.
The arms and legs are paralyzed so that the dreams are not acted upon otherwise the person might hurt himself or someone sleeping nearby.
This atonic temporary paralysis is protective. RME sleep is very important for mental and physical growth, excessive alcohol and antidepressant drugs reduce it and hence, cause migraine-like headache, weight gain, poor learning and daytime lethargy. Poor REM sleep leads to the abnormal leg and arm movements, crying, shouting and other noises during sleep and are the cause of alarm to family members.
As our knowledge stands today, the sleep circadian rhythm is controlled by the enigmatic pineal gland which is believed to produce the hormone of darkness’ melatonin which takes feedbacks to the suprachiasmatic nucleus - the Master Clock - of the brain which then brings about sleep.
As the name suggests, melatonin production gets a bump up as darkness spreads and the body responds to sleep stimuli.
This should emphasize on us to start switching off the lights of our household as the sun starts its descent to the north. Melatonin not only induces sleep but also has anti-inflammatory, anticoagulant, antioxidant and endothelium protective properties, thereby, making sleep not only dozing off but bringing about so many unique benefits to it. The ‘darkness’ hormone has some bright side with its inbuilt antivirus properties - is has proved useful in Ebola virus infection.
Its usefulness in Covid19 deserves a deeper look. Turn to your body when no external remedy is found is a case of so many dreaded diseases. You are much more ‘naturally’ endowed than you have been made to believe.
Sleep, like so many things in life have their share of myths. One most commonly heard is that a person goes to sleep anytime, anywhere the moment one gets a resting place - be a chair or a sofa.
This isn’t great sleep, the person might be suffering from sleep deprivation or sleep apnea. The true and beneficial sleep is one according to the circadian rhythm and sleep clock of the body. Sudden sleepers need medical consultation to rule out any pathology.
People believe that they can compensate for a nighttime sleep deficit by a daytime nap. A power nap, post-lunch, of between 15-30 minutes is fine but prolonged, compensatory daytime sleep destroys the natural rhythm and deprives the body of restorative benefits of night sleep. Remember, sleep is as important as success, give it its due space.
One more common myth that is especially prevalent for successful people like politicians, film stars, authors and scientists is that they sleep 4 to 5 hours a day and still stay in an excellent state.
Such a possibility has a one-in-four million chance. Mostly they sleep adequately but propagate the myth for obvious publicity. Secondly, even if it is true then there is always a possibility of many disastrous mistakes for which the person and in some cases innumerable people pay the price. Haven’t you heard the saying - big people make big mistakes?
Another frequently noticed belief is that you have better sleep in a warm room during winter. People use heat blower or room heater for this purpose but this isn’t logical.
To have a relaxing and rejuvenating sleep, your body temperature has to fall a bit during the induction of the sleep cycle.
The warm air won’t allow this to happen and you will have poor sleep and would wake up a bit tired and lethargic. The best option is a good quality quilt or blanket.
Finally, philosophy plays a great role in the sleep pattern. Overthinking, ego, sorrow, jealousy, hate, anger all these negative sentiments are thieves of sleep.
Have a philosophical attitude to life. You are born as a human being to observe and experience life as well as death and hence be a simple, witnessing consciousness, nothing more.
You belong to none and none belongs to you. Work logically and with dedication, accept the outcome of your labour blissfully, it is immaterial whether it is positive or negative and you will be blessed with great sleep and, most probably, longer life.
(DR RAMAWTAR SHARMA)