In Sleep We Repair and Refresh: Why We Need Natural Sleep

People have witnessed extreme irritability, anxiety, depression, deterioration of mental acuteness(sharpness), as well as a general decline in their physical well-being, with long term sleep deprivation.

The biological clock in sleep is well regulated by the body, but sometimes things go awry, for some reasons, not only limited to health but also to factors such as the nature of our jobs.

The human catabolism, which is the wear and tear of tissue, and the digestion and breakdown of assimilated food to supply energy, takes place mainly during the day, when the body cells are more active as we eat, work through thinking and moving our body parts, walk, play and as our body organs toil against all adversity.

Catabolic activity peaks in the late afternoon; this is when we have maximum food breakdown and enzymatic processing of cellular debris to be later cleared by phagocytes. Immune activity sets in, as physical and mental activities wane, and incrementally progresses into the night, when the other body cells are practically resting.

In the night, the immune system, which will have been deprived of energy resources, from keen competition from other metabolically active cells like the brain and muscles cells, during the day, become more active, as they clear away debris, left behind from damaged cells, paving the way for more efficient repair to take place in the tissues. Damaged tissue is being repaired, through anabolism, which is the building up activity. After, our organs go to rest.
Without sleep which provides adequate rest, the clearing of debris and repair of tissue become inadequate. The result is: general health suffers. Cancers and infections thrive.

Natural sleep is regulated by our biological clock. As we move into the day, our wakefulness and catabolism are ramped up following a turn-on of the genetic switch, which is sensitive to light and activity that deplete the sleep hormone called melatonin, a potent anti-oxidant and a strong immune stimulant. Melatonin levels build up from the evening and remain high in the night, in response to darkness and inactivity and induce and sustain sleep.

In the morning, the levels of this hormone, melatonin, run low, in response to cortisol, an activity and stress hormone and to light. This switches off the sleep gene and switches on the wakefulness gene. Activity is initiated by the rapid eye movement sleep; the dreaming phase of sleep that precedes the morning wakening, characterized by increased oxygen uptake but loss of muscle tone.

The more we exercise or work-out in the late afternoon and produce cortisol, the more we shall produce the opposing melatonin in response to darkness, later in the night and this helps us fall asleep readily. The Sleep gene activity is, therefore, increased(up-regulated), in response to a high day's activity.

Sleep has a 90 minutes cycle of four stages or thereabout, beginning with light sleep through deepest sleep.
Finally, we reach the point when we dream, called the rapid eye movement sleep, due to brain's activity that is characteristic of eye movements. The sleep's brain pattern here is similar to the pattern in the state of wakefulness. The brain is very active, busy synthesizing the day's activities and putting them into logical clusters or files in a store-- from working memory to long term memory-- for subsequent recollection or retrieval. The muscle tone is lost.
People who do not have enough sleep are, usually, anxious, depressed, easily get irritated, are forgetful, do not learn well and are often hypertensive.

This information transfer part of sleep is the stage that makes natural sleep so refreshing, as it decongests our short term memory store, creates more room and prepares us for the next day's activities, on a clean plate, as it were. Learning is most productive and, therefore, best done at the early hours of the day.

Sleeping pills do not produce this part of information documentation sleep, since they suppress the brain's ability to transfer information, as it were, from the front to the back of the mind. They can even lead to amnesia and loss of information, the reason why these pills may be good for worries and nightmares(night terrors) safe for dependence but bad for learning. They provide rest but do not refresh the mind. They produce, more or less, induced or artificial coma, only slightly short of general anesthesia you receive on the doctor's operation bed.(Alcohol can be conveniently added to this list).

Good sleep should last for between six to eight hours. Light and noise should be minimal.We need sleep not only to repair damaged tissue but also for good memory and to refresh the brain for optimal mental and physical activities the following day.

Dr Oliver Verbe Birnso,MD

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