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What is sleep science?

For decades, researchers have been trying to solve the puzzle that is sleep. Questions around why we sleep, how sleep affects us, and what really happens when we sleep are now being better understood with more knowledge available about the science behind sleep.

Today, there is a whole field of research dedicated to sleep. This is known as sleep science. Here, sleep scientists try to understand how sleep interacts with different systems within the body. Read on to know more about the basics of sleep science.

For decades, researchers have been trying to solve the puzzle that is sleep. Questions around why we sleep, how sleep affects us, and what really happens when we sleep are now being better understood with more knowledge available about the science behind sleep.

Today, there is a whole field of research dedicated to sleep. This is known as sleep science. Here, sleep scientists try to understand how sleep interacts with different systems within the body. Read on to know more about the basics of sleep science.

Why is sleep important?

Before the 1950s, most people believed that sleep was a passive activity wherein the brain and body lay dormant. However, new research suggests that there are many important connections between sleep and health.

Sufficient sleep improves cognitive functioning, which means you will feel more alert, energised, and ready to interact with others. Good quality sleep improves your ability to make decisions, and it also helps your body ward off diseases. Most adults require between seven and nine hours of sleep for good physical and mental functioning (1).

On the other hand, not getting enough sleep has been linked to cardiovascular diseases, weakened immunity, high risk of obesity, diabetes, and even certain types of cancer (2). Symptoms of depression, seizures, high blood pressure, and migraines often worsen if you are not sleeping enough.

Lack of sleep can also lead to impaired thinking and memory, and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety (3). Sleep impacts mental health by causing changes in the ability of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, to function optimally. Serotonin serves as a mood-stabiliser in the body, and an imbalance in serotonin can lead to a host of health issues.

What is sleep science?

If you want to understand the science of sleep, you must first understand what happens in the body during sleep. There are four stages of sleep that occur throughout the night in repeated cycles, but they can be divided into two categories: Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.

Stage 1: Lasts for about 10 minutes per sleep cycle. Consists of an NREM sleep stage where

your body transitions from wakefulness to sleep.

Stage 2: Lasts about 20 minutes. This is an NREM phase, during which your body
temperature drops in preparation for deep sleep. During this time, your brain produces brain
waves called sleep spindles, a feature of memory consolidation (4).

Stage 3: Also known as delta sleep, the third NREM stage sees you progressing into your deepest sleep. Your muscles relax, your heartbeat slows down, and your body undergoes physical reparation. (5)

Stage 4: Begins 90 minutes after you fall asleep. This final stage is known as REM sleep. It is characterised by low volume and mixed frequency brain wave activity (6). You usually
dream in this stage and your body is physically immobilised, ensuring that you don’t act out your dreams.

How does the body regulate sleep?

A big part of sleep science is the method in which your body regulates your sleep cycle. There are two key bodily mechanisms that regulate sleep:

Sleep-wake homeostasis:

Just like your body naturally craves food and water, it also naturally craves sleep. This means that the longer you stay awake, the greater your body’s need to sleep. Your natural drive for sleep is lowest as you wake up in the morning, and highest towards the evening when the sun sets (5). This same drive causes you to sleep longer and more deeply after a period of insufficient sleep.

Circadian rhythms:

A big element of the science behind sleep is your body’s circadian rhythm, which consists of physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. This natural process responds primarily to light and dark, and affects most living organisms, including animals, plants, and microbes (6). Very simply, the circadian rhythm is your body’s natural internal clock of sleep and wakefulness. Your body takes cues from the external environment to figure out when it should release the sleep hormone, melatonin, and when it should reduce its production. These cues are sensitive to light – your body releases less melatonin in response to daylight, and more melatonin in response to darkness. In this manner, melatonin supports the timing of your circadian rhythms with sleep.

However, people who suffer from sleep abnormalities, like insomnia and narcolepsy, may face difficulty maintaining and regulating a healthy sleep schedule. There are several external factors that can hinder your body’s natural ability to fall asleep, including stress, hunger, alcohol, nicotine, and exposure to blue light at night.

In such cases, it is advisable to take external sources of melatonin, such as Setu’s Sleep: Restore Strips. Each strip contains 5MG of melatonin, which is the required nightly dosage for restful sleep. If you have trouble staying asleep, opt for Setu’s Sleep: Sustain capsules, which contain immediate-release (IR) melatonin to help you drift into sleep, and sustained-release (SR) melatonin to help you stay asleep.

Tips for good-quality sleep

The principles of sleep science encourage you to build healthy habits around your sleep cycle. This means that in addition to incorporating melatonin into your routine, you also need to make certain positive lifestyle choices to enhance your sleep. You can help yourself sleep better by:

Exercise regularly:

Even a brisk walk or yoga for 30 minutes can help you achieve better sleep. Not only does regular exercise make you feel more energetic and refreshed during the day, it also reduces your sleep onset duration, which is the time it takes you to fall asleep (7).

Create a relaxing bedtime routine:

It’s important that you unwind and destress before bedtime, so that your body is ready for sleep. Taking a warm bubble bath, meditating, spending time with loved ones, or even reading a book, can soothe your mind and help your body prepare for sleep.

Optimise your sleep setup:

The environment in your bedroom significantly impacts the way you sleep. Ensure that you have a cool, dark, and quiet room for optimal sleep.

FAQs

1) Are there any issues with consistent oversleeping?

Oversleeping can result in you feeling lazy, lethargic and groggy. Excessive sleep is also linked to conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart diseases.

2) Which part of the brain plays a key role in sleep?

As per the science of sleep, the hypothalamus, a peanut-sized gland deep inside the brain, contains groups of nerve cells that act as control centers. These affect sleep and arousal.

3) Does dreaming mean good sleep?

Dreaming is a normal aspect of healthy sleep. Good sleep has been connected to better cognitive function and emotional health, and studies have linked dreams to effective thinking, memory, and emotional processing.

Resources:

  1. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000871.htm
  2. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep#4
  3. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mental-health/depression-and-sleep
  4. https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-four-stages-of-sleep-2795920#toc-nrem-stage-2
  5. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-deprivation-and-deficiency#What-Makes-You-Sleep?
  6. https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/circadian-rhythms.aspx
  7. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-activity/exercise-and-sleep

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