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Sleep: The Pause That Refreshes Naturally

By: Dr. Mohinder Thapar

The deep of night is crept upon our talk, and nature must obey necessity.” – William Shakespeare


Each of us knows how it feels to not get enough sleep. Nights of tossing and turning can lead to days of feeling out-of-sorts and being unproductive. Wakefulness and sleep are equal components of our daily lives. We can’t have one without the other. We could even say, “Sleep is the yin to wakefulness’s yang.”


For humans, every 24 hours consists of a cycle of being asleep and being awake, which is regulated by an internal mechanism known as our circadian clock. We are wakened by it when the sun rises and encouraged to sleep by it when the sun sets.
This phenomenon doesn’t affect only humans. All living creatures are controlled by their circadian clock, and most will sleep with the setting of the sun. For animals, daily tasks like searching for food and staying away from predators create stress. For humans, work, family, money, and countless other concerns do the same. As night falls, animals and humans need to return their lives to normal with sleep in order to face another day.


There is scientific research that explains how sleep restores our bodies. First, our circadian clock initiates the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that gradually lowers the level of the hormone in our brain that keeps us awake. Then, as we sleep, our brain is washed, portion by portion, in six cycles. Each cycle takes approximately 90 minutes. The entire process is completed in eight to nine hours. Because the procedure begins in the most primitive parts of the brain and ends in the most developed, dreaming is most frequent during the final two to three cycles.


Our brain is our body’s largest and most complex organ. It contains over 100 billion cells called neurons, each of which is connected to another neuron like a network of wires. This network ultimately connects to every part/organ of the body to modulate the way in which it works. As we sleep, the space between the neurons opens wide allowing the fluid in the brain called CSF to flow through, washing and removing the waste products caused by neurons so our brains can function better during the day. 


Sleep not only cleanses the brain, it repairs wear and tear on the other organs. During sleep, stress hormones decrease, while repair hormones, such as growth hormones and those released by the thyroid, increase in order to repair the body.  

  
If deprived of the critical benefits of sleep, the entire system can’t be cleaned adequately. Therefore, the brain will be unable to function properly, and we will feel listless and at loose ends. If sleep deprivation continues, it can lead to several health-related problems. Sleep is an essential component of our day and of our functionality. We just can’t perform properly without it.