I’d like to discuss a very critical aspect of growth in this post, which is related to sleep and recovery. This is especially relevant to my university peers as well as the working class, in fact to everybody. I’ll be discussing the inconsistencies in our day to day sleep schedules, the effect sleep deprivation has on memory, learning and immunity, as well as the effect technology has on our circadian rhythm. Finally, I’ll speak about what to do to improve the quality of sleep and how to fall off to sleep faster.
During sleep, when your body may be resting, your mind is busy with processing information that you’ve accumulated over the day. Sleep is required in order to consolidate memories, and has a profound impact on learning. A sleep deprived person cannot focus optimally and therefore their learning becomes inefficient, brain becomes foggy, mental health is affected and motor skills become hindered. Let’s dive into a little more detail on how sleep deprivation affects us.
Memories form through 3 different steps:
- Acquisition: Introduction of new information into the brain.
- Consolidation: Process by which memory becomes stable and ingrained.
- Recall: Ability to access the information after it has been stored.
Acquisition and recall are both functions which are generally processed during wakefulness, whilst consolidation/storage, only occurs during sleep. This is because when the brain has adequate time and energy to rest, it can strengthen the neural connections between the neocortex and hippo-campus (part of the brain responsible for long term memory storage). During Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, memories become more stable. REM is also known as the time when you dream. Other types of memories form during non-REM, when you’re in a much deeper, slow-wave sleep. This helps the experiences that occur during the day to become more memorable and easily accessed. Sleep deprivation therefore hinders the ability to properly store new information, whether it be through acquired knowledge, experiences or muscle memory.
Sleep plays a vital role in our ability to learn new skills, especially those requiring motor coordination and optimal performance. Sleep deprivation doesn’t only affect the consolidation of memories, it also has an impact on how we receive and recall information. The neurons responsible for those connections become overworked, making it more difficult to access previously learned information.
The lack of focus, vigilance and attention due to inadequate sleep, also impairs decision-making and judgement. Subsequently, this affects our mood, which is directly related to our ability to acquire and recall information. For the gym-aholics and those who generally stay physically active, sleep is a key component for strength and endurance. This is proven in muscle recovery and growth, whereby during sleep, the blood supply available to your muscles increase, which in turn allows for extra oxygen and nutrients to be delivered. This facilitates further healing and growth, which muscles and tissues need for rejuvenation. New cell are also regenerated during sleep and this is coupled with our immunity.
Whilst you’re asleep, your immune system releases cytokines. These are proteins which promote sleep, and are needed to deal with infections or inflammations. Lack of sleep therefore, affects the production of the cytokines, which directly affects the immune system. This decreases the body’s natural infection-fighting antibodies and can make you more sick-prone. This further affects inflammation within the body, which may assist in heart disease.
The following TED talk inspired a lot of what I’ve been discussing, and is a great watch:
Now I know a lot of that sounds quite dark and scary, especially since it’s not all that easy to get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep (keep in mind that anything over 9 hours of sleep also has similar health consequences). But there are a few ways to improve the quality of our sleep, to ensure we maximize the benefits and keep our health in peak condition. It’s quite important to be aware of these effects, since better awareness results in better choices, which ultimately results in better results.
- No technology
- Cool temperature
- Associate your room with going to sleep
For better sleep, one of the first aspects is to stay away from technology at least 30-60 minutes before bed time. This is because of the blue light emitted from devices, which as a lot of you may already know, affects the melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone which regulates the sleep-wake cycles, and the secretion is suppressed when we expose ourselves to blue light. A way around this, is to use blue light filters, which are readily available on any app store. Regularity is another important factor in terms of getting healthy sleep. Waking up and going to bed at the same time everyday, complements your circadian rhythm, and facilitates your internal alarm clock; making it easier to fall asleep and to wake up.
Cool temperatures (16-21 degrees Celsius) allow for the body to fall into deeper sleep, faster. This stimulates the sleep cycles and helps with the REM stage. Physiological changes are also optimized, whereby the central core in the body naturally decreases in temperature. The low temperature also enhances the metabolism, which is responsible for the body’s energy extraction. This in turn, helps burn calories and store healthier fats.Another point in improving the quality of sleep, would be to associate your bedroom with going to sleep. Try and leave out other activities such as watching TV, playing video games, studying or doing any other form of work, out of your bedroom. This allows for your mind to associate your room with resting, and makes it easier for you to fall asleep at night. Exercising during the day is also an excellent way to help with sleep, as your body naturally feels the need for recovery and building up a sweat will make you feel tired. Combining these routines will ultimately improve your ability to fall off to sleep faster, which can sometimes be a problem on its own.
From an Islamic point of view, there are a few Sunnahs (practices of the prophet Muhammed [Peace be upon him]) that one can follow. The most common would be to sleep on your right side, with your hand under your cheek. To perform ablution (Wudhoo) before going to bed and supplicating. The specific timings to go to bed and for waking up are after Esha (the final night prayer) and to wake up before Fajr (the first prayer in the morning), ensuring that the compulsory prayers are performed before going to bed. Another point would be to dust and clean the bed before going to sleep.
I’d like to also mention how important it is to wake up early. I’ve recently come across the book ‘The 5 AM Club’ by Robin Sharma, and it was phenomenal (highly recommended). I’ll dive deeper into it in the next post, where I’ll couple the benefits of a healthy sleep pattern with a healthy waking up pattern. Combined, it’ll hopefully allow you to maximize your day to day efforts in becoming legendary.
To put it all together, lack of sleep will not add any benefits to your life, in fact it only makes your life shorter. There’s no use sacrificing the precious hours you have to allow your body to grow and recover, in order to watch series, play video games or even party. Appreciate the fact that to stay healthy and live a better life, you need to focus on the very basic necessities needed as a human being. That’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy yourself or ever stay up late, but just keep in mind that in needs to be balanced. Missing a few days of healthy sleep can be tolerated, but once it becomes consistent, it can accumulate to detrimental effects. Being aware of the consequences enables you to make better decisions, which will support you in achieving better results. Your memory, ability to learn, energy levels and immunity are all at stake when you pull all-nighters, so think twice before making that sacrifice. Optimizing your sleep can be accomplished through several different habits; staying away from technology, regulating your sleeping pattern, keeping the environment at a cool temperature and associating your bedroom with sleep. I’ll leave with a brilliant quote and I wish you all a good night’s rest.
“Even a soul submerged in sleep, is hard at work and helps make something of the world.”Heraclitus