If your childhood was anything like mine, chances are that one or both parents had to coax you into hitting the sack with a bedtime story or a lullaby. As we continue to grow, we perceive the concept of a “bedtime” as a punitive curfew devised for little children. Why, pray tell, would any adult subject oneself to a designated bedtime?
We seldom realize but in the grand scheme of time, we sleep through approximately 1/3 of our lives. While some perceive sleep as a superfluous and passive activity, it's integral in enabling us to remain productive, both mentally and physically.
Sleep is for the weak! Or so we think...
Throughout my high school and college, I used to pride myself on the ability to sustain successive all-nighters. I would wear the lethargy of a successful all-nighter with pride, little realizing that my sleep schedule always swung between extremes: too much or too little. Sleep, much like appetite, cannot be overcompensated. How absurd would it be if we ate twice the amount at dinner merely because we skipped lunch the day before? Why then, do we fail to apply the same logic to sleep? How many of us are guilty of overcompensating by “sleeping in” weekend after weekend because the body is too jaded from the sleep deprivation subjected to it during the work week?
What happens during a cycle of sleep deprivation is perhaps worse than our tendency to make up for the hours we missed all at once. Not only do we increase the body’s need for stimulants (read: caffeine and sugar) to remain alert to the mentally intensive parts of our day but also subject our physical health to deterioration. According to a study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, sleep affects the cardiovascular, endocrine and thermoregulatory systems.
Remember all those times you studied for a final only to acknowledge the futility of cramming a vast quantity of information at the crack of dawn? The statement “sleep on it” may actually have more veracity than you initially realized since sleep plays a crucial role in learning and memory formation.
Science Speak: According to the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis devised by Tononi, synaptic plasticity is dependent on the quantity and quality of sleep. To strengthen learning connections, the brain increases its cellular requirement for energy and it’s during those hours that you sleep that the brain has the ability to renormalize net synaptic strength and restore cellular homeostasis.
Earth speak: Think of it in this way: the manner in which you replenish your body with Gatorade after running a marathon is similar to the manner in which your brain recalibrates during the various stages of sleep. The hours you sleep is essentially Gatorade for the brain. Now suppose if you only had one sip of an expired Gatorade and expected your body to be replenished with electrolytes, that certainly wouldn’t be adequate or healthy, would it? Likewise, the number of hours you sleep and the quality of sleep you get is essential in learning and consolidation.
Some studies suggest that the effects of sleep deprivation whilst operating a motor vehicle are equivalent to that of driving under the influence due to impaired cognitive functioning. Delayed response time and a lack of alertness are not that dissimilar in a person who is sleep deprived for extended periods of time than in a person who is intoxicated behind the wheel. The next time you drive when fatigued, do yourself a favor and hail a cab or take public transportation.
To all my fitness fanatics, regardless of your individual goals be it weight loss or muscle buildup, sleep affects the body’s ability to utilize insulin and repair muscles. Sleep deprivation inhibits the effective use of insulin, thereby making the body more insulin resistant, which in turn prevents the removal of fatty acids and lipids from the bloodstream. The excess insulin gets stored within the wrong places, and no I’m not taking about your love handles, it’s often stored in a more dangerous place like the tissues in your liver.
While it may be tempting to compromise the number of hours you sleep in exchange for your favorite Netflix series, remember that you only get one body to call home, one that will hopefully last you a lifetime.
We often worry about charging our cell phones at night yet we pay little attention to charging our bodies overnight! Return to your childhood ways and schedule your bedtime!