Monday 1 May 2017

Are you a night owl or an early bird? 10 facts about sleep

When the circadian rhythm gets derailed, when we are out of sync with the environment,
When the circadian rhythm gets derailed, when we are out of sync with the environment,

Caomhan Keane

Sleep, or lack of, can affect many things in our life - here are ten facts about sleep.

1 We don't know why we sleep or what causes sleep. It's thought there are biological triggers that do it but we can't 100pc say that X is the chemical in our brain, without which sleep would not be possible.

2 A big part of our survival as a species is down to our ability to operate at night. It is why we can survive in northern climates, as we developed artificial light.

3 Most other primates are diurnal. They are awake during the day and asleep at night because they depend on sight. Birds go to sleep when it gets dark. We don't do that. And that's where problems can arise.

4 We all have this tiny area in our brain, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, part of the hypothalmus, that controls the circadian rhythm which in turn controls our body clock and tells our whole body system what time we should be getting up and at what time we should be getting drowsy. For most people that runs on a system of being asleep for between 7-8 hours and being awake for 15-16 hours a day.

5 When the circadian rhythm gets derailed, when we are out of sync with the environment, it puts great strain on the body because everything, not just our brain, but the glands that produce our hormones, our thyroid, men's testosterone production, etc, is scheduled by our body clock which can have an impact on our sex drive, sexual function, diet.

6 In a perfect world we shouldn't be eating 2-3 hours before bed. Food is energy and you don't want to be getting energy close to bedtime. You aren't able to work it off and it turns on all the systems that break down the food, which should be winding down.

7 A lot of people who come to see Dr John Faul, consultant sleep specialist at the Bon Secours Hospital, with sleep problems are often just caffeine-dependent. "While people often use coffee to wake themselves up, it only stops them falling asleep, it doesn't make them more alert. Their concentration isn't as good. The more they take throughout the day, the more difficult it is for them to get to sleep," he says.

8 While exercising late at night is not great for sleep, exercising in the morning wakes the brain up, wakes the body up, and reminds it what time it should be getting up at everyday, making it easier to go to bed later that night and get up in the mornings.

9 It's more common to be a night owl during puberty and adolescence as your body clock shifts in the late direction, before shifting back as one gets older.

10 Too much or too little sleep can make you fat. Recent studies have suggested an association between sleep duration and weight gain. Sleeping less than five hours - or more than nine hours - a night appears to increase the likelihood of weight gain. (Mayo Clinic)

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