Most people consider sleep to be a time when the body and the mind shut down. However, this is not quite accurate. According to The Sleep Foundation (1), “sleep is an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs.” There are, of course, still many mysteries surrounding exactly how this happens, but scientists are just beginning to understand some of sleep’s acute functions.
By Sogol Mousavi (BSc, MIPH)
Most people consider sleep to be a time when the body and the mind shut down. However, this is not quite accurate. According to The Sleep Foundation (1), sleep is an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs. There are, of course, still many mysteries surrounding exactly how this happens, but scientists are just beginning to understand some of sleep’s acute functions.
One of the primary purposes of sleep is to aid in the organisation and storage of memories, particularly working memory, which allows people to easily store information in an accessible way. People who have been deprived of sleep struggle with focusing their attention and regulating their emotions (2). As the day goes on, the brain come across a significant amount of information. However, instead of being recorded and logged immediately, these first need to be managed and put into storage.
The majority of these steps happen while we sleep during a process referred to as consolidation (1). Previous research has established that after people sleep, their information retention improves and they are better able to perform tasks related to memory. In addition, sleep is required for our bodies to restore and rejuvenate, to grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones (1). This also applies to short naps consisting of 10-20 minutes. In fact, researchers have found that naps have been connected to an improved memory, enhanced brain performance, and boosted immune systems (3).
This becomes evident when researchers begin to study what too little sleep does to the body. The results include things such as stomach troubles, difficulty learning, being more susceptible to catching colds, irritability/mood swings, headaches/migraines and weight gain among other things (4).
An alternative to the Western Medicine version of sleep science is the Traditional Chinese Medicine explanation of the body clock, which sees the body clock divided into 12 two-hour intervals of the Qi (vital force) moving through the organ system or the meridian (5). The meridians are linked to thoughts and emotions, colour, sound, seasons and other spiritual aspects as well. When the energy of a meridian is not flowing well due to a block (like stress or toxicity), you’ll find that you’ll experience a sign or symptom from the meridian involved (just like my nightmare/abrupt waking)(5).
Similarly, if you find that you are repeatedly waking up at the same time each night, or hitting a wall at 3:00 PM, you can investigate the meridian at work to find out what factors may be at play. For example, the liver is heavily connected to anger, so if you’re constantly waking up around 3:00 AM, it might be due to the fact that you need to work through some negative feelings that you’re subconsciously harbouring (5).
1. Why Do We Need Sleep? [Internet]. Excessive Sleepiness. [cited 2018Feb9]. Available from: https://sleepfoundation.org/excessivesleepiness/content/why-do-we-need-sleep
2. Pappas S. Why Do We Sleep? [Internet]. LiveScience. Purch; 2017 [cited 2018Feb9]. Available from: https://www.livescience.com/32469-why-do-we-sleep.html
3. Evans K. 15 'Facts' About Sleep That Are Completely Wrong [Internet]. IFLScience. IFLScience; 2018 [cited 2018Feb11]. Available from: http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/fifteen-facts-about-sleep-that-are-completely-wrong/
4. Lee EBS. What not getting enough sleep does to your brain and body [Internet]. Business Insider Australia. 2015 [cited 2018Feb11]. Available from: https://www.businessinsider.com.au/health-effects-of-not-sleeping-enough-2015-12?r=US&IR=T
5. Olivia O. TCM Body Clock: Why Do We Wake Up or Feel Ill at a Certain Time of Day? [Internet]. Organic Olivia. 2017 [cited 2018Feb11]. Available from: https://www.organicolivia.com/2014/10/tcm-body-clock-why-do-we-wake-up-or-feel-ill-at-a-certain-time...
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