March 02, 2020
Aseeya Grant-Aitahmad, Health Educator
Do you want to increase your energy levels, reduce stress, and become a more productive person? Try sleep! Since you’re alive and reading this, chances are you have experienced sleep in your life. With your previous sleep experiences, you likely have a diverse portfolio: you’ve had enough sleep, too much sleep, too little sleep, and/or way too little sleep. With each of these experiences you are the best judge to know just how much sleep is “enough” sleep for you, and how you feel the next day. Getting a good night’s rest and the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep seems like a foreign subject to some. Let me tell you, you are not alone! The National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America® poll, found that less than 50% of the public wakes up and feels extremely or very well-rested. Though “only 10% of individuals reported sleep as a priority over other health goals like physical activity and nutrition”. What’s the deal with sleep and why are we not prioritizing it?
Now, I am no expert on sleep, but Johns Hopkins sleep expert and neurologist Mark Wu, M.D., Ph.D. is! The Science of Sleep: Understanding What Happens When You Sleep, reviews what many researchers, including Wu, are finding out about sleep research and how sleep and health are correlated. A lot more is going on in our bodies while we are sleeping than we might think. You might know the feeling of nodding off while you are on your lunch break, trying to conceal your yawns at an early morning meeting, or fighting a 6 PM nap because you won’t sleep through the night if you fall asleep now. So, what is sleep? National Institute of Neurological Disorders (NINDS) states, “there are two basic types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep”. Explaining we cycle through all stages of non-REM and REM multiple times throughout the night. Sleep regulation is also an important concept to better understand sleep. Mark Wu, M.D., Ph.D. explains there are a couple key words to know when thinking of sleep regulation: sleep drive and circadian rhythms. Sleep drive is the body’s way to communicate the need or “desire” for sleep. This article compares sleep drive to hunger drive. The biggest difference being that our body can’t force us to eat, but it can force us to fall asleep, even when it’s the least convenient! Circadian rhythms are like our biological clock, located in the brain. This clock helps with “responding to light cues, ramping up production of the hormone melatonin at night, then switching it off when it senses light”. There are many important things going on in our body and brain while we are sleeping, if we are getting too little sleep our body isn’t able to fully recharge for the next day.
Need an extra push on why you should focus on your sleep today? The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute identifies sleep as a critical part of overall health, stating “getting enough quality sleep at the right times can protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety”. They also discuss that continuing sleep deficiency can increase your risk for long-term health concerns. Unfortunately, just understanding what sleep is and its importance won’t help everyone get a good night’s rest. There are a lot of external factors that contribute to how well we sleep: family, pets, work, temperature, screen time, etc. Along with external components, there are many internal parts that can influence how well an individual sleeps. Around 70 million Americans have sleeping disorders. Some types of sleeping disorders include insomnia, narcolepsy, and sleep apnea. There are many local resources like University of Utah Health’s Sleep Wake Center and LDS Hospital’s Sleep Disorder Center for those who are seeking outside help. Whether the things that are keeping you from getting a good night’s rest are internal or external make a small change today to focus more on your sleep!