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A tribute to sleep

By G. Balasubramanian

“Did you have a good sleep?” was the question put before me. I nodded the head in such a way from which one can make out ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ Truly, due to a long journey on flight spread over 20 hours, my bio-clock was disturbed impacting my sleep rhythm. May be, it takes a day or two to cope with a changed rhythm. Otherwise, I am a gifted soul who can sleep within a few minutes without any support. And for years, my normal sleep hours extended only to about five and a half hours. I was quite satisfied with the quantum and the quality of the sleep over the years.

"Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day", says Dr Mathew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkley. All living species, especially humans, have articulated the life system in such a way that sleep becomes not only integral, but an essential part of their living.

Why does one need sleep?

a. It provides the much-needed physical rest to the body.

b. It helps the body to refurnish the various systems and restore their energy.

c. It helps the brain cells and the neurons to communicate effectively.

d. It is said to play a house keeping role by removing the toxins in the body.

e. It helps to reduce the stress and improve the moods.

Detailing the importance of sleep, Dr. John Medina, Development molecular biologist with interest in human brain development writes in his book “Brain rules”:

“When we’re asleep, the brain is not resting at all. It is almost unbelievably active! It’s possible that the reason we need to sleep is so that we can learn.

Sleep must be important because we spend one-third of our lives doing it! Loss of sleep hurts attention, executive function, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning, and even motor dexterity.

We still don’t know how much we need! It changes with age, gender, pregnancy, puberty, and so much more.”

Inadequate sleep is associated with several diseases by medical professionals like Obesity, cardio-vascular problems, type 2= diabetes, hypertension and mood disorders. The importance of sleep, therefore, cannot be underplayed.

In modern times, with changing lifestyles, workstation demands, online work with international outreach, the sleep rhythm of most people appear to be getting disrupted. Psychologists do believe that this has a serious impact on the psychological profile and well-being of the people. “What hath night to do with sleep?” asked John Milton, in his book “Paradise Lost.”

Focusing on the importance of sleep at night John Medina points out “Our sleep, and the brain’s idea of the quality of that sleep, is determined by biological processes. We’re wired to stay awake and go to sleep in predictable cycles. If these cycles are disrupted, we can get less sleep and our brain will suffer, along with our cognition.” He explains “Sleep is an essential function of the brain which allows us to learn—and without sleep, our cognitive abilities suffer.”

Sleep loss resulting in Insomnia is indeed an issue of concern. Psychologists do indicate “Sleep loss is associated with adverse effects on mood and behaviour. Adults with chronic sleep loss report excess mental distress, depressive symptoms, anxiety, and alcohol use.”

Sleeping for a brief time, popularly known as a nap appears to have some rewarding effects. Over a decade ago, time for a nap was officially allowed in Spain for their work force, which was later withdrawn. But researchers do suggest that a ‘siesta’ has indeed a positive effect both on learning and other functional aspects of life. Dr Daniel H. Pink writes in his book WHEN (The scientific secrets of Perfect timing)- “A modern siesta doesn’t mean everyone two or three hours off in the middle of the day. That’s not realistic. But it does mean treating breaks as an essential component of an organizational architecture – understanding breaks not as a soft-hearted concession but as a hardheaded solution. It means discouraging sad desk benches and encouraging people to go outside for forty minutes.” He adds “That sleepless guy isn’t a Hero. He was fool. He was likely doing subpar work and may be hurting the rest of us because of his poor choices.”

Classifying the people who go to bed on time and get up early as “nightingales,” as against those who wake up during late hours as “owls,” psychologists have researched on their resultant behavioural patterns. Some of the research findings are quite striking. "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” said Benjamin Franklin. However, the value for such statements is not adequately appreciated by the young learners nowadays.

Calling the sleep as a life’s feast, Shakespeare observes “Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care, the death of each day's life, sore labour's bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course, chief nourisher in life's feast.” Sleep is indeed not a waste or misuse of time as some people consider. It is indeed a time when the brain is fully functional and engaged. Dalai lama puts it more succinctly “Sleep is the best meditation.”

There is no better gift like sleep to remain as a healthy and wealthy person. Several people who suffer from life’s inadequacies and suffer from fear, insecurity, suspense and anxiety suffocate for want of sleep and possibly yield to sleep medicines. Describing the importance of sleep, Mahatma Gandhi said “Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”

But the most admirable comment on sleep, I heard from a young man was “I don’t need a hairstylist, my pillow gives me a new hairstyle every morning”!