Sleep and the Brain Essay
Sleep has been surrounded by numerous theories and contradictory statements as people try to define sleep. Sleep can be defined as the body’s rest cycle that is offset by a sophisticated group of hormones that are present in the body and respond to the external cues of the environment. Normally, approximately eighty percent of sleep is dreamless, and it is referred to as the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Sleep has been seen to affect the daily functioning and the physical and mental health aspects in numerous ways. Neurotransmitters are responsible for controlling whether an individual should sleep or awake through influencing multiple nerve cells or neurons located in the brain. Therefore, when people are asleep, numerous activities happen to the brain.
When sleeping, the chemical referred to as adenosine is broken down. When an individual is awake, there are certain neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine that are produced by the brainstem. Also, some researchers have concluded that adenosine builds up in the blood when we are awake and it’s the reason drowsiness is experienced (NIH, 2016). Sleep has five major phases where the brain progresses through a series of stages where the brain waves slow down. Sleep begins with the first stage, where there are slow waves of the brain. The stage is characterized by relaxation of the muscles and the eyes. Approximately thirty minutes after the first phase, the brain activity changes from deep slow wave sleep to rapid eye movements (REM). Therefore, the brain does not rest even when we are awake.
When we don’t get sleep or enough sleep we defeat the purpose of sleeping. Sleeping is important for any individual due to various factors. The various reasons that have been mentioned by scientists as to why people should sleep are because it enables people to rejuvenate, synthesize hormones, repair tissues and grow muscles. Therefore, when we do not sleep or get enough sleep all the processes mentioned do not happen. Some scientists have also linked obesity and other diseases such as cancer, hypertension, and diabetes to not getting enough sleep (Russel, 2013). The relationship between sleep and diseases such as diabetes and obesity is due to stress that builds up when people do not get enough sleep or don’t sleep at all. Russel maintains that mental illnesses and sleep are profoundly connected. The diseases include conditions such as Schizophrenia and insomnia.
There are three major theories on why human require sleeping according to (Russel, 2013). The first is the restoration theory where everything that was used during the day is restored, rebuilt and replaced. The second theory is the energy conservation theory where people sleep to save calories. The third theory is the memory consolidation theory where Russel maintains that sleeping enhances creativity. That is, the neural connections in the brain that are important are linked and strengthened while the less important ones tend to fade away and be less important. Learning an idea or a concept can be directly affected by our sleep.
There are other false theories people have that make them deprive themselves of sleep. For example, people believe that going to bed early and rising early makes people productive. However, no research has ever linked economic success to sleeping early and rising early. Other false myths that can be a stumbling block to getting enough sleep are that young people are lazy and as a result they sleep more and senior citizens require fewer hours of sleep. However, other sleep disorders such as apnea and narcolepsy can lead to difficulties in sleeping.
Sleep deprivation affects our learning and memory. Scientists have mentioned that sleep aids learning and memory in two distinct ways. The first is that an individual who has been deprived of sleep cannot focus his or her attention optimally and as a result he or she cannot learn efficiently. The second is that sleep has a critical role in the consolidation of memory which is crucial for learning new information (Robert, 2007). Ideally, memory consolidation takes place during sleep where the neural connections are strengthened.
There some strategies that can enable individuals to sleep better. For people to sleep better, the bedroom should be made as dark as possible. Ideally, the amount of light exposure before bed should be avoided since it leads to low-quality sleep. Light raises an individual’s level of alertness and will delay sleep (Russel, 2013). Also, using gadgets such as mobile phones, computers and tablets that can excite the brain should be avoided before one goes to sleep. Also, drinks such as caffeine should be avoided at all cost hours before going to bed or too late during the day. Generally, people should avoid any physical or psychological stressful activities since they lead the body to produce the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone known for increasing alertness in individuals. Also, people should avoid exercising hours before bed since exercise also results in the release of the chemical cortisol.
NIH. (2016). Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. Retrieved from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm
Robert, S. (2007, December). Sleep, learning and memory. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/video/sleep07_stickgold_learning
Russel, F. (2013, June). why do we sleep? Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/russell_foster_why_do_we_sleep