Sleep is a vital period of rest and rejuvenation for the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of human beings. Human beings engage in activity and output during their waking hours while sleep allows time for the physical body’s systems to digest nutrition, regenerate DNA and tissue cells, and for the mental, emotional and spiritual self to process the events of waking hours in a state of calm and rest.
For human beings, sleep occurs in a repeating pattern of wake then sleep, guided by an internal body clock known as the circadian rhythm. For some people, this clock aligns with Earth’s sunrise and sunset hours, while others have a circadian rhythm independent of the day and night skies. This often includes those who work graveyard or 3rd shifts, first responders and others who have more energy at night. It’s important to note these variances in circadian rhythms can have an impact on “one-size fits all” systems and polices, such as school start-times and “banking hours”, when a portion of the population does not operate at their fullest during these times.
Regardless of an individual’s own circadian rhythm, however, there are important considerations across the board. Individuals require a certain amount of sleep in a 24-hour period, and the amount of sleep needed (whether it’s during the night, day or somewhere in between based on one’s own circadian rhythm) can and does often change throughout a person’s life cycle. Children, youth and adolescents tend to need more sleep while their bodies and minds are continuously growing. On the other hand, aging adults who are 65+, tend to need the least sleep. Generally speaking, it’s recommended that human beings start with a baseline of 7-9 hours of sleep per 24 hour cycle, and that optimal sleep occurs in an uninterrupted, routine pattern.
In fact, uninterrupted sleep is crucial for optimal health and well-being. Sleep ranges from absence of wakefulness to complete unconsciousness, and includes two primary phases, Non-REM, and REM. During REM sleep, the body becomes paralyzed while the brain and mental and emotional selves process events, and the body enters deeper phases of rejuvenation. REM only occurs when enough sleep has been obtained, and this is why uninterrupted sleep is crucial.
Lack of sleep, and lack of REM sleep in particular, is characterized as “sleep deprivation”. Sleep deprivation is often experienced by those who have limited time for sleep caused by external demands (such as those who work more than one job or more than 40 hours per week, truck drivers, caregivers, parents and others who cannot obtain an interrupted routine sleep schedule), lifestyle choices (such as use of substances, caffeine, or late-night outings), as well as internal obstacles to obtaining calm before sleep (such as stress, mental fatigue, or physical pain or trauma).
Sleep deprivation for even one 24-hour period can have immediate impact on the body, mental, emotional and spiritual self. Improper functioning, loss of normal responses and inability to perform otherwise ordinary tasks can be felt right away. In the short term, many people compensate by consuming more food during this time, such as sweets and carbohydrates. Ironically, the sudden rush and then sudden crash of these habits can lead to immediate sleepiness, and prolonged interruption to the person’s normal circadian rhythm.
Longer-term sleep deprivation can lead to severe physical, mental, emotional and spiritual damage, including heart disease, heart failure, high blood pressure, brain deterioration, high anxiety disorders, psychosis and even death. And both short-term and long-term sleep deprivation can lead to a depleted immune system.
Sleep deprivation also has an important cyclical effect. As the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves try to compensate for lack of sleep, each experience greater stress leading to increased cortisol in the body. This often results in even greater needs for energy consumption, which can lead to continued inability to achieve a routine, interrupted sleep cycle.
When the body cannot longer operate without sleep, or when the sleep cycle has become too unpredictable, the body will force sleep to occur at its soonest opportunity, and this can happen to people at inopportune times, such as while driving, sitting in class, or listening to conversations. In addition, the lowered immune system responses can force the body into longer periods of sleep to achieve rest and rejuvenation.
The right amount of uninterrupted, routine sleep is not only good for human beings, it is necessary for complete and full functioning. In most cases, whether through intention or illness, the body will lend itself to getting the sleep it needs.
in or from sleep deprivation.