Ever thought about what happens in our bodies and minds that make us sleepy, makes it hard to keep our eyes open, hard to focus, hard to think, just want to lie down, so tired, just let me sleep? And what is it about sleep that restores us; awakened refreshed, alert and ready for another day?
Some of these questions are still unknown with a lot of research still being conducted. But we will try to cover what is known about sleep and how it effects our physical and mental health, our feelings, our productivity, our grades in school, our relationships and so much more.
Healthy Sleep: Sleep well
Healthy sleep, as used here, refers to restful, uninterrupted, deep sleep that restores and refreshes the mind and body.
We’ll start with what is known about sleep and dreaming, what happens when we are sleep deprived and how we can ensure healthy sleep to enhance our quality of life.
What makes us feel sleepy
All this is well and good but what is it that makes us sleep; that makes us NEED seven or eight hours of healthy sleep every day? Why can’t we just pop more energy pills, eat more carbs, drink coffee and keep going?
Our desire to stay awake longer, do more, have more fun or drive straight from Virginia to Florida non-stop isn’t a matter of willpower or nutrition or gallons of coffee. It comes down to chemistry. As we will see, all brain function, which is to say, all bodily function, is chemistry.
There is a natural chemical called adenosine that builds up in our blood as our wake time increases. Neurologists would say it is an “inhibitory neurotransmitter, that (they think) plays a role in promoting sleep
and suppressing arousal, with levels increasing with each hour an organism is awake”.
An inhibitory neurotransmitter is a chemical that decreases the electrochemical activity of neurons, meaning that the signals or messages between neurons and another cell get dampened or attenuated. Serotonin is another well known inhibitory neurotransmitter.
Back to adenosine. It builds up in the blood while awake and gets broken down in the body while we sleep. The working hypothesis might be that this chemical is what the body uses to keep track of lost sleep and forces us to sleep when we need it.
Taking the hypothesis a step further, it may be that the accumulation of adensine could explain why we build up a “sleep debt” that must eventually be paid for by sleeping longer than normal until the debt is paid.
It is not possible to adapt to getting less sleep than our body needs. Sleep deprivation will be reimbursed one way or another; either by giving yourself restoring healthy sleep or causing a breakdown in some critical system, at which time, we will be forced to sleep.