An activity that nowadays is the most affected and many times less supervised by many people, and yet is one one of your most valuable asset to have a pretty much complete internal homeostatic (balanced) state in terms of how you process the food (metabolism), how you clean, recover, consolidate and repair your memory and cognitive abilities and probably the one benefit that we all look for ...to stay younger in appearance as well as internally speaking.
An amazing amount of processed are being repaired while you sleep, whether you want to see it, to appreciate it or you just want to keep consuming information, entertainment, junk food and stimulants that disrupt this benign healing process.
Can you imagine charging your phone battery for 1-2 hours knowing that doing so will lead you to reduce the half life of it and making you buy a new one or worst finishing your phone battery in the middle of the day everyday, with all the pending issues and social interaction that you still have! That would be your worst tragedy and drama for many of you!
Well, let me tell you the good news! That's the least of your problems as you can get another battery and now be more conscious to take care of it and let it charge until the tested parameters and increase its half life. Similarly, your internal energy, repair, rejuvenation and cognitive boosting abilities depend entirely on the time and quality that you give yourself to sleep.
Moreover sleep, as nutrition, is an individualized process that has to be tested for you and standardized until you find your best time to go to sleep, the amount of time where you feel more energized, and finally the best time for you to get up.
Each phase of the sleep cycle restores and rejuvenates the brain for optimal function. When sleep is deprived, the active process of the glymphatic (waste clearance pathway) system does not have time to perform that function, so toxins can build up, and the effects will become apparent in cognitive abilities, behavior, and judgment (1).
New scientific evidence is important because it demonstrates that sleeping can clear “cobwebs” in the brain and help maintain its normal functioning (1).
In a normal person; sleep is divided into two major phases, and each phase is further divided into cycles. The first phase is non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and the second is rapid eye movement (REM). The NREM phase is further divided into more stages as one goes into deeper sleep. These stages include N1, N2 and N3. During N3, one is considered to be in the deep or delta wave sleep. The REM sleep has tonic and phasic components to characterize its influence on sleep. The phasic part of rapid eye movement sleep has been identified as a sympathetically driven state, which characteristically consists of rapid eye movements as well as respiratory variability and muscle twitches . During REM, the tonic phase is the para-sympathetically driven phase and there is no eye movement; the length and density of the eye movement in REM period increases throughout the sleep cycle. The sleep cycle first starts with NREM period and then followed by REM period . During an 8-hour sleep the brain goes in and out of REM period about 4 to 5 times. This is the phase in which dreams generally occur (1).
As reviewed, our sleep phases and cycles should be, ideally, be completed at least 4 cycles which is the minimum time, in general, for people to be able to leave all the "night workers" such as all your proteins and chemical healing helpers to achieve an "internal adjustment" such as the one you perform for your computer when you install the new software update, your phone when needs to be updated or your car when it needs to be taken to service. As responsible as you're with all your material gadgets, you should be able to have more awareness, empathy and gratitude with your body's updating systems, which are all the sleep phases mentioned above.
Each of the phases has an specific purpose and that is why you should close complete cycles without any noisy interruptions.
For instance, In adults the stage N1 of the NREM phase is considered to be the transition stage between wake and sleep. The stage N2 is light sleep which occurs throughout during the sleep period; during this stage, muscle relaxation occurs, the heart rate slows down and the temperature drops. This is when the brain is preparing to enter into the deep sleep stage. Finally, the stage N3, can also called as the delta or slow wave sleep; which mostly takes place in the first third of the night sleep. The 3rd stage is more of deep sleep; if woken during this stage a person may feel disoriented for few minutes (1).
Your brain waves patterns as you pass through all the stages of NREM start decreasing passing more time in phase N2 as it is the previous phase that will allow you to enter the deep sleep, phase N3, that will reboot your energy levels so you feel again energized, all your hormones, chemical messengers and internal signals will be repaired and ready to function again. This includes all your internal clocks, named circadian rhythms, which include all your biological sensors and alarms that your body has to let your internal organs when to process your nutrients, when to accumulate them or restore the storage systems such as fat deposits needed for many hormone producing mechanisms as well as your sugar storage, glycogen replenish mechanisms and above all your protein turnover and amino acids pool replenishment which will function for the production of more specialized substances such as neurotransmitters, mood hormones, reproductive hormones, skin repairing processes, and pretty much all your immune arsenal needed to fight any type of infection.
Additionally during this phase N3 of deep sleep, your body as mentioned above will start to slow down your brain waves which will in turn make it difficult for you to wake up allowing your body for all the repair processes needed without interruption or disturbances.
Moreover, all of these sleeping stages will contribute to keep a healthy mind. On the contrary, many of mental disorders nowadays peaking in worldwide statistics, such as depression, anxiety and attention deficits are impacted due to the disruption of sleep patterns related to a powerful connection with your gut health (2), which we mention earlier, in the article "Microbiota: More than a Gut Feeling?", as a whole realm of intestinal bacteria (intestinal flora) that regulate the release of neurotransmitters and mood hormones which will allow you to maintain a stable emotional health.
Depression and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are often associated with gastrointestinal disturbances. An increasing number of studies suggest that the intestinal microbiota can regulate sleep and mental state through the brain-gut axis (3).
In the past decade, a large number of studies have identified a microbiome-gut-brain (MGB) axis. Within this axis, the microbiota in the gut affect brain function through 3 pathways that produce a bidirectional flow of information (3).
The first of these is the immunoregulatory pathway, in which the microbiota interact with immune cells in such a way as to affect the levels of cytokines, cytokinetic reaction factor, and prostaglandin E2. As a result, brain function is affected. The second is the neuroendocrine pathway. There are more than 20 types of enteroendocrine cells in the intestine, which constitutes the largest endocrine organ in the human body (3).
The gut microbiome may affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the central nervous system (CNS) by regulating the secretion of neurotransmitters such as cortisol, tryptophan, and serotonin (5-HT). The third is the vagus nerve pathway, in which the enteric nervous system plays an important role (23). Anatomical evidence indicates that the sensory neurons of the intestinal myenteric plexus are exposed to the gut microbiota; these neurons form synaptic contacts with motor neurons in the intestine that are involved in the regulation of intestinal motility and gut hormone secretion (3).
Neurotoxic metabolites such as D-lactic acid and ammonia produced by the gut microbiota may pass through the vagus nerve into the CNS, thereby affecting brain function, stress responses and sleep structure (3).
The three factors mentioned above are of paramount importance for the maintenance of a stable mood, a good amount of neurotransmitters, that by the way some of them such as serotonin and the amino acid tryptophan are essential for the production of melatonin which is the main regulator of your sleep cycles and it is the main signal for your body to start lowering metabolic functions and energy production preparing your body to sleep.
Many of the functions of your Gut Microbiota or your "Bacterial Allies" are focused on processing amino acids which are essential precursors to form your variety of neurotransmitters, immune messengers and hormonal regulatory compounds which globally are related to your emotional health and your cognitive abilities.
These internal freeways are related to the balance and control of some of the most popular diseases regarding your mental health, leading people to feel more stressed, less able to undertake everyday pressure, and having also problems to modulate the amount of hunger hormones which will in turn provoke a chaotic state in your mood and finally as mentioned above the immunomodulatory reactions needed to process certain foods, to defend your body from opportunistic pathogens, predisposing yourself to develop a poor physical state which will create a stronger toxic cycle.
In fact, and as ironic as this sounds, all of these symptoms will generate a disruption of your sleeping patterns making very hard to break the cycle ..unless you start trying to ease your mind and body with an alternative option such as meditation or journaling that will allow you to finally be able to sleep and those improvements in sleep patterns will be reflected in a stronger and more functional bacterial population.
As you can see sleep is one of the most important activities as part of your whole metabolic, mental and physical health and as time goes by and science has more access to technology more research as revealed the variety of internal processes regulated by sleep.
Linking the advancements of technology with another big cause of sleep disruption, currently we now know that blue light released by many types of screens such as your TV, Computer, Tablet or Phone have a very profound effect in the levels of melatonin, which as mentioned above regulates your internal clocks to allow you to start reducing your daylight hormones and your energy levels preparing your body to rest.
Before the invention of artificial light, the only source of blue light was the sun, this particular wavelength, has been studied in several research studies, showing also evidence of increasing blood sugar and reducing levels of leptin which is a hormone in charge of regulating your satiety signals through the brain as well as the level of energy used in your metabolic functions. In addition to that, the disruption of these circadian cycles will predispose you to shorten your sleep phases or disturbing them, priming you to produce more cortisol levels in the morning than the usual amount, which will lead you to feel tired, grumpy and/or probably with a sad mood.
In summary, sleep is your newest software update that is released every afternoon at sundown by the increase of melatonin, receiving the appropriate resetting stages of your software everyday will not only allow you to have a much overall better physical, metabolic and mental health, but will also increase your energy stamina, give you a better memory and cognitive skills, maintain your DNA in good shape and your telomeres (which are sort of a plastic protection as in your shoelaces) that prevent DNA from being damaged or cut off and are a powerful marker of biological aging, and as the cherry for your cake, sleep will regulate your gut health allowing your bacteria to maintain a good amount of chemical messenger to maintain a good mood, a more stable emotional health and also create a coherent pattern between your heart and your brain to increase your overall internal enthalpy (order inside your body).
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1. Eugene, A. R., & Masiak, J. (2015). The neuroprotective aspects of sleep. MEDtube science, 3(1), 35.
2. Ortega D. “Microbiota: More than a Gut Feeling?”. https://www.davidortegab.com/post/microbiota-more-than-a-gut-feeling. September 10th, 2019.
3. Li, Y., Hao, Y., Zhang, B., & Fan, F. (2018). The role of microbiome in insomnia, circadian disturbance and depression. Frontiers in psychiatry, 9, 669.