The importance of sleep
The need for sleep and the relationship between sleep and our physiological and emotional health is well understood, both scientifically and clinically.To stay healthy an adult needs to sleep 7-8 hours every night while children need 9-10 hours. Missing sleep creates serious mental and physiological damage. These damages normally lead to certain behaviors that can affect our relationship with others.
Different parts of the brain play different roles when it comes to sleep. One of the most critical parts is a gland known as the pineal gland. The pineal gland makes sleep possible through producing a hormone called melatonin. Another important region of the brain is the hypothalamus which regulates sleep and wake cycles. Gaba is an inhibiting neurotransmitter that is also very important for a restful, anxiety-free night of sleep. As we sleep, thoughts that have been suppressed during the day resurface in our dreams. Dreams can be characterized by rapid transitions of daytime reality to night time emotional behavior. While we sleep there is an increase of electrical activity in the brain. Too much activity due to chronic stress increases the activity in the limbic section of the brain, causing changes in the circuitry of the brain which depletes inhibitor neurotransmitters, including Gaba. Any deficiencies of these chemicals interfere with a vital deep sleep stage known as delta sleep.
A key part to having a peaceful and restful night is to resolve issues before bedtime. As we sleep the subconscious is extremely active and unresolved events or suppressed thoughts from the day rise to the surface during a sleep cycle. Taking unresolved episodes of stress and anxiety to bed arouse the amygdala because of the release of excitatory chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol. A good way to gauge whether or not stress is constantly present in your life is by reviewing some of chronic stress’s manifestations. Common manifestations include hyperactivity, perfectionism, continually worrying, apprehension, and not being able to say no. Chronic stress causes the body to produce elevated levels of cortisol, which leads to health issues. While there are drugs that exist to help alleviate or suppress sleep problems, the use of any drug, over a period of time, will always make things worse.
Another important factor to understand is what happens in our sleep in relation to learning and filing information from the day. All of this happens at night. During the day everything we’ve learned is temporarily stored in the hippocampus. When we sleep this information is then transferred to the frontal part of the brain where it is permanently filed as a memory. Any lack of sleep negatively affects this process, leading to an inability to recall details. Additionally, the brain also does a great deal of work while we sleep, including calculations, repairs, healing of muscle tissue and regeneration. Neurotransmitters, which play a pivotal role in emotions, feelings and our mental health, are also made and adjusted as we sleep. All of this work takes 7-8 hours to complete.
Unlike the rest of the body, the brain is not connected to the lymphatic system for detoxification. Brain detox takes place while we sleep and requires a restful deep sleep. As we sleep the rest of our body is undergoing repairs and detoxification. Disruption of sleep can be problematic, especially for individuals who have chronic illnesses. If there is already any kind of illness present, 8 hours of sleep is vital. Choosing to deal with only the technical or superficial aspects of an illness – including only looking at items that can be measured and treated – without considering other factors such as sleep, leads to an incomplete treatment. An incomplete treatment will never provide the body the support it needs to heal. This includes missing hours of sleep. As was mentioned earlier, there are a number of drugs available to suppress the symptoms of those suffering from lack of sleep. This includes insomnia, which is typically treated these days with psychiatric drugs that provide temporary relief, while at the same time destroying various brain circuitries, creating more emotional and physical ailments.
Different areas of the brain are responsible for different functions. Some parts of the brain bring balance between areas of reasoning and sensitivity while others will balance intellect and reasoning. That said, we don’t have to be a scientist or doctor to understand that lack of sleep interferes with normal day activity. Fatigue, irritation, lack of appetite, an inability to concentrate, and short and long term memory retention are all affected when we lack sleep. Other physical manifestations can come in the form of digestive issues, hormonal problems, and metabolic changes. Even the immune system is impacted since immune system repair in the thymus and removal of dead cells occurs during sleep.
As stated earlier, the pineal glands help us sleep by creating certain hormones. This process starts as the sun goes down. During winter time it takes between 3 ½ to 4 ½ hours to trigger sleep frequency in the brain and 1 ½ – 2 hours in the summer time. Certain high amplitude frequencies that start at the hypothalamus and cortex area of the brain come from stages 1 to as high as stage 4 and affects activity, causing changes to the limbic area.
As we lay our heads on our pillows, if the pineal gland is working properly, these waves start slowing down this region as the waves increase in amplitude. By reaching the stage 4 wave frequency called delta, information saved in our neurons from the limbic section of the brain start shutting down. As this happens in these higher frequencies, deep sleep occurs, allowing the brain to start transferring information from the hippocampus (the part of the brain where short term memory is saved during the day) to certain regions in the frontal part of the brain. This information is then stored as long term memory. Normally this transfer of information takes about 3 hours and only happens during the delta sleep frequencies.
This brain activity can be read as wave cycles per second that these frequencies occur. These can be measured from 5-10 cycles per second, which is much higher than other frequencies like deep thinking or meditation which put the brain at frequencies from 1-2 cycles per second. Sleep disturbance affects this delta frequency and process. High levels of cortisol in the body due to chronic stress also block this frequency.
Another finding is that if the amounts of neurotransmitters – which among other things are also responsible for the development and cultivation of intellect – are too high in our brain, our deep sleep frequencies are also affected. During delta sleep toxins are removed from the brain, and important hormones are released that the body needs to function, such as growth hormone, thyroid hormone, etc. It is important to understand that chronic stress disturbs and makes some neurons sick causing elevated levels of toxins in the brain. The thought that we can consistently sleep 4-6 hours per night and maintain a high level of productivity at work or in the home is a myth that eventually catches up with us in the form irritability, lack of reasoning/coordination of one’s thoughts, physical fatigue and eventual chronic illness.