WE ARE PROGRAMMED FOR DAY AND NIGHT CYCLES
We live in a planet that goes around the Sun in about 24 hours, creating day and night cycles. Have you thought of how different these cycles are? It goes far beyond the color of the sky. In each of these cycles, our brain receives completely different stimuli. Besides the obvious changes in lighting, we have changes in temperature, the type of bacteria and viruses that try to invade our bodies, the social interactions we have with other people, and even in the act of eating or not. All these things cause radical changes in our bodies, a series of physiological and metabolic processes that go unnoticed, always following these natural day and night cycles.
Our body, as nature’s creation, was built to follow the nature and its cycles. We are the result of chemical interactions that happen in our body. And we need to learn how to pay attention to them.
WE DO SLEEP A LOT
In our life, we perform different activities: we work 16% of the time, we spend 19% of our life with different activities, 11% of the time eating and drinking, 11% watching TV… and, surprisingly, we spend 36% of the time sleeping. Yes, at the end of our days, the task that will have taken most of our hours is curiously the one that has caused fewer concerns: our sleep.
However, this little attention dedicated to sleep is recent. If we look at old writings, Shakespeare, for example, wrote so much about the pleasures and mysteries of sleep.
Sleeping used to be an important activity, respected by writers, poets and other people who put out candle lights before going to bed. These people lived the day and night cycles in a more organic, natural way.
Four hundred years later, in late 19th century, sleeping is seen differently. Thomas Edison (who invented the light bulb) said: “Sleep is a criminal waste of time, inherited from our cave days.” He promoted the use of cheap electricity at night and, consequently, it changed the importance of sleep for the society. The legacy we have now is different: for us, citizens of the 21st century, sleep has been seen as a waste of time, meaning missed deadlines, fewer hours spent with our beloved ones or productivity reports. “Time is money,” according to a modern saying, that is, “people who sleep are not working and, for this reason, sleeping is useless.”
Many neuroscience studies, however, have drawn attention to a very important fact: yes, sleep is essential. Hours of sleep are more useful and productive than we can imagine. When we sleep, our brain is awake and uses these hours to work hard.
FROM WASTED TIME TO EXTRA HOURS
During the day, our biology is dedicated to mechanical, practical work. At night, our body works extra hours; during this period, the brain performs a number of tasks we forget or do not know how to do:
Develops and writes our memories, directly influencing our creativity and innovation.
Performs emotional processing (like a disk defragmenter of our emotions). That’s why tired people tend to forget positive things and remember negatives facts, and vice versa.
Manages our energy reserves, reconstructs our metabolic pathways, repairs and builds tissues and eliminates residual products from the brain, for instance beta-amyloid proteins, which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
WHAT ARE WE DOING WITH OUR BIOLOGICAL CLOCK?
Cast the first pillow if you haven’t experienced this situation: you try to sleep but your brain isn’t ready for that. After all, what defines to our brain the right time to go to bed? Everyone has his or her own biological clock, which is something like an internal alarm, comprising millions of specialized cells that tell us the right time to sleep or wake up. But our society has increasingly fought with it, creating three great villains:
The social clock: we work in night shifts, work extra hours, have fun all night long or use an alarm to wake up every morning, without noticing that, this way, we are changing our internal clock, that is, our biology.
The sleep pressure: our biological clock works following a compensation system. For our body, the more hours we spend awake during the day, more time we need to sleep at night. It’s a balanced system what work out naturally. Unfortunately, however, we do not always respect this law of compensation and spend too much time awake or sleeping. This kind of decompensation messes up with the hours we spend awake and our sleep hours too. That’s why we feel sleepy very often, but we can’t actually fall asleep.
The cycle of light: our eyes developed to detect the ambient light and to associate light with the day (we feel alert) and darkness with the night (we feel sleepy). Our body follows the external day and night, creating “internal day and night” environments and regulating our metabolism automatically based on them. Our modern society confuses our body with so much information on illuminated screens at all times, at any time.
All these factors are responsible for the sleep disorders that affect our modern society. It is a global evil, it is endemic. These disorders are present in almost all areas of our society: from anxious senior executives to genetically predisposed people, patients with serious diseases, and even teenagers and elderly people dealing with changes in their bodies. And if it is already complicated and unpleasant to spend the night awake, it is important to know the other impact on our life resulting from poor quality sleep. See the pictures on the next page.
Our society feels sleepy. And we have solved this “problem” we have caused by taking sleeping pills and alcohol, or stimulants such as nicotine and coffee to wake up. However, these external chemical solutions become a chemical “crutch” for our brain, reducing its ability to fall asleep by itself.
The secret to a good night’s sleep is not a mystery, the secret is to pay attention. Understand if your body needs more or less sleep for a pleasant, lucid day with well-organized emotions. Look at your face in the mirror, see if you look tired. The important thing is to learn about yourself, learn about your body, and sleep well with it. Your brain will thank you. It’s not bullshit, that’s science.
sudden sleep, which can cause serious accidents;
failure to properly process information
irritability and loss of empathy;
reduced cognition and creativity;
metabolic alterations (increased appetite and consequent weight gain).
problems in the immunesystem;
higher risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases;
risk of diabetes type 2;
aggravated conditions of dementia and mental diseases; in fact, lack of sleep is directly related to these conditions, it’s the cause and consequence of them, it’s a virtuous cycle.