Sleep. What a waste of productive time! One year ago, that would likely have been my response to questions about the nightly slumber that interrupts my ability to “get things done”. I was too busy to waste time sleeping. Today, one year later, I am hoping that I can make up for a lifetime of sleep deprivation. Instead of worrying about what I was missing while I was sleeping, it turns out that I should have been much more concerned about what I was missing by not sleeping.
Evolution is a powerful force; resources have been scarce throughout history and any system or organ that we have evolved has persisted for very good reasons. We are meant to spend one-third of our existence in a vulnerable state that has the outward appearance of complete surrender. Considering that our requirement for daily sleep evolved and persisted through constant predation, only adds to the significance. It is only over the past few decades that we have begun to unravel the mysteries of sleep.
To describe the role of sleep in the simplest of language, sleep is the period during which we replenish our energy stores and clean up the metabolic disarray we accumulate through the preceding hours of wakefulness. For my kids, I like to use the analogy of a grocery store. During the day there are people in and out, making a mess, depleting the supply of goods and putting things out of place. Then, for the 8 hours that the grocery is closed, the workers can clean up, replenish the fridges and shelves and restore order so that the grocery is ready to function optimally upon reopening. Then I have them imagine what would happen to the grocery if some of the clean-up crew didn’t show up to work; or if the time to reorganize was cut short. It becomes clear to my girls very quickly that the operation and success of the grocery would be significantly and progressively compromised as long as the clean-up period was shortchanged.
If the quantity, and/or quality of sleep is insufficient, an individual will suffer acute and eventually chronic consequences. As much as many of us may deny it, the overwhelming majority of people require 7-8 hours of good quality sleep on a daily basis. The sleep debt that sometimes accumulates over the course of a week cannot be repaid on the weekend. For right now, there is no getting around the need for adequate sleep.
The organ systems and metabolic process impacted by sleep are all-encompassing. If you want to live your best life, it most definitely has to include a commitment to sleep. We can dive into what “live your best life” means, but for me, it involves doing what I want to do today and making sure that I will be able to do it in the foreseeable future.
This discussion of sleep is only beginning. We can continue it in person at any time you desire. For now, I will leave you with the changes I have experienced over the past year of committing to getting a good night’s sleep, every night… well, most nights! I have fewer aches and pains, particularly in the mornings, I have lost weight, I am more patient, and I can focus better. In addition, I know that I am reducing my risk of developing, frailty, heart disease, obesity, cancer, and dementia.
Remember these words as you drift off to sleep tonight. Sweet dreams.
Dr. Rohan Bissoondath,