Why A Good Night’s Sleep is Important for Your Brain
Your busy schedule at work may not let you realize it, but sleep is actually as essential for you as food and water. We spend about one-third of our lifetimes doing it, and however unproductive it may sound, anything less than that is going to set you up for serious troubles.
The ill effects of not getting enough sleep goes well beyond just the sluggishness or lethargy that you feel in your body. It messes with your body’s natural cycle, or the circadian rhythm as it is called. It also messes with crucial physical and mental processes that takes place only during sleep like metabolism and memory consolidation.
What happens to your brain when you sleep?
Our body clock follows a roughly 24 hours pattern, with environmental cues like light and temperature setting our brain up for rest and wakefulness. In that sense, our biological need is to rest when its dark and work/move when its light. The physical and mental processes in our body are set up accordingly. Just like the myriad biological mechanisms that function inside us throughout the day, sleep time too has its designated processes. This is what happens in your brain when you sleep:
- The metabolism process slows down and the accumulated energy gets carried into your brain cells.
- Your brain neurones gather energy that allows them to function properly during the day.
- Regeneration and repair of damaged brain cells also takes place during sleep.
- Your long term memory is consolidated during a deep sleep stage called slow-wave sleep. Your brain sorts through the information and stimuli gathered throughout the day and consolidates the useful ones into your memory reserve, while discarding the rest into oblivion.
- Regulates hormonal flows into your brain, cancelling the harmful effects of stress hormone overloads during the day.
What happens when you don’t get enough sleep?
There are both long-term and short-term harmful effects of not getting a proper night’s sleep.
Basically, your brain cells are not properly rested and replenished, so they fail to establish communication amongst themselves quickly and effectively. A host of problems follow.
- Poor working memory and focus – you’ll not only have trouble recalling information you already know, but will also fail to remember new information
- You may experience ‘spacing out’ or becoming unresponsive to your circumstances for a period of time
- Excessive lethargy and tiredness through the day
- Unregulated stress hormone release may cause morning headaches and trigger Migraines
- A higher chance of making mistakes and mental lapses due to botched-up connection between your brain cells
- With your executive functioning improperly rested, you’ll have a difficult time solving complex problems and making decisions
Each hour of proper sleep you loose every night is not actually lost; they add up on the negative side. If you are regularly getting less-than-proper amounts of sleep, you may incur what doctors call a ‘sleep debt’. If you are losing 2 hours of sleep each night you’ll have a 14 hours sleep debt by the end of a week. And just like your financial debts, the sleep debt incurs steep interests.
- It affects your learning and long-term memory.
- The accumulated stress hormone build up can lead to severe mental health problems like Anxiety Disorder and Clinical Depression.
- The resultant chronic lethargy may lead to substance abuse and dependency.
- Chronic problems like obesity, cardio-vascular diseases, and neurological conditions like Migraine and Seizures can be triggered.
- Affects the overall performance of your brain, making you mistake-prone, accident-prone, and poor at executive decision making skills.
- Can harmfully impact your communication skills, leading to relationship problems.
How to get proper sleep
So, how much sleep do you need to keep your brain and body healthy, and more importantly, how to get yourself to sleep in this era of artificial lights and endless stressors and stimulants?
The correct amount of sleep needed for a full rest varies from person to person. But on average, an adult person needs about 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Here’s how you can ensure that:
- Don’t eat anything heavy for at least two hours before sleep. If you are hungry, a light snack should suffice.
- Light-proof your room by investing in darker curtains and sleep-masks.
- Avoid all screens like phones and laptops for at least 30 minutes before going to bed.
- Ease yourself into relaxation; read a book, listen to some light music, take a bath etc.
- Rigidly follow a schedule: go to sleep and wake up at the exact same time every day. Wake up at the designated time even if you have had a disturbed night’s sleep; this helps regulates your body’s natural cycle.
- Go into sunlight as soon as you wake up; the morning light also helps settle your rhythm.
- Make sure to have at least some physical exercises during the day: be it work out or everyday things like running errands and walking up staircases. Tiredness from a day’s work help you sleep better.
Sleep is essential for a proper functioning of your brain, and a good night’s sleep ensures you stay at your peak capacity during the day. Why not embrace it? Correct your sleep cycle, starting today, and see how your life changes!