36% of our life is spent asleep. This means if we live to the ripe old age of 90, we’ll have spent 32 years asleep. How crazy is that?
Ok, before you throw your bed out of the window, consider reading on because, based on what we know about sleep so far, I would argue that those 32 years are some of the most productive years of our lives.
Sleep is a fascinating, extensive, never-ending topic – well, I think so anyway. My friends at Sleeboo can (and often do) talk about sleep for hours, and we’d like you to join in on our conversation. From today on, I’ll be sharing our knowledge, tips, and insights on sleep – beyond the usual narrative. Stick around, this is just the beginning.
Sleep Like A Baby
From the day we are born we each have an innate ability to sleep: we never actually learn to sleep, we just do. We follow a rhythm that’s so in-sync with nature that our bodies naturally respond to the rising and setting of the sun (which is why we feel sleepy at night). Sleep is part of the cycle of life; in order to thrive, we must sleep. Like oxygen, food, water and banana bread, we literally cannot live without it.
Every complex organism sleeps, from hippos to humans, even plants “sleep” at night. We humans already know that sleep is vital to our health, that feeling the morning after a restless night (pre-coffee) is enough to convince us, but until recently, sleep was a biological mystery.
“Addressing the question of why we sleep from an evolutionary perspective only compounds the mystery”, says Matthew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology. Going back to our roots, it didn’t really make sense for our ancestors to lose consciousness every single night. For one thing, when we’re asleep we’re vulnerable, we can’t protect ourselves and our offspring from predators (particularly important when you live in a cave). The fact that sleep has evolved with life itself goes to show that whatever happens to us when we sleep must outweigh any risk associated with being asleep.
But Why Do We Sleep?
Well, despite decades of scientific study, there’s still no true consensus.
That said, there are lots of things we do know. Researchers suggest that sleep helps us to regulate body temperature, manage our weight, feed our microbiome, keep our cardiovascular system healthy, and our brains functioning properly. While some have gone so far as to say that a lack of sleep can affect life expectancy. Plus, we all know that a good night’s sleep helps us maintain our social lives (just ask the people around us after we’ve had a sleepless night!).
I’m sure you get the idea of what lack of sleep does to you (and the people around you) but let’s dig deeper.
Another leading idea, from Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience (fancy), relates to brain processing and memory consolidation. If we are sleep deprived, our memory recall and ability to learn a task is weakened. Whereas our ability to come up with new solutions to complex problems is strengthened after a night of sleep. When we are sleeping, our brain works really hard to link and strengthen important neural connections, while those less important fade away.
Essentially, we’re more creative, better able to concentrate, and make sound, rational decisions when we’ve slept. No kidding.
So you see that reducing the answer to the question “Why do we sleep?” to a single purpose is impossible. It has so many essential functions that support our brains and bodies. These theories only scratch the surface: sleep also does wonders for our immune system — something we all need to keep in check at the moment!
Sleep, Stress, And Immunity
Speaking of which, stress and sleep have a very close relationship with the immune system. I don’t need to tell you that stress affects our ability to fall asleep, to stay asleep, and the quality of our sleep (oh the joys). Yet, and this is delightfully ironic, we need to sleep so that our bodies can manage stress. If we’re sleep-deprived we’re more likely to experience stress and vice versa, no surprises there. To make matters worse, sustained stress also leads to weakened immunity and lack of sleep increases our risk of infection. Sorry, I don’t mean to add fuel to the fire here. But we do need to do something about this.
How To Sleep Better… Naturally
It’s not my intention to stress you out. In fact, I’m here to tell you that there are some simple ways in which you can make significant improvements to your sleep. My next post will dig deeper into these, but for now, if I could offer only one piece of advice? Get as much fresh air during the day as is humanly possible. Honestly, as a long-standing member of the “No Sleep Club”, this changed my life. If you can’t get out (locked down or otherwise), open all the windows, or work in the garden or on the balcony. If it’s cold, layer up. Fresh air works wonders for your sleep.
“Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day”, Matthew Walker. Listen to the man!
Written by Chelsea Gurr
Please note that the material above is provided for general information only and should not be relied upon or used as medical advice.