Why We Sleep Will Change Your Life

Though most of us are aware that sleep is important, both to feel good on a daily basis and for long term health, the majority of people don’t know much further depth regarding the topic.  I certainly didn’t.

However, in just the first chapters of this book, my mind has been blown.  The information I’ve learned has already turned on its head, how I thought of sleep prior.  Granted, I have made it a general priority to try and get enough sleep and knew it was important.  Now though, that has ratcheted up several notches.

There is not one major organ in the body, or process in the brain, that isn’t optimally enhanced by sleep (or, detrimentally impaired when we don’t get enough).

Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset and heal our brain and body health every day, even more so than diet and exercise.  Shocked?


Here are some of the key ways in which lack of sleep harms:

-Routinely sleeping less than seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer.

-It’s a major factor in whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s disease.

-Inadequate sleep-even just moderate reductions for one week- disrupts blood sugar levels so significantly that it puts your body in pre-diabetic levels.

-Not getting enough sleep increases the likelihood of coronary arteries becoming blocked and brittle, setting you on a path toward cardiovascular disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure.

-Sleep disruption further contributes to all major psychiatric conditions, including mental illness, depression, anxiety, and suicidality.

-Too little sleep swells concentrations of a hormone which makes you feel hungry, while simultaneously suppressing a companion hormone which otherwise signals food satisfaction.

-If attempting to diet and not getting enough sleep, it is futile since most of the weight lost will be lean body mass and not fat.

-The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life span.

-The World Health Organization (WHO) has now declared a sleep loss epidemic throughout industrialized nations.

-One person dies in a traffic accident caused by drowsiness every single hour in the US.  Further, vehicular accidents caused by fatigue exceed those caused by alcohol and drugs combined.


Now, some of the benefits sleep provides:

-Enriches our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions and choices.

-Dreaming provides a unique smorgasbord of benefits, including a neurochemical bath which mollifies painful memories and a virtual reality space in which the brain melds past and present knowledge, as well as, inspires creativity.

-Sleep restocks our immune system, helping fight malignancy, preventing infection, and warding off all manner of sickness.

-It restores the body’s metabolic state by fine-tuning the balance of insulin and circulating glucose.  It further regulates our appetite, which heavily assists in controlling body weight.

-Lowers blood pressure and keeps our hearts in good condition.

Here is a majorly significant takeaway: the physical and mental impairments caused by ONE night of bad sleep dwarf those caused by an equivalent absence of food or exercise.

We used to ponder on what sleep was good for.  Now, we must wonder whether there are any biological functions that do not benefit by a good night’s sleep.  So far, the answer is no.


What is Sleep?  As well as, Sleep Debt?

Inside the human body, there are two systems which activate and regulate sleep patterns.

One is our Circadian Rhythm.  This is a predictable, stable, and repeating pattern of prolonged wakefulness (about fifteen hours), paired with consolidated bouts of about nine hours of sleep.  Our bodies know and run on this predictable pattern, regardless of sunlight or darkness.

What is interesting about this is that, while we all have this automatic bodily rhythm, people’s respective peak and trough points can be different from one to another.  Morning types prefer to wake around dawn, are happy to do so, and function optimally at this time of day.  Evening types naturally prefer going to bed late and subsequently wake up late the following morning.

This is strongly determined by genetics.  Yet, society treats evening types rather unfairly,  with little recognition or acknowledgement, other than negative.  The ingrained, un-level playing field of our societal work schedule is significantly tipped toward favoring morning types, resulting in essentially disregarding night types entirely.

Thus, night types are more chronically sleep deprived, as well as experience greater ill health caused by lack of sleep as opposed to morning types.  This can include higher rates of depression, anxiety, diabetes, cancer, heart attack, and stroke.

A societal change is needed, as this is a not insignificant health concern.  Offering accommodations not dissimilar to those we make for other physically determined differences (such as those with sight impairment or learning disabilities) would be the necessary step.  We need more flexible work schedules that better allow for all types, so as to result in their optimal health, as well as greatest productivity.

The second sleep regulator is a chemical in the body called Adenosine.  This chemical begins building in your brain from the moment you wake up, accumulating throughout the day.  It’s otherwise known as “sleep pressure.”  It’s essentially a barometer that continuously registers the amount of time which has passed since waking that morning.

The more adenosine which accumulates, the greater your desire (and ultimately, need) for sleep becomes.  This happens generally after twelve to sixteen hours of being awake (assuming you are not already sleep deprived).

On going to sleep each night, this is when our body rids itself of all the built up adenosine from that day.  The chemical then depleting back to zero.  However, this can only happen during sleep.

Here is how it becomes a major problem when one is not getting enough sleep (and, with regard to the concept of “sleep debt”).  When one doesn’t get the necessary eight hours each night of sleep, there isn’t enough time to deplete the body of all the adenosine which built up throughout the day.

Thus, when one gets say, six hours of sleep, they wake and have leftover adenosine still in their system.  And then, do not feel fully rested because there is still residual sleep pressure left over.  The chemical (adenosine) which makes one tired.

Then, the following day, you are not starting anew but instead, adding onto adenosine which is previously left over from the day prior.  Thus, you feel additionally tired throughout that day and, come nightfall, even more exhausted.  And, the worst part, you require even more sleep that evening than you normally would (so the requisite 8 hours, and then some), in order to deplete not just your usual level of adenosine, but the additional left over from the previous day as well.

If then, you still do not get enough sleep to rid your body of adenosine (including the additional which carried over), that adds on to the next day.

And so you see, sleep debt becomes something that actually grows and accumulates over time, eventually becoming almost impossible to eradicate because too much has built up.  If one is perpetually not getting enough sleep, you live in a body that is ever flooded with adenosine, and will feel tired all the time.

This is why it’s crucial to get enough sleep every night.

Last fascinating fact for now: caffeine.

Caffeine blocks and inactivates our adenosine receptors, so that essentially, one does not feel tired even when one is actually quite tired.  It’s akin to taking Tylenol for a headache.  Technically the headache is still there.  The Tylenol is just masking it.  Same with caffeine and tiredness.  Your body is still accumulating adenosine throughout the day.  You just aren’t feeling it, since caffeine blocks the receptors.

Caffeine also majorly disrupts sleep cycles, making it difficult to both fall and stay asleep.  It takes five to seven hours for just HALF of the total amount of caffeine inside of you, to be removed from your body.

Thus, it takes a total of ten to fourteen hours after drinking a single cup of coffee for that caffeine to be cleaned from your system.  This is why people who drink caffeine in the afternoons and evenings may (and likely will) have difficulty falling asleep that night, as well as experience low quality sleep throughout the night.  Caffeine disruption.


Questions to assess if you are getting enough sleep:

-After waking up in the morning, could you fall back asleep at 10am or 11am?

-Can you function optimally without caffeine before noon?

-If you do not set an alarm clock, would you sleep past that time?  If so, you need more sleep than you are giving yourself.

-Do you find yourself, when reading, rereading (and perhaps, rereading again) the same sentence?  This is often a sign of a fatigued, under slept brain.


Other quick note and aside: sleeping pills are also quite bad for you.  Though I haven’t gotten into the meat of that section just yet.  Stay tuned.


If interested in health, and living a life of optimal joy, productivity, as well as physical and mental health, I highly recommend this book.  It’s wildly fascinating, and very well written.  It isn’t dry at all.  His prose is personable and engaging.

Pick this one up for a life, and health changing read.

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