Have you heard of circadian rhythms? This refers to the physiological cycles of humans as well as other organisms that influence the way we behave at certain times of the day. It’s the reason why we tend to feel sleepy at roughly the same time every night and why some people tend to be “Night owls” or a “Morning person”.
On a deeper scale, it can influence even the way our cells work by regulating the production of enzymes and the release of hormones. This is because the circadian rhythm is controlled by the hypothalamus in our brain itself and is influenced by the amount of sunlight we get and when we get it although there have been numerous studies also suggesting the blue light from our mobile devices and computers can alter our circadian rhythms as the brain can mistake it for sunlight.
This is why you often hear sleep advice to not use your phone before going to bed as it may affect the release of melatonin which can help you fall asleep faster.
Neuroscientist Joseph Takahashi says that nearly every cell in our body has a circadian clock. This can affect our digestion, body temperature, as well as hormone release as mentioned above. To further explain, our body tends to release melatonin when it is dark around us and produces less when it is bright. This tells our body when to be active and when to rest up.
So now we go back to being either a night owl or a morning person as we have mentioned above. Whether you’re one or the other is not only affected by the circadian rhythm but is rather influenced by your sleep cycle which may also be genetically affected.
What is a sleep cycle? One sleep cycle typically lasts for 90 minutes and can be split into two parts – rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. We typically go through NREM first followed by REM. There are a few parts to our sleep which can be the following:
So what happens if we don’t get enough sleep? This is known as sleep debt which can accumulate over time and for which we must recover either willingly or forcefully due to fatigue. Studies have shown that it can take up to four days to recover from sleep debt so it’s better to not accumulate any in the first place.
How much sleep should we get? As adults, we typically need to get around seven to eight hours of quality sleep for us to feel fully rested and have proper sleep cycles. It’s important for us to have proper sleep quality as sleep can help our body recover.
Sleep can help us have better mental health, improve our memory, have a better appetite, reduce stress, have better heart health, have better metabolism, and strengthen our immune system. In fact, a lack of sleep is often associated with impulsiveness, shorter attention spans, lack of concentration, and poorer cognitive performance overall. Not to mention that a lack of sleep is also associated with a lower life expectancy, as well as type 2 diabetes and depression.
So how do we get better sleep? One of the best things we can do for ourselves is to tune into natural light and avoid blue light as much as possible. Blue light comes from our phones and other gadgets such as our computers. We should get ourselves used to natural light as much as possible and avoid drinking coffee and other caffeine-heavy drinks right before we go to sleep.
Another thing we can do for our body is to sleep consistently at the same time. For example, if you get ready to go to bed at around 10:00 PM, then you better go to bed at the same time tomorrow evening. Pair this with consistent bedtime routines such as washing your face, brushing your teeth, putting on your pajamas, etc, then you’ve got all the cues that you need to signal your brain that you are ready to go to sleep.
Bottom line – sleep is essential if we want to have better overall health for ourselves. It influences a lot of things in our lives from our mental, physical, and as well as our emotional health. Therefore, if you want to be healthy, it’s truly important for us to get high-quality sleep. By following all of these steps and knowledge, we make it possible for ourselves to get better sleep in the future and better health.