During a mindless scroll through YouTube one day, I chanced upon a well-animated video by Ted illustrating the importance of sleep. It is true that I have probably heard most of it before, but being a little older now and having had a taste of sleep-related issues, this information hits differently this time.
Succumbing to curiosity, I went through the rest of the episodes up on my feed in one sitting.
Yep, we are tired of the same old advice; most of us are already aware of the detrimental effects ensuing low sleep quality, and quality. Nonetheless, many of us fail to prioritise sleep in our day to day.
The video series Sleeping with Science is produced by Ted and hosted by Sleep Scientist Matt Walker. He takes us through the nitty gritty of all things sleep related; many of which I found profoundly interesting, and at the same time perturbed at the possibility that I might be mistreating my body. Let’s sum up the fun facts that Matt Walker has touched on:
Why is it important to get prioritise sleep?
Adults should be getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night to lower their risk of early death. Does that mean sleeping longer hours is better? Not necessarily. Some people tend to sleep longer hours, only to compensate for poor quality sleep. Albeit compensated by longer hours, this poor quality sleep is associated with higher risk of death as well. How do we strike a balance?
Matt emphasizes that we tend to work longer hours nowadays and in turn neglect our quality of sleep. If we want to reap the benefits of our hard work, we need to live long enough to enjoy it! And one way is through adequate, good quality sleep.
1.Sleep health and immunity
Have you ever wondered why when we are sick, all we want to do is to curl up in bed and go to sleep? According to Sleep Advisor, this is our body’s way of forcing us to slow down and allow it to do its healing. While we sleep, we grant our it permission for immune defences and automatic responses to take place to fight off the sickness. Also during this period, we direct our energy towards areas of our body that need healing.
This is the science behind this very reason, reason we would rather hit the sack when we are feeling under the weather. And truly, sleep is one of the best health insurance policies.
2. Sleep and emotions
Our deep emotional brain center gets hyperactive when we are sleep deprived – it gets almost twice as responsive than when we get a full night of sleep. This is because in sleep-deprived individuals, the communication between the two regions of our brain which controls the emotions and affects behaviour gets cut off, leading to our emotions firing off and accelerating more than usual without the help of brakes.
And then again, similar to the effects of having good immunity, good quantity and quality sleep can help to calm your brain down and lower chances of emotional turbulences.
3. Contributes to Alzheimer’s disease
This is the topic which really caught my attention. What is the relationship between sleep and Alzheimer’s? Alzheimer’s disease is a cause of dementia which is characterised by the loss of memory and cognitive capabilities. According to Matt, sleep-deprived individuals get a significantly increased metabolic waste protein in our blood and brain called beta-amyloid, which is linked to impaired brain function and Alzheimer’s disease.
We have a cleansing system in our body which clears out metabolic wastes like beta-amyloid, but its function is only amplified with sleep. How does this fact make you feel? It sure evokes some fear in me and motivates me to prioritise my sleep even more now.
4. Is sleep your secret memory weapon?
Sleep is critical for memory; it gets your brain ready to soak up and retain new information. The brain of a sleep-deprived person does not allow new information to be absorbed, let alone preserve the new information that you have learnt. Deep sleep provides the ability for us to strengthen those memories as it replays it during slumber.
This gives me enough reason to be consistent in my study sessions rather than to burn the midnight oil days before an exam. Let’s not allow our brain work against us as we struggle to recall critical information!
5. How does caffeine disrupt sleep?
I love coffee and it has always been my favourite source of caffeine every morning. However, what surprised me was the fact that caffeine has a ‘quarter life’ of about 10-12 hours. This means that about a quarter of that cup of coffee is still circulating in your system even after dusk falls. The later you drink your coffee, the more disrupted you can imagine your sleep will be. Furthermore, even if you have no problems falling and staying asleep, it most definitely worsens the quality of your non-REM* sleep, which is meant to restore bodily functions and freshen you up in the morning.
Are you thinking twice about having your second cup of coffee at tea break?
Now that we understand some important facts and how much our lifestyle factors are affecting the quality and quantity of our sleep, do not fret! Here are 3 tips from Matt Walker to adopt for better sleep:
Go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday, including the weekends. It is best to limit the difference in your sleep schedule to no less than an hour. Reason being, your body works best under conditions of regularity; and sleeping on schedule will enhance consistency in your natural body clock for it to work at optimal efficacy.
2. Keep it cool
According to Matt, our brain and body need to drop their temperature by about 1degree celsius to help us fall asleep and stay asleep. Living on a sunny island like Singapore, it can be difficult to get a good night’s sleep if it is too warm (I am recounting all the times I have awoken because of the heat!). Then again, not everyone has the means to sleep in an air-conditioned room every night, so just ensure to keep your room well ventilated, or to wear thinner, comfy clothes to sleep.
Well, this is a given but darkness is needed to trigger the release of melatonin, a hormone which helps to regulate a healthy sleep-wake cycle. If you are finding it hard to fall asleep, it might be because of the blue light emitted by your phone or laptop that fools your body into thinking that it is day time, and inhibits the production of melatonin. Guilty as charged – I am usually on my phone or computer studying or working till bedtime; this is probably the reason why I lack good quality sleep and feel tired all the time! It the recommended to switch off all devices and reduce brain activity as much as possible 20mins – 1hour before bedtime. This means to switch off your devices and avoid exercising too late.
In modern day, we expect our bodies to be like a light switch – to be able fall asleep and wake whenever we need to, to optimise productivity. Unfortunately, it does not work that way and it is important for us to induce sleep correctly to allow our brain to relax and achieve good quality sleep.
If you find that you have a sleep disorder, such as a sleep pattern that includes falling asleep or staying asleep, falling asleep at inappropriate times, excessive total sleep time, or abnormal behaviour associated with sleep – please talk to your doctor.
I hope this article gives some of us who have the tendency to neglect sleep, to consider health repercussions in relation to sleep-deprivation. On top of the factors listed above, there are still a multitude of reasons why good sleep is one of the pillars of health, along with nutrition and exercise.
This article is brought to you by Hazel, an undergraduate from University of Newcastle Australia who is currently interning at SNCF (August to November 2020). She is an earl grey enthusiast, caffeine addict, avid reader and passionate about all things health and lifestyle related.