Saturday,23 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1383, (1 - 7 March 2018)
Saturday,23 February, 2019
Issue 1383, (1 - 7 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

‘While you were sleeping’

Matthew Walker
Matthew Walker

Sleep is wonderful. Absolutely, gloriously wonderful, not to mention necessary, for a long and happy life.

Stop tossing and turning, twisting and twirling and pay attention.

Sleep of course is the way the body restores itself — “yeah, yeah, yeah”.

It processes the day’s events and files the memories away — ah, of course you know all that.

The process of sleeping and waking is controlled by Circadian shifts heavily affected by darkness and light — oh, that too.

Well, here’s a shocker, did you know that every disease in the world has very strong links caused by sleep deficiency — now this you did not know. Who knew?!

It was mind-boggling. It led us to some major research being conducted right now in every reputable medical centre or university interested in learning more about why sleep is good for you.

The most recently published book on the subject highly praised by critics is the best-seller While We Sleep, written by Matthew Walker. He is literally keeping the scientific world awake.

Walker claims that longevity is clearly related to a good night’s sleep. It is increasingly neglected and increasingly dangerous in this century. He believes that Alzheimer’s may have even been caused by sleep depravity— the disease of the century, Alzheimer’s. But Alzheimer’s is a brain disorder? Exactly.  Lack of sleep can cause changes in the brain, hence it can cause brain diseases.

Until very recently scientists had no answer as to why we sleep, or what good is derived from sleep— how does it serve us, what good is derived from it, and why its absence is so damaging to our health.

Eating, drinking and reproducing are basic drives in our lives, we know of their essential functions, but the purpose of sleep remains elusive.

Dedicated, tireless, curious, the scientist in Walker exerted 20 years of cutting-edge research to solve his mystery “why sleep matters”. He even extended his studies to the animal kingdom.

Sleep delves into everything, from what really happens during the REM sleep, the caffeine, drugs and alcohol effect on the brain. Changes soon take place in the lifeline transforming the extraordinary phenomenon that safeguards our existence.

This is the first scientific book by a leading scientific expert and sleep scientists are learning it by heart.

One of the most important and least understood aspects of our lives and wellness and longevity is sleep.

A regular, disciplined, stable, sleep style can add from five to 15 years to your life — not bad.

Naturally too much of a good thing robs its benefits. The optimum amount of sleep is nine hours, although sleeping less in old age is normal.

With darkness the body creates melatonin, a hormone which among its functions makes us feel tired and gets our body ready for rest. It protects the formation of new memories by interfering with the disrupting effects associated with wakefulness. Once we sleep our body starts to recreate serotonin, a hormone which wakes us up and starts our day.

The American Institute Health states that 50-70 million Americans are affected by chronic lack of sleep or (interrupted sleep) disorders. Intermittent sleep can lead to an endless number of problems such as hypertension, stroke, depression, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases

A Northern University study supports this conclusion, adding cardio-vascular diseases as well as obesity. They found it affects motor skills, decision-making, attitude, ability and coping with stress, and the National Highway Traffic Administration added its findings, 100,000 deaths annually.

After learning all the consequences of sleep deprivation a stifled cry from within begs the world to “Go to bed please, to save your life”.

We do have some good news to report and we left the best for the last.

We can learn while we sleep.

A new Harvard study concluded that sleeping may actually enhance our learning skills, memory, creativity, or even solve problems.

Remember how when in a dilemma, grandmother would advise you “to sleep on it”. Now Grannie surely was not aware of the recent Harvard studies, but even if she did not know, she knew of what they speak.

How do you feel about napping? It’s a universal favourite and maybe our only saviour. Just napping recharges the brain for learning. The brain is sharp, awake or asleep, sometimes sharper when asleep. In an experiment the scientists played a tune to one “napper” and one awake, the napper’s memory retained the tune — the other, nothing.

They taught and played the guitar with a recurring melody to both a sleepers and a wakeful group. The sleepers tried to manoeuvre the guitar and hummed the tune all day, the awake group could not reproduce the tune, and the guitar remained an alien object. They could hardly recall a thing. The best experiment was when nappers were asked to place a virtual object in a particular location on the screen, after they decided the hiding place, they heard a specific tune. They all found their objects on the screen on hearing the tune. They were napping — as good as sleeping.

One German student learned how to speak Dutch while sleeping. Who can argue with that? We all wish to speak a different language every day.

“They are not smarter, they just have a good night’s sleep.”

Edward Young (1683-1785)

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