Sleep Is a Mysterious Need: Tips for a Restful Night

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Sleep has a mysterious quality. It gives us the opportunity to rest our bodies and escape into dreamland.  When Nobel Prize award recipient, Professor Michael Barash, surprised us at a birthday celebration for his mentor, several of us began taking an even closer look at sleep and circadian rhythms. As defined by Scientific American in reporting on the three United States scientists who shared the prize:

Circadian rhythm explains why, when there is a temporary mismatch between our external environment and our internal biological clocks—like when we travel across several time zones—humans experience “jet lag.” It also can help explain why humans sleep better in darkness. Like most other organisms, we have an internal clock that adapts to day and night—a cycle called circadian, from the Latin words circa meaning ‘around’ and dies meaning ‘day.’ Scientific American.

New book: The Mystery of Sleep

Since then interest in sleep seemed to be making the news more often. In May, the Yale University Press blog highlighted an excerpt from a new book by a professor in the Yale School of Medicine,  Meir Kryger, M.D., The Mystery of Sleep. He is also the editor of the textbook, Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine.

Approximately 60 million people in the United States alone require medication for a restful sleep. Researchers tell us that sleep is so important that even losing an hour or two a night can interfere with a person’s judgment and attitude. 

Additionally, Dr. Kryger noted the following in this book excerpt:

“U.S. businesses lose an estimated $18 billion in productivity and injuries because of daytime sleepiness, while sleepy drivers cause an estimated 20 percent of car accidents, as high as 1.2 million crashes, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries and billions of dollars in property damage. Research has also shown important links between the amount of sleep an individual gets and risk of health problems . . . .”

But here is the irony,  despite the number of studies, there is no conclusive answer as to why we need sleep. According to Dr. Kryger:

“Some of the reasons suggested for why humans sleep include removal from the brain of waste material produced by brain cells, conservation of energy, the restoration of important bodily functions, and the repair of damaged tissues. Certain hormones, for example, are secreted mainly during sleep.”

However, scientists do seem to know for certain that people who cheat themselves of sleep have a difficult time getting through the day. Sleep is so important that even losing an hour or two a night can be detrimental to one’s daily functioning and decision-making.

Sleep solutions –a bit of hope

Carl W. Bazil, M.D., Ph.D., holds dual degrees in medicine and pharmacology.  A professor of clinical neurology at Columbia University he is Director of the Sleep Disorders Center.  He says that with interrupted sleep, what can eventually happen is “an involuntary pattern of poor relaxation and sleep interference with associated depression and poor functioning levels.” He pointed out that the sleepless cycle can be broken by medication, but believes that “behavioral techniques such as meditation are also very helpful.”

News from Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory offers hope for people who long for a refreshing sleep through the simple act of creating a to-do list. The article, “The effects of bedtime writing on difficulty falling asleep: A polysomnographic study comparing to-do lists and completed activity lists” was reported in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, (January 2018). As discussed in a January post —  For Sleep that Eludes Millions, This To-Do List Offers Hope — It was reported that:

“Bedtime worry, including worrying about incomplete future tasks, is a significant contributor to difficulty falling asleep. Previous research showed that writing about one’s worries can help individuals fall asleep. We investigated whether the temporal focus of bedtime writing—writing a to-do list versus journaling about completed activities—affected sleep onset latency.”

Who needs sleep and Sleep tips

To put the sleep dilemma in perspective consider who it is that needs sleep. Michael Scullin and Donald Bliwise, reporting in Perspectives on Psychological Science in January 2015 conducted an analysis and determined from previously published research that sleep is most important to young people. As people age they may need less sleep.

However, for people in relationships, a small study at UC Berkeley, presented at the Society for Personality, had an interesting finding.  A small study presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in New Orleans in January 2013, found that tired couples forget to be grateful.  

Those who are able to sleep fitfully oftentimes relish getting into bed at night. Whether it is to hug a pillow or hug one’s spouse or lover — these people look forward to their bedtime ritual. For those who suffer from sleepless nights, here are 21 tips that might be helpful. 21 Sleep Tips to Refresh Your Body, Brain, and Gratitude.

Copyright 2018 Rita Watson

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