Sleep is freaking awesome! Unless you have trouble sleeping. In which case, those people who think that sleep is awesome are just weak. Yeah.
When we sleep, lots of things happen. Usually we just remember the dreams. Especially those embarrassing ones where you run around in public naked with your "I love <insert ex-girlfriends name here>" tattoo on show for the world. Yeah, it'll haunt you forever, but you know better now.
Anyhow, our brain really is productive when we sleep. Throughout the day, everything we do is regulated by neurotransmitters in our brain. And sleeping is when these neurotransmitters are replenished and refreshed. Think of it this way: your brain is like a hotel and your neurotransmitters are the hotel rooms; clean and neat with a perfectly made bed and vacuumed carpets.
Although, whoever matched the duvet cover to the pillow needs a lesson on matching patterns
Then, you go through your day, and like a hotel room that is bombarded by a group of college students on spring break, the neurotransmitters get a little messy and worn down. Beer is spilled on every surface imaginable. The bedding gets set on fire. Also, the shower curtains start to smell strongly of goat urine. It's not pretty.
It's like getting a cow up stairs. They'll go up, but they won't come down.
But there is a solution to this mess, and it doesn't involve any work on your end. Going to sleep is like leaving the hotel room for the cleaning staff. No mess is too big or too intimidating for this lively bunch of cleaners. They'll tidy up your brain.
By now, you might be asking "so, how does my brain replenish these neurotransmitters?" If you aren't, I hope you'll ask it sometime between now and the next paragraph.
The hotel cleaning staff uses vacuums, sponges and a lot of trash bags to clean up the aforementioned mess. Your brain, on the other hand, uses dreams to clean up and replenish neurotransmitters. Oh, and for those people who are bound and determine to say they don't ever dream, you do. You just never remember it and that doesn't mean anything is wrong with you.
Now, science agrees dreams help facilitate neurotransmitter replenishment, but is torn on what dreams mean. Are dreams a product of our daily lives? Are they bits and pieces of our days smooshed together to form a soupy mess of a plot? Are they the embodiment of our desires to have sex with things that we can't in our waking life?
He can peer into your soul. He knows your deepest desires and darkest secrets.
While it will be interesting to figure that out, I'm not sure that is what they should be studying. If I had the choice, I'd be studying whether those vivid, action packed dreams some people have harm the brain more than help, because all I know is that every time I have a dream about trying to escape from a crazed murderer in a large, ornate house filled with rooms of various eras, I wake up exhausted and angry. Also, I wake up in a pool of my blood with axe wounds on my back, so I should probably really get those checked out.
It should go without saying that as long as humans have the opportunity to mess something up, they will. In the case of sleep, there are several sleep-related disorders. Actually, there are probably closer to forty or fifty, but for the sake of keeping your attention before you fall asleep, we'll stick to about four.
Insomnia is probably the most well known sleep disorder. It comes in two varieties - actual, chemically-related insomnia and the self-inflicted version. The two varieties often mix and match to form a potent cocktail of never ending awakeness.
On the chemical side of insomnia, your brain will fail to produce the right amounts of chemicals needed to ease you into sleep. That is why people with depression or anxiety can have insomnia; their brains just can't regulate themselves enough. The good news is that lots of people with depression or anxiety can use cognitive behavioral therapy to help relax and improve sleep. And of course, there are always sleeping pills, although science has yet to make one with bearable side effects.
Side effects include: uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body, weakness, and slower, shallower breathing which can result in death for some patients.
Taking sleeping pills can also result in a parasomniac state, which is when the person is asleep and unable to remember what they do, but they can get up and walk around and do things. Usually this is associated with sleep eating, or the more popular sleep sex. In fact, one man used to routinely visit his ex-wife (who lived in a different apartment in the same building) and have sex with her while he was asleep.
Insomnia can also result from self-inflicted reasons and this is the insomnia most people are familiar with. These are the people who drink heavily, are often quite overweight and who keep a fairly irregular sleep schedule. On the one hand, there are people who have to work night shifts or a shifting schedule, and that is a reasonable excuse for a irregular schedule. But then there are the hordes of people who stay up way too late playing video games, staring a glowing TV or going out and partying. And, sure, these activities seem a lot more fun than going to sleep for eight hours a night. Just, don't complain when you try to go to sleep and can't.
Everyone knows about narcolepsy. Or, at least, most people have seen that video of the narcoleptic dog. No? Here:
For unknown reasons, some people and animals walk around in a constantly sleepy state that can result in their falling asleep for seemingly no reason at all. Usually these so-called "sleep attacks" are from a sudden change in emotion, like becoming excited or sad. The best explanation so far is that narcolepsy is a result of certain, rare nervous disorders.
Nightmares are often considered to be something children deal with mostly, but night after night of things chasing you as an adult can be a result of emotional trauma or some mental disorders (such as, ironically enough, anxiety and depression).
You can also have nightmares as a result of a high fever or an illness, which is also odd because you would think that when you are sick, your body would want to promote sleep in order to have the energy to fight the illness. But, it is possible that nightmares are simply a result of your body frantically fighting an illness. In any case, it is counterproductive.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Just when you are about to fall asleep, your leg jerks violently, and you find yourself still awake, hours after trying to go to sleep. This is restless leg syndrome and, while it is one of the most benignly named disorders ever, it can actually be pretty serious. Restless leg syndrome can indicate kidney failure, nerve disorders and vitamin deficiencies. Oh, and it can also be a side effect of antidepressants. That's right, they treat your depression so you can sleep and irony sneaks up in the form of restless leg syndrome. No wonder depressed people are so upset.
As mentioned near the top of the article, scientists have found that sleeping less than six hours a night or more than nine hours a night is directly correlated with early death. Their reasoning is that people who sleep that little or that much typically have underlying causes for it (an illness, genetic disorder, or too many babies to deal with). But of course, this is all generalizations. It won't affect you. Probably.
That being said, there are a few ways to promote good sleeping habits. Once again, these are generalizations, so feel free to experiment with a combination that works best for you.
Keep a regular bedtime - this is by far the best advice for most people. Going to bed around the same time each night is the easiest way to train your body to fall asleep quickly and hopefully, uneventfully. (I'm looking at you, legs.)
Avoid bright lights before bed - you might have heard how people reading on their iPad before sleeping found themselves unable to sleep. Light naturally keeps people awake. This is why you shouldn't watch tv, or play on the computer right before bed, say the experts. I say, keep the brightness down and go for it. The TV, that is. Sometimes, depressed or anxious people might find that if they play a neutral tv show as they go to sleep (the Food Network works really well for this, unless Alton Brown annoys you too much), their mind will not dwell on negative topics, and they will be able to fall asleep faster. Use a sleep timer though, or the late night infomercials will wake you right back up.
And once Vince starts going, you won't be able to look away.
Finally, avoid eating, drinking, working out, or living for the two hours before you go to sleep - this piece of advice always shows up, and, personally, I think it's the worst. Yes, you should avoid caffeine before sleep, and, yes, alcohol right before bed can result in less wakeful sleep. But all people are different. Experiment and see what affects your sleep the most and work on that.
So there are the basics of sleep. Cheers and good night people!
And if you still can't get to sleep, check out my blog at http://preapprovedamusement.blogspot.com. Guaranteed to put you to sleep or make you hate being awake a little less.