Uploaded by Valerie Mackey

Go To Bed! A Discussion of the Biological Importance of the Human Sleep Cycle

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“Go to Bed!”
Valerie A. Mackey
Reading Area Community College
Go to Bed!
William Shakespeare, in his sixteenth-century play “Macbeth,” eloquently described our
night-time slumbers as “Sleep, that knits up the raveled sleave of care, the death of each day's
life”. Phrases such as phrases like “I slept like a log”, “she slept like the dead,” “he was dead to
the world,” “sound asleep,” or “out like a light”, demonstrate the human credo that once asleep,
our brains are unconscious and inert. But as scientific research expands our understanding of
what actually occurs in a human brain “at rest,” we are learning that while our bodies may be
resting during sleep, our neural activity is as high as if we were wide awake. In fact, there is a
growing scientific consensus that depriving the body of adequate sleep can adversely affect our
physical and mental health, as well as impair our mental faculties (Johnson, 2019).
As Brown discusses in his 2003 article on Eugene Aserinsky’s discovery in 1953 of the
existence of rapid-eye-movement sleep, the brain crackles with electrical activity and dreams
during sleep, rather than resting. Electroencephalography (EEG) research has revealed that our
sleeping minds cycle through alternating stages of active light and deeper sleep approximately
every 90 minutes, and it is scientifically well-established that our brains do not simply drop off a
cliff into dreamland when we sleep, but are instead neurologically active (Brown, 2003).
Unfortunately, as Carolyn Johnson points out in her 2019 Washington Post article “Go to
Bed! Brain researchers warn that lack of sleep is a public health crisis,” for most of human
history, our “scientific understanding” of sleep was basically restricted to asking people how
they felt after a night’s sleep. Despite recent research detailing the importance of healthy sleep,
Johnson’s article details the nonchalant attitude most people still display towards nighttime rest.
In fact, rather than schedule sleeping hours as religiously as we set our television schedules and
alarms to get us up in the morning for work, the author points out that most of us push the
envelope while assuming that we can always “catch up” on sleep at weekends or in a quick
catnap (Johnson, 2019).
Liu et al, in their 2016 paper “Prevalence of Healthy Sleep Duration for the Center for
Disease Control’s (CDC) Morbidity & Mortality Weekly report, reported on data that the CDC
had obtained from the 2014 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. The data showed that
only 65.2% of Americans in 2014 self-reported a healthy sleep duration of seven or more hours
per night; and the authors discuss how short sleep duration (less than 7 hours per night) has been
shown to contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke,
frequent mental distress, and death (Liu et al, 2016).
In their 2017 article “The sleep-deprived human brain,” Krause et al reviewed
neuroimaging studies to develop an understanding of the consequences of sleep deprivation on
the human brain, and discovered that sleep loss negatively affects attention and working
memory, hippocampal learning, and the disruption of cognitive and emotional abilities (Krause
et al, 2017).
Meanwhile, in a 2018 study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,
Shokri-Kojori, Wang et al led a team which discovered that lack of sleep can affect our mental
acuity and increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The study found that levels of
beta-amyloid (a metabolic waste product found in fluid between neurons, the build-up of which
is linked to impaired brain function and Alzheimer’s) increases in the brains of humans after one
night’s missed sleep. The build-up was particularly noticeable within the thalamus and
hippocampus, two regions of the brain that are particularly susceptible to damage from betaamyloid build-up during early stages of Alzheimer’s. The researchers specifically found that
participants in their study who demonstrated larger increases in the beta-amyloid buildup
reported negative effects on their mood after a night of missed sleep (Shokri-Kojori et al, 2018).
So, what can we do to mitigate some of the more dire effects of sleep deprivation? It is a
simple cure, according to Ramlakhan and Weighall. In their 2018 article in Perspectives in
Public Health, the authors point out that we should be prioritizing healthy sleep along with a
good diet and exercise, the combination of which can lead to a healthier life. The authors point
out that good sleep habits begin in childhood, by establishing a good bedtime routine for the
entire household. Since research shows that children’s brains are in a constant state of growth
and development, in order to allow their brains to process a busy school day, the authors
recommend ten hours each night for children (Ramlakhan & Weighall, 2018).
Ramlakhan and Weighall suggest establishing an effective bedtime routine, particularly
one that limits technology since human circadian rhythms respond to decreased light in the
evenings by stimulating melatonin, the sleep hormone. Technology usage before bed disrupts
this natural process, stopping the melatonin hormone from being secreted and secreting the
chemical dopamine instead, which stimulates rather than calms down the brain. The authors
recommend listening to relaxing music, reading a book, or even using aromatherapy with
relaxing essential oils like lavender, all of which encourage the nervous system to slow down and
help improve sleep quality. Yoga is another recommendation as a relaxation tool prior to bed, as
it can assist in calming the nervous system, while a calm, comfortable environment is also
recommended as essential to promote healthy sleep (Ramlakhan & Weighall, 2018).
Johnson’s 2019 article in the Washington Post shows how little attention we have been
paying to the publication of research discussing the dangers of sleep debt. Her article details how
our sleep patterns have changed for the worse over the years: for instance, in 1942, a Gallup poll
found that adults slept an average of 7.9 hours per night, while by 2016, the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention reported that over one-third of all adults do not get the minimum
recommended seven hours of sleep daily (Johnson, 2019).
Given the detrimental effects on health, academic work and our personal lives that lack of
sleep has been shown to cause, it would seem incumbent on everyone to start taking the issue of
going to sleep far more seriously than we do at the moment. Ramlakhan and Weighall point out
that if you have to use an alarm clock to wake you up, then you are probably not getting
sufficient sleep – perhaps it is time for us to ditch the alarm clock in the morning, and set up an
alarm to remind us to go to bed at night, instead.
References:
Brown, C. (2003, October 01). The Stubborn Scientist Who Unraveled A Mystery of the Night.
Retrieved April 22, 2019, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/thestubborn-scientist-who-unraveled-a-mystery-of-the-night-91514538/
Johnson, C. Y. (2019). Go to bed! Brain researchers warn that lack of sleep is a public health
crisis. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/go-tobed-brain-researchers-warn-that-lack-of-sleep-is-a-public-healthcrisis/2019/01/24/bbc61562-0a1b-11e9-85b6-41c0fe0c5b8f_story.html
Krause, A. J., Simon, E. B., Mander, B. A., Greer, S. M., Saletin, J. M., Goldstein-piekarski, A.,
& Walker, M. P. (2017). The sleep-deprived human brain. Nature
Reviews.Neuroscience, 18(7), 404-418. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nrn.2017.55
Shokri-Kojori, E., Wang, G., & Al, E. (2018, April 24). β-Amyloid accumulation in the human
brain after one night of sleep deprivation. Retrieved April 22, 2019, from
https://www.pnas.org/content/115/17/4483
Liu, Y., M.D., Wheaton, A. G., PhD., Chapman, D. P., PhD., Cunningham, T. J., ScD., Lu, H.,
M.S., & Croft, J. B., PhD. (2016). Prevalence of healthy sleep duration among adults United States, 2016. (). Atlanta: U.S. Center for Disease Control. Retrieved from
ProQuest Central Retrieved from
https://search.proquest.com/docview/1769599519?accountid=3588
Ramlakhan, N., Weigall, A. Sleep deprivation in adults and children: What can be done to tackle
the increasingly worrying problem in the UK? (2018). Perspectives in Public
Health, 138(6), 301-302. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1757913918805374
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