By Vivian Kessewaa Owusu
A good laugh and a long sleep are two best cures for anything. Sleep is vital for our well-being because we are programmed to devote about one-third of our lives to sleep. When sleeping, our body and brain can be awhirl with activity. Sleep is a biological imperative critical to the maintenance of mental and physical health. It is a state of lessened consciousness and decreased physical activity during which the organism slows down and repairs itself.
There are two types of sleep: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and Non-Rapid Eye Movement (non-REM) sleep.
In Rapid Eye Movement Sleep also known as shallow sleep, we usually have dreams and our brain is surprisingly active. This is synonymous with someone who is awake but in a relaxed state. This type of sleep appears to be important for optimizing certain brain functions including memory. At other times, sleep is deeper which is usually referred to as the non-rapid eye movement sleep. The brain is relatively quiet but other departments have a lot going on as the same time. In this state of sleep, the body secretes growth hormone from the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. This hormone drives growth during childhood and adolescence. But once we have reached our full height, the growth hormone still has plenty to do for us. Some of the functions of growth hormone include maintaining the size and strength of our muscles, stimulation of the release of fat from fat cells, maintaining bone strength, and supporting the immune system.
During non-REM sleep, secretion of the stress hormone cortisol is suppressed. The need for cortisol is to drive energy production in the body and help us cope with and adapt to whatever challenge we face in life. But too much cortisol has adverse effects as well including fat accumulation around the midriff (the midsection of our torso, from below the chest to above the waist) and muscle wasting. Excess cortisol can also impair the functioning of the hormone insulin (insulin resistance) which can ultimately lead us down the road towards type 2 diabetes. Deep sleep’s ability to suppress cortisol secretion is no bad at all.
Short sleep or insomnia has been found to be associated with the following: the increased effort required to complete a task, increased errors in tasks that are time-pressured, reduced reaction time, reduced performance, increased tendency to persevere with ineffective solutions to problems, impairment of creative thinking, among other impairments.
Lack of sleep in general has immense effects on our performance and in the long run, has the potential to have an impact on mood. It alters neurological and hormonal responses to stress in a way that predisposes us to depression. It also has health implication where it can lead to increased levels of inflammation in the body (Inflammation is thought to be the underlying factor in chronic diseases including heart disease and type 2 diabetes).
Getting enough sleep has a positive impact on our health, mood, and performance at work. To feel energized and vitalized we need to have enough sleep being it non- REM or REM. It is believed that an hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after. There is some basis for dictum in that natural time for the secretion of growth which is before midnight. Are you finding it difficult to sleep before midnight because of the thoughts running through your head? Try a ‘to-do list’. Have those thoughts on paper and this will give you the confidence that you can get things done without ruminating on them but rather having a good rejuvenated sleep.