What's the Point of Sleep Anyway?
The act of sleeping is more elusive than almost anything else we do as living creatures. Despite having done it since the dawn of time and spending about one-third of our lives practicing it, our understanding of sleep is minimal.
Ironically, our ancestors inherently knew more about sleep than we do today. They may not have known the molecular happenings of a REM cycle, but they lived in harmony with the purpose of sleep. They respected the need for sleep and lived their lives in accordance with the natural rhythms of the sun and moon.
As we’ll explore in this guide, they did not have e-readers keeping them up at night and disrupting the natural processes that are ingrained in us from millions of years of evolution. As a result, our ancestors most likely didn’t experience as much anxiety, depression, brain fog, toxic stress and obesity at the skyrocketing rates we have today.
Similarly to the rise in dialogue about primal nutrition and movement styles, so too are we seeing a rise in “primal sleeping.” Meaning, sleeping the way humans were meant to and did prior to the advent of the light bulb...and Netflix.
As modern beings living in brightly lit homes with 24/7 access to entertainment and food, it’s not easy to return back to our primal sleeping patterns, but it is doable with the right knowledge and planning. It’s also not only doable, but incredibly important if you are to stay ahead of the chronic disease curve, live a cheery and happy life, and actually enjoy your waking hours without drugs or stimulants.
It all starts with knowledge. So let’s explore what sleep is exactly and why it’s so important for our brains, bodies and waking hours.
Why We Sleep
Sleep is the ultimate cleansing and detoxifying process for both our brains and bodies. It does more good for us in the short and long term than any 5-day juice cleanse or colon therapy will ever provide. This means that a completely free cleansing system is available to us every single day, no matter what ::queue happy wallet::
Our understanding of sleep science is still in its beginning stages, but what we do know is that sleep is critical for the processes that keep us healthy, sane and thriving.
Our internal organs rest and recover. During sleep, our tissues are able to repair, our muscles grow and protein is synthesized. Studies show that lack of sleep affects the body’s sympathetic nervous system, which causes an overproduction of the “fight or flight” stress hormone, adrenaline. When this hormone is constantly high it adds stress to our heart, which can spiral into serious heart issues.
Interestingly, our liver health is highly connected to sleep as researchers discovered that the liver operates on a circadian rhythm, similar to our wake and sleep cycles.
Moving through the body, sleep also helps with bone health as it stimulates marrow production, skin health, and even our sexual health and fertility.
To flush toxins from the brain. During the hours that you’re awake, your brain accumulates toxins. Some are normal metabolic waste from normal neural activities and other toxins come from outside exposure, diet, allergens and lifestyle choices. If these toxins accumulate and are not flushed out completely, we become susceptible to neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, dementia, brain fog, and depression.
Fortunately, ridding your brain of metabolic waste can be helped, in large part, from sleep. A team of researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center recently discovered that we have a “brain cleansing system” dedicated to the elimination of waste and circulation of positive neurotransmitters.
Knowing how this cleansing system works will give you a profound appreciation for your brain and sleep:
When we are asleep, the volume of space surrounding our brain cells increases by 60 percent, allowing for greater movement of fluid and waste. This system, called the “glymphatic system” is the sewage system of our brains and comes to life while we are unconscious. Intriguingly, this system functions largely at night and is almost entirely turned off during wakefulness.
The result? Your brain is restored and you wake up refreshed with a clear mind. If this is not how you feel when you wake up, you could be experiencing too much toxic buildup in your brain that your glymphatic system is struggling to keep up with or not getting enough deeply restorative sleep. Both will be discussed.
Regulate metabolic health. The hormones that help regulate appetite control, stress, growth, and metabolism are all released during sleep. Individuals who don’t get adequate sleep are more likely to gain weight over time as a lower proportion of the energy burned comes from fat instead of carbs and protein. Even sleeping just a two to three hours less per night can have dramatic health consequences.
Without proper sleep, the immune system does not function optimally, and inflammatory proteins and blood sugar levels increase in response to lower levels of insulin being released through the night. This can cause insulin insensitivity, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, obesity and diabetes. It also increases annoying problems like the common cold and ability to withstand seasonal issues.
People who are sleep deprived are also more likely to make poor food choices and crave salty and sugary foods, which only adds more fuel to the fire.
To consolidate memories. Your ability to retain the information in this guide is dependent in large part to the quality of your sleep. Research suggests that sleep plays an important role in memory, mood, motivation, judgement and perception of events. When you get insufficient or fragmented sleep, you lessen your ability to acquire, consolidate and recall memories. These include procedural memory (how to do something), declarative memory (facts and figures), as well as emotional memory.
While you sleep, your brain is busy cataloging what happened during your day into the “store for long-term use” folder or the trash bin. If this processed is dampened by poor sleep, you’ll have weaker short-term and long-term memories and get incredibly frustrated because of it.
As you can see, sleep is pretty damn important. The next time you weigh your options between another episode of [insert mind numbing show here] or sleep, perhaps choose the one that will make you smarter in the long run.
Don’t believe me? Try sleeping on it ;)