Sleep is a vital period of rest and rejuvenation for the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of human beings. Human beings engage in activity and output during their waking hours while sleep allows time for the physical body’s systems to digest nutrition, regenerate DNA and tissue cells, and for the mental, emotional and spiritual self to process the events of waking hours in a state of calm and rest.
For human beings, sleep occurs in a repeating pattern of wake then sleep, guided by an internal body clock known as the circadian rhythm. For some people, this clock aligns with Earth’s sunrise and sunset hours, while others have a circadian rhythm independent of the day and night skies. This often includes those who work graveyard or 3rd shifts, first responders and others who have more energy at night. It’s important to note these variances in circadian rhythms can have an impact on “one-size fits all” systems and polices, such as school start-times and “banking hours”, when a portion of the population does not operate at their fullest during these times.
Regardless of an individual’s own circadian rhythm, however, there are important considerations across the board. Individuals require a certain amount of sleep in a 24-hour period, and the amount of sleep needed (whether it’s during the night, day or somewhere in between based on one’s own circadian rhythm) can and does often change throughout a person’s life cycle. Children, youth and adolescents tend to need more sleep while their bodies and minds are continuously growing. On the other hand, aging adults who are 65+, tend to need the least sleep. Generally speaking, it’s recommended that human beings start with a baseline of 7-9 hours of sleep per 24 hour cycle, and that optimal sleep occurs in an uninterrupted, routine pattern.
In fact, uninterrupted sleep is crucial for optimal health and well-being. Sleep ranges from absence of wakefulness to complete unconsciousness, and includes two primary phases, Non-REM, and REM. During REM sleep, the body becomes paralyzed while the brain and mental and emotional selves process events, and the body enters deeper phases of rejuvenation. REM only occurs when enough sleep has been obtained, and this is why uninterrupted sleep is crucial.
Lack of sleep, and lack of REM sleep in particular, is characterized as “sleep deprivation”. Sleep deprivation is often experienced by those who have limited time for sleep caused by external demands (such as those who work more than one job or more than 40 hours per week, truck drivers, caregivers, parents and others who cannot obtain an interrupted routine sleep schedule), lifestyle choices (such as use of substances, caffeine, or late-night outings), as well as internal obstacles to obtaining calm before sleep (such as stress, mental fatigue, or physical pain or trauma).
Sleep deprivation for even one 24-hour period can have immediate impact on the body, mental, emotional and spiritual self. Improper functioning, loss of normal responses and inability to perform otherwise ordinary tasks can be felt right away. In the short term, many people compensate by consuming more food during this time, such as sweets and carbohydrates. Ironically, the sudden rush and then sudden crash of these habits can lead to immediate sleepiness, and prolonged interruption to the person’s normal circadian rhythm.
Longer-term sleep deprivation can lead to severe physical, mental, emotional and spiritual damage, including heart disease, heart failure, high blood pressure, brain deterioration, high anxiety disorders, psychosis and even death. And both short-term and long-term sleep deprivation can lead to a depleted immune system.
Sleep deprivation also has an important cyclical effect. As the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves try to compensate for lack of sleep, each experience greater stress leading to increased cortisol in the body. This often results in even greater needs for energy consumption, which can lead to continued inability to achieve a routine, interrupted sleep cycle.
When the body cannot longer operate without sleep, or when the sleep cycle has become too unpredictable, the body will force sleep to occur at its soonest opportunity, and this can happen to people at inopportune times, such as while driving, sitting in class, or listening to conversations. In addition, the lowered immune system responses can force the body into longer periods of sleep to achieve rest and rejuvenation.
The right amount of uninterrupted, routine sleep is not only good for human beings, it is necessary for complete and full functioning. In most cases, whether through intention or illness, the body will lend itself to getting the sleep it needs.
in or from sleep deprivation.
Signs of Optimal Health & Wellness
When human beings are getting the right amount of uninterrupted, routine sleep they are better able to operate at their fullest potential. Indicators of thriving include:
- Clarity in thinking with efficient decision-making processes
- Bodily systems, such as the immune system and digestive system are operating well
- Good physical ability and agility
- Appropriate emotional responses to external stressors
- Ability to complete normal daily functions
- Energy to engage in life fulfilling activities, as well as increase activity as needed or desired
- An overall feeling of being well-rested
Warning signs of sleep deprivation and issues that can be caused by or lead to sleep deprivation include:
- Difficulty in thinking clearly
- Slower reasoning processes and decision-making
- Slower response times
- Daytime, or waking hours fatigue
- Overall feeling of being tired or worn out
- Falling asleep during the afternoon, or when sitting with no activity for short periods of time
- Inappropriate emotional responses that seem under or over-reactions to external stressors or situations
- Unstable moods
- Eating more, particularly when not feeling hungry
- Expressing physical, mental, emotional or spiritual exhaustion
- Lack of motivation to exercise or engage in normal activity
- Sleep apnea, or breathing issues when trying to sleep
- Inability to fall asleep without intervention
- Inability to sleep uninterrupted, or waking up multiple times throughout the sleep cycle
- Inability to return to sleep after short wake periods
- Excessive snoring
- High blood pressure
- Medications that cause drowsiness
- Falling asleep during normal wake times such as at work or while driving, or during meetings
Most importantly, to achieve and maintain calm, uninterrupted, routine sleep cycles, it’s necessary to ensure a safe, hygienic place to sleep, and to consciously identify your own best strategies for falling asleep, while determining just how much sleep you normally need. A bedtime ritual, as well as a wake up ritual or routine can help to stay on track.
Many people notice signs of sleep deprivation right way, and simple remedies such as going to sleep earlier the next sleep cycle, sleeping later the next day, or taking a short nap can immediately address symptoms and restore normal operating. In fact, a 10-15 minute “power nap” has been reported to help restore energy immediately when daytime fatigue sets in.
When patterns of sleep deprivation or inability to fall asleep in calm, uninterrupted, routines are present, changes to daily routines, bed-time preparation and addressing environmental factors may be necessary. Rearranging furniture or the sleeping room environment may be necessary, including removing certain electronics and cell phones. In addition, limiting caffeine and heavy meals in the evening can result in greater sleep readiness routines.
Further, limiting news, social media and other mentally, spiritually or emotionally stressing input before bedtime can help the mind and brain better enter sleep cycles. It’s important to note the use of devices with screens causes a release of serotonin which can keep people awake. Stopping the use of devices with screens (i.e. phones, televisions and computers) one hour before bed will allow the retina of the eye to release melatonin to encourage the body to sleep. Subconscious stress from unresolved trauma, work, serious conversations and general processing can keep the mental, spiritual and emotional selves actively engaged, and prevent the body from entering into sleep cycles whether or not the body is exhausted.
- Get a bedtime ritual
- Take a “power nap”
- Rearrange furniture
- Change bedding and pillows
- Limit screen time and electronics in the bedroom
- Drink warm tea or water before bedtime
All aspects of living are impacted by getting the right amount of sleep. When routine remedies such as naps or changing environments and routines are unsuccessful, it may be necessary to seek outside intervention. Suffering from frequent exhaustion, inability to fall asleep or signs of depression, and mental, physical and emotional decline may indicate the need for outside intervention. In addition, when sleep deprivation leads to dangerous situations that can lead to death or injury, such as falling asleep while driving, while at work or when sleep apnea is present, intervention should be sought immediately.
If lack of sleep is causing paranoia, placing yourself in dangerous situations, delusions, or mental impairment:
- Dial 911; or
- Go the nearest hospital emergency room