Healthy Sleep and Well Being: Scientific Explanations for Key Concepts

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A good and productive day requires a reasonable amount of rest and the correlation between human health and sleep cannot be ignored for those seeking maximum well-being and productivity. The market for goods and products aimed at helping those with a dire need for good sleeping habits is also quite vivid, showcasing anything and everything from anti-aging pillows to the best orthopedic mattresses , from electric beds to personalized blankets. The more people learn about the importance of sleep for a healthy life, the more the market will grow. It is up to the consumer to understand the important mechanisms at play and make the right decision regarding their purchases. It is always a good idea to keep track of novelties and news in the given market to stay in touch with the dominant trends, access the right products for the right purpose, and improve on their sleeping habits to get more out of life during the day.

Although there are various theories regarding the functions and reasons of sleep for human beings, studies show that one to three adults go through symptoms of insomnia today, and one out of ten such individuals are likely to develop insomnia as a chronic disorder. Other studies show that drivers who get less than six hours of sleep a night have 33% higher risk of causing an accident compared to others who sleep for seven to eight hours a night. The prevalent theory regarding the function of sleep for human beings is that sleep strengthens synapses and therefore enables the person to learn and remember better. In conjunction with this hypothesis, a research team at the University of Texas Southwestern discovered the existence of ‘Sleep-Need-Index-Phosphoproteins (SNIPPPS) which are activated by a ‘kinase protein’ SIK3, as the responsible actors in the sleep function for mice. Such proteins have also been found to regulate synaptic plasticity in the mice’s brain functions, creating a molecular link between synaptic plasticity and sleep regulation, bridging the thinking and sleeping processes. The phosphate molecules accumulating on such proteins therefore determine the length and quality of sleep in the test subjects, leading the researchers to conclude that research into such molecules and their interactions in human brain will be utile in understanding the most important determinants of sleeping for human beings as well.

Along with such functions and reasons, little is known regarding the actual experiences of a person while sleeping, leading one to question whether if human beings are conscious during dreamless sleep or not.  The current established view is that people are not conscious during sleep until they start dreaming which only occurs during the REM phase. In a recent study published in ‘Trends in Cognitive Sciences’, the authors Jennifer Windt, Tore Nielsen, and Evan Thompson are opposing this current view, believing that lumping all the experiences under a single heading is wrong, while asserting that “storylike, immersive, hallucinatory episodes” during one’s sleep can also be considered as conscious non-dream experiences. The researchers claim that sleepwalkers are a good example, as they experience “isolated visual, auditory or kinesthetic imagery” during, along with insomniacs who claim that they are not sleeping when indeed they have been sleeping without being aware of it. The researchers infer that by observing sleepers through neural and physiological measures, they discovered the existence of “a state of deep, dreamless sleep in which a bare form of conscious awareness remains present.” They also conclude that the absence of “the subject-object structure of ordinary experience and the phenomenology of being a cognitive agent” makes it impossible for people to understand the given phenomenon. The philosophical interpretations of the given issue dictate that human beings do indeed experience and observe during sleeping phases, necessitating a new definition of experience and observation to understand the given issue.

Teen behavior has been an issue of concern for psychiatrists and behavioral scientists alike lately, and as revealed in a study published in the ‘JAMA Pediatrics’ journal, there exist strong associations between mood and sleep for teenagers. Sleeping less than six hours per night resulted in participants to consider, plan or attempt a suicide more frequently while those who slept for eight or more hours reported far less such ideas, plans or attempts. Unfortunately, according to the data provided by the Youth Risk Behavior Survey between the years 2007 and 2015, 70% of high school students are currently getting less than eight hours of sleep per night. Such inadequate sleeping habits lead to increased risks of adverse self-behaviors as well as risk taking behaviors, validating the common notion that a good night’s sleep is indeed the path to personal satisfaction and fulfillment. However, the researchers also point out that there exists no direct correlation between low quality/duration sleep and higher risk behaviors but there exists such correlation with adverse self-behaviors. As teens become more susceptible to damaging themselves due to low quality/duration sleep, their social cognition changes in an unacceptable manner. In the following step, such individuals become more likely to take risky actions, as their perception of social distances, norms and limits get blurred out in the process. In such a scenario, the teens find it easier and more acceptable to initially hurt themselves and eventually others around them, creating an intriguing source of socio- psychological trouble.

Sleep is serious business and several scientists have managed to challenge the relationship between sleep and human health in numerous fields of study, including genetics. A recent study by scientists at the University of Surrey focused on “the influence of sleep on gene functions” to understand the effects of sleep on human biological functions such as stress, immunity, inflammation, metabolism and circadian rhythms, finding out that sleep was responsible for altering the activities of more than 700 genes. The 26 participants were led to sleep for less than six hours per night for a week and then were let to sleep for 8.5 hours the following week to be able to understand the effects of differing sleep durations as reflected on their blood samples. Results revealed that low durations of sleep altered the activities of 711 genes in total, and following a week of sleep deprivation, there was a seven times increase in the total number of genes influenced by sleeping. With respect to the circadian rhythms, insufficient sleep for one week led to a reduction of the number of genes that work coordinately with circadian rhythms from 1,855 to 1,481. This is an alarming reality because circadian functions are associated with psychiatric disorders, dementia, metabolic disorder and cancer. Due to incurred changes in the person’s metabolism, low quality/duration sleep has also been linked to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, while such poor sleeping habits have also been associated with problems within the immune system, creating disruptions and stress during the day for the person.

Nutrition is an extremely important concept in human health and its connections with the circadian rhythms in human body have a direct impact on sleeping quality, patterns and duration for humans. The body clocks in every metabolism are connected to every cell in the human body and therefore influence all sorts of human activity by regulating blood pressure, body temperature, and hormone levels. Chrono-nutrition is the field of study that focuses on such relationships and research has proven that wrong types or quantities of food being consumed might easily lead to out-of-sync metabolic processes that hamper sleep quality and duration. As human beings become less capable of processing food in the evening, having a late dinner might easily lead to disruptions in one’s sleep. The body uses extra energy that was originally allocated to the sleeping process, making it harder for the individual to sleep or sleep less than demanded. In the long run, such disruptions lead to larger problems such as obesity, as unhealthy and untimely eating patterns alter the natural rhythms for eating and sleeping in an individual’s system without them noticing it. To avoid such complications, people should focus on not just what they eat but also when they eat to improve their sleeping health. Considering that 20% of all people in the workforce are shift workers, having large numbers of out-of-sync people will surely create large-scale problems for the society as a whole. Such individuals over time will become more aggressive, impotent and impulsive during the day, bringing down their productivity and increasing the risk of confrontations with others.

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