The perception of sleep in history
Since ancient times our ancestors had understood how important sleep was in their life. The ancients revered the protectors of the dream sphere to ensure physical and psychological well-being. Today as then, documented scientific research is added to the empirical knowledge of our ancestors, which highlights not only the importance of rest for our health, but also the many consequences of insomnia in every aspect of life.
Only 2% of men slept less than 6 hours a night a century ago. Today this percentage has grown to 30%, a real risk factor for health and social well-being.
Over the past 100 years, many scientific studies have been conducted to understand how long an individual could go without falling asleep. A study significantly altered biological and psychological functions: hallucinations, memory loss and a real collapse. physical were the most evident consequences of this experiment bordering on sadism.
Sleep is a physiological function
On average, a human being spends almost a third of his or her life sleeping: sleep is a necessary physiological function that can be assimilated to eating, drinking and breathing, even if in our frenetic contemporary society sleeping little seems to be almost a virtue of strong and winning. Unfortunately, this modern belief embodies the most wrong, because sleep facilitates the recovery and restoration of correct body and mental functions, while a reduced quantity and quality of night rest is associated with poor physical and cognitive performance.
The exasperated workaholic, the need to always show full of energy and never tired, but also the enormous social pressure we feel on our shoulders and the immense amount of work entrusted to us mean that to be sacrificed is almost always the time to be allocated to sleep, too often conceived as expendable and almost as “a waste of precious hours”.
Sleep performs various functions in our body, among these the most relevant are:
- the regulation of learning and memory,
- physical recovery,
- control of emotions,
- the production of hormones,
- facilitate the processes of memory.
The stages of sleep
Sleep is constantly changing during the night, in fact, on a scientific level, it is divided into:
- NON REM phase 1: falling asleep. The muscles relax, the body temperature begins to drop and brain activity slows down. You can be woken up easily. It is in this phase that someone happens to feel that strange sensation of falling into the void and which causes a sudden muscle contraction.
- NON REM phase 2: light sleep phase. The temperature continues to drop, the metabolic activities slow down, the brain continues to work as in the waking phase (the brain waves produced are in fact very similar) and the muscles alternate phases of tonicity with phases of relaxation.
- NON REM phase 3 and 4: deep sleep phase. The heart rate slows down, the temperature drops again, metabolic activities are reduced to a minimum, the body begins to regenerate.
REM phase: occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep. Sleep becomes lighter, brain activities become more intense (sometimes similar to waking ones) and it is characterized by very rapid eye movements in different directions. It is at this stage that we dream!
As evidenced by the image, these phases are repeated cyclically throughout the night with this structure, even if the NREM phases 3 and 4 tend to occur in the first two cycles, while the REM phase becomes longer as it progresses during sleep, going from Initial 10 minutes up to 90 minutes.
Sleep and emotions
In recent years, research has seen a growing interest in the bidirectional relationship between emotions and sleep. While sleeping properly improves physical and cognitive functions throughout the day, sleep deprivation makes people more emotionally fragile and sensitive to stressful stimuli and events. Sleep, therefore, appears to be essential to our ability to cope with emotional stress in everyday life. However, when daily stress is not sufficiently regulated, it can cause health problems and sleep disturbances. We can therefore say that not only do emotions have an impact on sleep, but that sleep plays a key role in the regulation of emotions. To conclude, it is therefore advisable to guarantee our body a correct amount of night rest, ranging from 7 to 9 hours.
Sleep and memory
Sleep is a real nourishment for the brain.
Sleeping is one of the most effective ways to consolidate memory, because it helps us process all the information received throughout the day and temporarily stored in the hippocampus in a process known as consolidation.
Precisely for this reason, it is not recommended to go to bed too late and / or deprive yourself of hours of sleep during the night preceding a university exam or an important event that requires a high commitment on a physical and cognitive level. Numerous studies have investigated the relationship between sleep and work productivity and it has emerged that people who sleep little are more frequently absent from work, are less productive and are more involved in accidents.
It goes without saying that sleeping little and / or badly weakens the enormous capacities of our brain and limits the ability to learn, memorize and improve in general as individuals, even from a physical point of view.
Sleep and physical energy
Sleeping 7 to 9 hours a night can make an athlete perform for the next ten hours of activity.
Sleep is as important for the success of athletes as nutrition and training are, not only because when you sleep the body is able to regenerate or build muscles, but also because it is a fundamental moment for get more energy and greater mental ability to focus.
Various experiments have been conducted to prove this thesis, such as the one conducted on professional basketball players. The results obtained with the monitoring of athletes showed how speed, reaction times and mental well-being were closely linked to their good night’s rest rather than to other factors.
But this kind of finding, of course, is not linked only to those who practice sports at competitive levels, because it can easily be applied to every type of individual.
A study conducted on more than 2800 middle-aged women has shown how a low amount of sleep was correlated with a reduced ability to walk, to carry heavy objects and to carry out independently cognitive activities of a different nature.
Sleeping little and badly inhibits our ability to express ourselves, move and train as we would like, leaving us only more tired and tried and very often also producing disastrous consequences for our mental health.