The importance of sleep
For us homos sapiens sapiens, good rest is of utmost relevance for our next day’s executive actions to be prosperous, yet it is something that many of us neglect. A good quality and quantity of sleep at night is an essential factor in allowing humans to function properly during the day.
Research has shown a decrease in sleep hours, even in the infant population. Studies suggest that the effect of restricted sleep may affect alertness and complex tasks requiring executive control. Executive functions are impaired without adequate sleep. In this way we will approach the study of sleep, and sleep is studied by chronobiology.
Chronobiology studies Circadian Rhythms. To understand what Circadian Rhythms are, we must remember that human beings are (or at least “should” be) diurnal beings, that is, that during the day we should be active, work, reproduce, etc.
And during the night, we should sleep. If we were to take our body temperature every hour for 24 hours, we would observe that it does not remain stable, but oscillates throughout the day and night. And the same thing happens to all our vital systems such as heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose level, etc. These oscillations are our circadian rhythms and their function is to see how these vital parameters adapt to the cycles of light and darkness that our day presents us with.
That is, to prepare us for activity during the day and rest at night, but we see that we, our family members, friends, children, co-workers and students, violate these rhythms that are fundamental to our brain functions (including learning and memory). These rhythms are regulated by an “internal” clock located in the hypothalamus in a nucleus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. This clock is the “conductor” of all our circadian rhythms (including the sleep-wake rhythm).
Theoretically, this clock should make us feel “irresistibly” sleepy at around 10 p.m. and send us straight to bed. Does this happen to you?
The “Netflix Syndrome”: It’s 10 p.m. and we arrive at that time bursting with tiredness, but after a hard day of work and demands, we believe that we should do something pleasurable for ourselves. So we say to ourselves “I’m going to watch an episode of a series we like”, it’s only 40 minutes. We sit in front of the screen, and we watch that episode, and when it’s over, we say to ourselves: “What’s going to happen to the main character, right now, and then we just watch one more episode”. And that’s when all is lost because you watch 20 episodes in a row.
The striking thing about this “syndrome” is that, although at the beginning you are very tired, as you start to see the screen, you start to wake up and recover your energy until you see on your mobile phone that you only have four and a half hours left to sleep. Why does this happen?
Our internal clock (that of the suprachiasmatic nucleus) is “soft”, i.e. it can be modulated by environment and culture.
A major problem is that all screens (mobile phones, computers, televisions, tablets, etc.) have a bluish colour, which acts on our internal clock, delaying the time at which it should send us that sleep signal.
It is for this reason that sleep hygiene recommendations state that there should be no screens of any kind in the room where we sleep. The most powerful signal for our internal clock is sunlight. This is why we may have come back from a party at about 8 o’clock in the morning very tired, but when we try to sleep, it must be very difficult to fall asleep.
Why does this happen? When you come back from the party the sunlight has given the signal to your internal clock that it is time for activity and while you were trying to fall asleep all the parameters of your body are set in motion to become active. This is why night workers lose a whole night’s sleep a week trying to fall asleep. Adults should get 8 hours of sleep.
This implies that the nervous system devotes one third of our lives to this function. Is this function important? Of course it is. But despite this great importance, our society does not pay enough attention to it. Why is that? Probably because no one throughout our education, be it at home, at school, at primary, primary, secondary, tertiary or university, explains its importance to us.
We hear a lot about the importance of good nutrition or about the importance of doing sport, but nobody explains to us how important it is to sleep properly. To begin to unlearn some of the misconceptions we have about sleep,
I will mention these points of relevance; when someone cannot sleep it is not because the nervous system cannot be switched off but just the opposite, it is because something cannot be switched on in the nervous system. Sleep is not a passive phenomenon. During sleep the nervous system does not rest.
There are two points of high activity in the course of hours of sleep: Have you ever felt as if you were falling into a pit or hole while sleeping?
This happens because, during sleep, there are two different phases and when passing from one of these sleep phases to the other, the muscle tone is abruptly inhibited. It is this sudden inhibition of the state of muscle contraction that causes this sensation of falling. And these changes in the muscular state are due to the fact that the neural networks of the nervous system are active during sleep.
On the other hand: Did it ever happen to you that you woke up, but you felt totally paralysed and had to wait a few minutes for this paralysis to disappear? This happens because during sleep there is a phase during which we are totally paralysed and sometimes it happens to some people that the awakening system is activated, but the neural system responsible for paralysing the muscular system momentarily “forgets” to deactivate this paralysis.
It clearly shows how active the neural networks are during sleep. As a key concept, sleep is an actively initiated, actively developed and completed phenomenon. Sleep is present throughout the animal kingdom. Invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians and mammals sleep. But it is not yet known whether sleep has the same function in all of them.
The time at which animals sleep varies with species and may be diurnal, nocturnal, crepuscular or arrhythmic. Big cats can sleep up to 18 hours per day.
What would happen with complete sleep deprivation? Or what happens when we don’t sleep even for a minute for several nights. The answer is simple, after seven nights of absolute sleep deprivation we die. During these seven nights of sleep deprivation three events occur:
- We lose control of body temperature regulation. With lack of sleep or poor sleep we feel cold, this is a clear sign that we have been deprived of sleep, this deprivation is already generating a loss of temperature control in the body.
- After the loss of body temperature control we start to lose weight despite eating normally.
- Eventually we become immunosuppressed (a loss of our immune system) and die from an infection by bacteria, virus or fungus.
“For all of us who do not take care of our sleep: A human being can die more quickly from lack of sleep than from lack of food”.
Finally, I present this mention for your consideration:
Taking a break at work! After spending many hours on the same mentally exhausting task (whether it involves a lot of concentration or being in front of a computer for a long period of time), the ideal is to take a break by going for a cup of tea, taking a walk around the office, listening to a piece of music we like or taking part in a short chat. This will not only help our body to reactivate itself from a sedentary position, but will also be good for our brain, clearing our mind and restoring our ability to concentrate. In this way we will be able to perform to our full potential again.
Contributing to generate more humane contexts, and the integration of people is fundamental in any relationship space. The vision of teamwork, many are applicable to the organisational world, but also apply to other social, academic and sporting spaces.
Many proposals can range from games in the style of those we have played since we were children, to more complex games designed for specific purposes. These can be carried out outside the company, such as in the “outdoors”, where the aim is for people to interact in a different environment from the work environment and feel more relaxed.
To conclude this article, I would like to highlight the importance of moments within organisations for us to connect in a friendly and human way with our colleagues, disconnecting for a few minutes from the pace of work, taking into account the importance of consciously disconnecting from the screens, and with a good rest, we can enhance our work performance, taking care of our physical and emotional health during the day, as well as our social ties outside the company.