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Sam the Neuroscientist: The Importance of Sleep

April 06, 2023 4 min read

Sam the Neuroscientist: The Importance of Sleep

Let's start this out by asking the obvious question - what is sleep?

Until the 1950s, most people thought of sleep as a passive, dormant part of our daily lives. Fast forward 70 years and we now know that our brains are very active during sleep. Moreover, sleep affects our daily functioning and our physical and mental health in many ways that we are just beginning to understand. 

Nerve-signalling chemicals called neurotransmitters control whether we are asleep or awake by acting on different groups of nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain. During sleep, we pass through four phases: stages 1, 2, 3, and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. These stages of sleep progress in a cycle from stage 1 to REM sleep, then the cycle starts over again with stage 1. Children and adults spend almost 50 percent of their total sleep time in stage 2 sleep, about 20 percent in REM sleep, and the remaining 30 percent in the other stages.

When you enter stage 3, your body releases human growth hormone (HGH), a powerful substance that plays a vital role in cellular repair. Built-up waste products are flushed away, tissues are repaired and regrown, bones and muscles are built especially in growing children, and the immune system is strengthened.

Subjectively, deep sleep is considered to be the most refreshing portion of the entire sleep cycle. It effectively erases the accumulated need for sleep that builds over a normal day of wakefulness, and may play a major role in helping clear the brain for new learning the following day.

Among the most important effects of REM sleep are the stimulation of learning, the processing of the days experiences and thoughts, and the consolidation of memory into long-term storage. Experiencing sufficient REM sleep is essential for normal functioning, both sleeping and waking. The symptoms of insufficient REM sleep include mental problems, including impaired memory, hallucinations, mood swings, and inability to concentrate. Physical problems observed include lowered core body temperatures, impaired immune systems, and in extreme cases, death.

The potential consequences are so extreme that the body will do anything to reclaim a REM sleep debt, including forcing a sleep-deprived person into unconsciousness, or sleeping abnormally long periods until the balance is sufficiently restored.

Sleep is a non-negotiable biological necessity. It is your life support system.


Importance of sleep and prevalence of sleep research

Good sleep is necessary for good physical and mental health and a good quality of life. Insufficient sleep is a pervasive and prominent problem in the modern 24-h society. A considerable body of evidence suggests that insufficient sleep causes hosts of adverse medical and mental dysfunctions. Globally, insufficient sleep is prevalent across various age groups, considered to be a public health epidemic that is often unrecognized, under-reported, and that has rather high economic costs. Insufficient sleep leads to the derailment of body systems, leading to increased incidences of cardiovascular morbidity, increased chances of diabetes mellitus, obesity, derailment of cognitive functions, vehicular accidents, and increased accidents at workplaces. The increased usage of smart phones and electronic devices is worsening the epidemic. Adolescents with insufficient sleep are more likely to be overweight and may suffer from depressive symptoms. 

World leading sleep researcher, neuroscientist and founder and director of the Center for Human Sleep Science Matthew Walker agrees with the above sentiment, stating - “There is no major physiological system of the body or major operation of the brain that isn't wonderfully enhanced by sleep when we get it or demonstrably impaired when we don't get enough.”


The importance of sleep quality over quantity and how it isn’t a one size fits all phenomenon

An article out of the University of California published earlier this month caught my eye. The team of researchers found a genetic basis dictating the required length of sleep at night. This was enlightening, as it further emphasised the idea of quality over quantity when it comes to sleep and additionally the notion that sleep isn’t a one size fits all phenomenon. Focusing on a specific length of time on which to try to remain asleep may be counterproductive, rather it is wise to put yourself in a position to maximise sleep quality and efficiency and to allow sleep duration to resolve itself. This will allow your mind and body to reap the maximum benefits from a good night’s sleep.

On top of this, studies were focused on the fortunate group who genetically require a shorter duration of sleep whilst still maintaining sleep quality. Contrary to current thinking, this group who sleep for less time but more efficiently gain the neuroprotective effects of sleep and have lower incidence of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.


Where Ārepa fits in – helps sleep and has similar other benefits

Ārepa ties in nicely with the field of sleep research and acts synergistically, helping to achieve high quality sleep and therefore to confer the multitude of benefits associated with sleeping efficiently. L-theanine found in Ārepa products has anxiolytic properties, helping to promote mental wellbeing and improving sleep quality without sedation and the associated feelings of drowsiness. L-theanine achieves this by increasing brain activity in the alpha frequency band (8-14Hz), which correlates to a relaxed, alert, and low arousal behavioural state. Alpha waves are also indicative of the transition from wakefulness to stage 1 and 2 of sleep, helping to facilitate the process.

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