- Saptadeepa Bandopadhyay
Why we don't sleep?
Updated: Jul 12, 2019
Today many of us living in high-tech metro cities across the world are aware that we are sleep deprived on a regular basis. We struggle hard to sleep even six hours a day even after we know it will impact our health in the long run.
Sleep is not as celebrated as food and exercise yet! Perhaps you would not be happy if after listening to all your issues your doctor only told you to go home and sleep. You definitely didn't pay for a sleep prescription, would be the first thought.
Often you will never see some one advertise or endorsing sleep because you may fear to be tagged lazy! Of course, you don't get paid to sleep anywhere around the world! So its not even associated with productivity of an individual.
This post includes following sections -
I) About the book 'Why we Sleep' by Prof. Matthew Walker
II) Reasons why we fail to get sufficient sleep - Reflecting on our modern day lifestyle
If you are not a bookish person, jump to section II where I would be reflecting on our modern lives and how we have been losing our sleep
I) About the book 'Why we Sleep'
I recently read a book named 'Why we sleep' by a sleep research scientist Prof. Matthew Walker. Its a well researched book which covers in-depth about the sleep related studies-
The circadian cycle of the human body.
The role of sleep in evolution of humans.
Scientific classification of sleep like the REM(Rapid Eye Movement) and NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and that both these are equally important cycles of sleep.
The link of sleep-deprivation and various diseases like Heart disorders, high Blood Pressure, Type-2 Diabetes, Gastro-intestinal and Breast Cancer, Types of Dementia and Mental disorders, the number of road accidents during the dawn hours, disruption of development and growth in children and of-course death in case of complete sleep loss of at most 15days.
Every aspect of the role of sleep in our lives have been well proven with tests performed in laboratories on subjects (humans as well as rats) under deprived sleep conditions.
How sleep has been underrated in modern day lifestyle resulting us into a sleep deprived human race of all times.
Lastly, what can we do to attain the required amount of sleep in our day to day basis.
So if you are someone who likes a scientific reasoning for every claim about health and also concerned about sleep, I recommend you to go through this book. Buy the book here!
II) Reasons - Why we don't sleep
Probably, since I picked the above book, you must have guessed that I struggle with the same sleep deprivation epidemic of the millennial generation. So here is my way of reflecting on the habits we have picked over the years which has led to this epidemic.
1. Blue lights -
Very recently we have embraced the LED lights revolution owing to its numerous benefits over CFL lights. So basically there is LED everywhere around us from our room lights to our televisions to iPads and Kindle to our ultra smart phones. Its said LED lights increases human alertness even more that a dose of caffeine!
And why not, if the blue light can penetrate so deep into the human body thus capable of resetting our internal circadian rhythm (the body's biological clock) and becoming one of the key factors in disrupting our sleep cycle.
Scientific fact and human evolution -
Why blue? Blue’s power to reset circadian rhythms is not intrinsic to the color. A photo receptor for any color could have evolved to signal daylight to the suprachiasmatic nucleus. But the blues more easily penetrate the surface of the oceans—where life (and photoreceptors) likely first evolved—than do other visible wavelengths.
For Further reading click here
2. Globalization of Work Cultures -
Shift work: Thanks to globalization and the age of internet revolution, we are expected to work in the time zones of our overseas clients. More younger people are picking up work cultures where you are expected to be most productive during the midnight hours. Earlier it was only the soldiers or nurses or airline professionals who were expected to work in odd shifts but today any commoner maybe asked to sign a no-object clause when asked to work in shifts.
Fact check: Also then its no surprise that road accidents due to dozing behind the wheel usually in the early morning hours is more than those due to drink and drive cases.
Did you know that the Danish government covers the medical expenses of all its female workers who worked in night shifts (like nurses/air-hostesses) and later developed breast cancers? (Studies today show a strong link between breast cancer and sleep deprivation)
Frequent Travel: Another trend in our work these days is more and more people are travelling across varied time zones in very short span of time thus resulting in frequent sleep disruption and jet lags.
Fact Check: Prolonged sleep deprivation impacts the body's natural circadian cycle and thus melatonin (hormone required for good sleep) production. Have you heard of airline professionals being prescribed with melatonin shots as their travel in varied time zones impact their bodies ability to produce melatonin and cause sleep disruption.
Day-light saving: Every year many people are forced to wake an hour early due to change in the clocks in half of the globe. Specially during the spring though people might get an extra hour late in the afternoon but during the morning hours these people are forced to lose an hour of the sleep as the work hours shift by an hour. Its not easy for the body to reset its internal clock so soon thus impacting the sleep before sunrise and body's circadian rhythm which is also dependent of exposure to sunlight.
3. Stress -
We are the most stressed population ever in the history of mankind. Day in and out we are continuously chasing time. From the time we wake up, we are constantly exposed to stress i.e. either catching a school bus or being on time to work, the daily deadlines at work, timely monitoring of parental responsibilities or attending to ailing family members, or a student's fear of missing an assignment deadline, or the constant pressure to keep oneself updated at work and the list goes on. We are continuously operating in a fight-or-flight mode, thus never allowing our bodies to relax or slow down. How can a stressed brain fall asleep then, for its probably again preparing for the pressure of waking up on the early set alarm next morning! Thus we are in a vicious circle of stress with no opportunity to relax even when asleep.
Today, owing to the stress we absorb every minute, the level of cortisol always remains high and thus the brain is always in fight-or-flight mode.
Scientic Relation to human evolution -
If we try going back to the evolution of humans, as hunter-gatherers it was rarely that we encountered a threat like a wild animal thus triggering the bodies stress hormones like cortisol which in-turn stopped all other functions of the body, increased heart rate, blood pressure and increased flow of blood sugar to the brain to fight or flee from the danger like a huge animal.
Unlike us today, with the sunset, the hunter-gatherers would relax by sitting around the fire and sharing stories until they went to sleep thus calming their body and mind before they slept.
4. Caffeine & Alcohol -
Caffeine - Prof. Mathew Walker in the book 'Why We Sleep' mentions that caffeine is the second most imported commodity around the world, after oil. Even if you google 'caffeine' now this is what appears as the first search - Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive drug in the world. This is the only drug which we give to our kids as well. Many modern day consumables like various types of hot or cold coffees, tea, even decaffeinated beverages, chocolates, soft drinks, desserts like ice cream and puddings, breakfast cereals contain caffeine. Check this link for more details - List of food with caffeine
Caffeine is known for its property to promote alertness or suppress drowsiness. A single dose of caffeine can keep us awake up to five hours. Within 15 mins of consumption of a doze of caffeine, it enters into our bloodstream and interferes with the normal functioning of the cells in the body thus not allowing the body to respond to the sleep-inducing chemical (adinosine) released from the brain until five hours of its consumption. It just blocks sleep and works at keeping us awake.
Alcohol - There are many who enjoy a glass of alcohol with or after their dinner assuming it helps one fall asleep. While alcohol might induce drowsiness but it interferes with the bodies nature circadian rhythm and thus resulting in rapid generation of adinosine. Though it induces sleep, the quality of sleep is impacted, especially the REM sleep which is the most restorative sleep cycle and extremely important for maintaining alertness and emotions. So you do not wake up as refreshed as from a natural sleep.
5. Sleeping pills and other medications:
Did you know, Sleeping pills are nothing but sedative hypnotic drugs! So these pills never actually induce sleep but instead sedate you for some duration say 15 to 20 minutes against your natural sleep cycle. So when you wake up the next morning, you do not feel as fresh and alert as after a natural sleep. This leads people to depend of caffeine, a stimulant to keep you alert through the day. This leads to a cyclic intake of sedative (sleeping pills) and stimulant(caffeine) to trigger the bodies natural functions is surely fatal for the long run. Thus one cannot depend on these sleep medications for a quality sleep.
Many other pharmaceutical medications like those for high blood pressure, pain killers, anti-depressants also impact the sleep quality of individuals. But its still not advisable to simply go off any such medications without an alternative. A lifestyle change may however help in reversing such conditions but only under an expert advice.
I hope it helps you get an insight into our day-to-day lifestyles which might be responsible for depriving us from sleep.
For more sleep related facts and studies do check the below sites -