Why is lying down and closing our eyes so important? What is it that makes sleep such an integral part of our lives? And why, if it is such a valuable aspect of how we live, is it so elusive!?
These three questions have been haunting me over the past few weeks, as I saw my sleeping habits coming undone. Ironic, isn’t it? The guy that writes the sleep blog struggles to sleep. Well, I’ve been doing some research to help solve my own sleeping problems, so hopefully, it will help you too!
First thing’s first! What is sleep?
It is not just something you do to pass the time, that’s for sure! With so little time to work, game, binge watch series and party, who would want to waste time on sleeping, right? Unfortunately, there is no way of getting around it. Sleep matters. We all need it, and there’s nothing we can do about it. At the end of the day, we need to rest.
But what is this sleep? What does it entail? Is it really as easy as lying down, closing your eyes and drifting off to dreamland? Why is it so important for your health? read on to find out:
Sleep according to the dictionary:
- a condition of body and mind which typically recurs for several hours every night, in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended.“I was on the verge of sleep”
- a gummy secretion found in the corners of the eyes after sleep.“she sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes”
Obviously, we are dealing with point number two (above) in this blog post. Those little gummy secretions in the corner of the eye are just what everyone needs. Without those, our lives become meaningless and lose value. NAAAAWT!!
In reality, we are talking about the one where your eyes are closed and your body and mind are in a state of relaxation. But this is just the dictionary version of sleep. Are there any other definitions for it?
Some scientific facts about sleep:
- You sleep with your eyes closed.
- According to the National Sleep Foundation, humans are the only species on earth that intentionally delay sleep. (That gives us something to think about, hey?)
- When we sleep, our brains function primarily on slow wave sleep or SWS. In this state our bodies tend to be relaxed so that, aided by deep breathing, our cells can get re-energized. But there’s more! Sleep regulates our mood, our appetite and our capacity to learn! So in essence sleep is our natural battery charger. We should accept it and stop delaying sleep! When your body tells you to sleep, listen because it is important!
- Another phase of sleep is the rapid eye movement or REM sleep. During this phase of sleep, our bodies remain paralyzed and still, but our minds undergo a lot of stimulation. Breathing and heart rate can also be affected by REM sleep. Researchers are still not sure why humans undergo REM sleep or why our bodies need it, but they know that there can be severe consequences if we don’t get that much-desired REM sleep.
- As our bodies relax throughout the night, blood circulation improves. This means that blood can circulate through all of those sore spots to speed up the healing process.
Why is it important to sleep?
Well as you can see from these facts, sleep restores the balance of our bodies. Without enough rest, the body and mind become lethargic and uncomprehending. But if you sleep as much as you should on a regular basis, your mind will be sharper and your body will feel better. So instead of putting on another episode of whatever it is that you are watching, obey your tired body and go to bed.
What should we do when sleep won’t come?
This is also an important question to ask. If sleep is so important, what do we do without it? How do we react when our minds just won’t shut down after a long hard day at work? Do we just try to ignore that nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach and stay in bed, hoping the worry will soon fade away?
If this is how you handle the fact that you can’t fall asleep, stop it. When you can’t sleep, don’t try to force it. Rather get up and do something to take your mind off of things and get you in a calm and relaxed mood for bed. Here are some ideas that you can try out, should sleep keep on slipping away from you…
- Switch off the lights. I find it difficult to imagine a modern room without some form of light flashing in one corner or the other. When I think about my own bedroom, it is never completely dark. There is always a light flickering on my mobile phone, or on the digital alarm clock or on my wife’s phone… So when you go to bed tonight, use something to cover up your mobile phone and make sure the curtains are drawn tightly.
- I know I’ve mentioned this before a couple of times, but don’t look at a computer screen, TV or cell phone screen before bedtime. The blue light from those screens tells our bodies to stay awake when we actually want the exact opposite to happen!
- Try reading a paperback book before you go to bed. Dim the lights slightly and read something that doesn’t glare back at you.
- Train on a regular basis. Try to stick to a fixed routine and do not train hard just before you hit the hay. Regular cardio training helps our bodies to get rid of pent up energy. When that energy gets burned though, we need to create more. That is where eating and sleep comes in.
- Speaking of which, do not eat too much before bedtime either. If you feel hungry before bed, don’t go to MacDonald’s. Go to the kitchen and have a warm glass of milk or a single slice of toast. Recent studies have shown that snacking on carbs before bedtime can bring along sleep in a jiffy. Don’t go and eat half a loaf though, just one slice should suffice.
- Obviously, don’t drink coffee, Red Bull or any other caffeine-containing drink before you go to bed.
All of this writing about sleep and relaxing has made me so tired, I can barely keep my eyes open. And I’m just going to take my own advice and go to bed now.
And may the sleep be with you.