The question of the century really, as even scientists are not a 100% sure. However, there are some very appealing reasons for sleep and not many to support lack of sleep.The question of the century really, as even scientists are not a 100% sure. However, there are some very appealing reasons for sleep and not many to support lack of sleep.
During my time in Bali last year, I met an amazing soul, a fellow yoga teacher, and a lover of mystical life. She regularly woke before the sun and started about her day of yoga, snorkeling and pranayama-meditation activities. I, on the other hand, enjoyed sleeping in to the very last possible second I could.
She would say, “sleep is a waste of time. It takes our time from experiencing life.” How much more can we accomplish simply if we can live our lives during those hours of sleep. She would even argue that perhaps during sleep, we are being taken in another dimension, where it changes our elemental being, and we then deal with the consequences of sleep in our waking hours. I always thought it is the reverse anyway, that while we sleep we deal with what we couldn’t during our waking hours.
A year ago in Morocco on the other hand, while embracing the man driven culture, my friend and coworker explained to me the importance of a man with purpose. He would go on to explain that sleep is for the purposeless. “If you have no purpose, a job, a direction, a way to show off to your family, then you sleep.” To me this sounds as though the act of sleep is a form of punishment. This didn’t sit right with me.
Curious about this activity we all do without understanding why, I began a quest to research the process of sleeping in terms of biological, physiological and also mental and emotional standpoint. What is it that happens when we sleep? Where does our consciousness go? Why is sleep so important? Is there such a thing as too much or too little sleep? I might not be able to answer all of these questions but surely will begin unveiling some tremendous benefits of sleep.
Understanding Brain Waves
According to the National Center of Biotechnology, Neuroscience edition, sleep is not well understood, however some reasons of sleep include the replenishing of glycogen levels in the brain. Sleep is part of regulating body temperature and human metabolism regulation in terms of oxygen consumption. When we don’t sleep, we feel foggy, have reduced cognitive abilities, mood swings, hallucinations and impaired memory. Shakespeare has gone so far to say that sleep is “nature’s soft nurse”.
This shows us just how much Sleep is correlated with brain function and more importantly brain waves. Sleep patterns stimulate the movement of frequencies throughout the nervous system. During our 6-8hr sleep we alternate between two sleep cycles.
The first cycle is known as Non REM and is composed of four stages. Stage one is being awake and falling asleep, most often called dozing off. The second stage is light sleep, where heart rate and breathing regulates and body temperature drops. The third stage of Non REM is actually deep sleep where muscle tone, pulse and breathing decrease and slow down. The fourth stage is the crossover point into REM, very deep sleep. The body becomes completely paralyzed, yet our breathing rate increases and brainwaves behave similarly to that of being awake. REM accounts for 25 percent of our sleep time. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) is the time we dream. In other words, when we dream in our sleep, our brain behavior is much like when we are in a wake state. Among esoteric philosophers and spiritualists here begs the question,”Which dream is real?”
There are five brain waves that we move through during our wakeful and sleep cycles. A balanced individual mentally, emotionally, and physiologically, moves through these waves regularly. But lets face it, we all are out of balance, so is our brain waves. Below is a graph that shows the different brain waves and their function, and better yet what thoughts and emotions are associated with unbalanced wave function.
|Balanced Behavior||High Wave- Behavior||Low Wave- Behavior|
|BETA||Normal waking state of consciousness . Attention on cognitive tasks and outside world||High stress response/ anxiety or excitement and sleeplessness/ highly complex thought||Confusion/ loss of cognitive function|
|ALPHA||Quiet thought, power of now, meditative states. Resting state of brain||Highest in right Hemisphere, aids in mental coordination.||Negative behaviors, social withdrawal, depression|
|DELTA||Healing and Regeneration. Stage 3 of Sleep cycle||ADHD, hard to focus, sleep walking and talking||Difficulty performing conscious tasks ( in case of brain injuries)|
|GAMMA||Peak concentration and high levels of cognitive functioning||Correlates with High IQ, compassion, memory and happiness||Learning difficulties, impaired mental processing and limited memory.|
|THETA||Daydreaming and sleep, memory coordination||Scattered and daydreaming, lack of organization, attention disorders, impulsivity||Lack of creativity and imagination. Anxious and restless|
Brain waves activate, raise, or lower their frequency in connection with the type of thoughts we ruminate upon. Thoughts can change our physiology. This topic is very well explained by Dr Joe Dispenza in his series ”Rewired” where he explains the power of self healing simply by thought alone.
Thoughts stimulate Hormones & Bodily Functions
Dr. Joe Dispenza furthermore explains how thoughts create our reality in a scientific manner, as thoughts influence our brain frequencies, and the frequency of the brain sends the signal across the endocrine system, which then produces a set of hormones creating a rhythm of other bodily functions including sleep, wakefulness, hunger, tension, relaxation and so on.
Furthermore, different brain wave frequencies induce different states of being. For example. The Alpha state represents the ultimate wakeful state, the power of now, the ability to be conscious and present in the now. This is often a frequency sought after with meditation techniques. The state of meditation releases hormones of well being, such is the oxytocin, the hormone of happiness, and pure unconditional love. Here we are understanding that sleep is so important, we have a way to induce waking sleep just to stimulate and regulate or better yet, understand the regulation of our consciousness and unconsciousness.
Dr. Joe Dispenza also discusses moving consciously through these brain wave states in an effort to tap into your own conscious pattern of self healing. When we change the way we perceive outside information and move from a state of separation into a state of oneness, then we shift our understanding of the perceived information, thus aiding in the production of different set of hormones.
Brainwaves stimulate the production of hormones. Only during sleep it is likely that a human being will move through all wave states, thus each state stimulates a different set of chemical release into our bloodstream. There is high importance on hormone production as it is a vital aspect of maintaining this human vessel. We have spent decades studying how our bodies function relating to circumstance, and often seeking for solutions to disorders in the body and mind outside of it. Pharma companies are the most profitable worldwide because of this lack of self-understanding of the human kind. The truth about our own self protection mechanisms and ability to restore balance, however, lies in the power of our mind, heart and drive.
Sleeping, depression, and anxiety pills are the epidemic of today’s fast moving society. It’s the easy way out. Having been told by “an expert” what is good for us, seems to be more assuring than trusting your own “gut”. Should you seek within yourself, you will see that you are able to stimulate your own endocrine system and brain wave function to create your own anti-anxiety and sleeping pills that your body is readily capable of producing. This is its nature anyway, to maintain and restore balance.
The goal here is to understand in simple terms the need for sleep and how the river of thoughts is connected to the river of hormone production/release in our bloodstream in order to build a foundation of brain wave function and sleep / wake patterns. All forms of life shift between the yin and yang, the active and restorative, the male and the female, between moon and sun. According to Ayurveda, the basic stimulating factors of our daily organ activity, confirms that we are like sunflowers, always facing the sun, and are stimulated by light cues. Sleep is a period during which no light enters our photoreceptors in our retina. Once we are in synch with the movement of the sun, all of our inner physiology will be maintained. Just because we have consciousness and the ability to override certain aspects of nature, it does not mean we are different and separate from nature. Today the world we live in is focused only on the function of the mind and this high paced society of fast cars, fast food, fast everything. Our Human kind is trying to outcompete itself, to prove, and also to go beyond the now and into some ideal future. All of this is causing the obvious reasons for stress and traumas in the body and mind, thus leads to all kinds of imbalances and dis-ease.
Sleep is Vital to Our Survival and Health
How often do you hear your peers say; “I am so tired, I didnt sleep good“, or “I didnt sleep enough”, or recently its been, “I sleep too much”.
Sleep is vital to our health and well being, as it is a precursor to the production of hormones that regulate organ growth, repair, function and development in our bodies.
Like any machinery, our body needs its reboot, to self-clean and restart. The body does this during the precious hours of sleeping. If rest isn’t properly met, this is a good sign of a hormonal imbalance. Unlike hunger, that can be consciously controlled, sleep cannot be controlled. When the body needs to sleep, the eyes shut and the muscles relax, regardless of which situation you find yourself in, either be it behind the wheel, or in a business meeting. Sleep is an involuntary action. A function of the body/brain mechanism.
Together with breathIng and the need for water, sleep is one of the three most important factors of keeping the human vessel alive. Having a healthy cycle of sleep makes for healthy hormonal release patterns, which in turn makes for balanced and happy individuals. Hormones are related to our eating habits, immunity and cell growth and recovery. Their main job is to regulate the vital organs and systems in our body.
The Role of Hormones and Sleep
By now researchers have established a strong connection to brain and gut, and how hunger and satiety play a role in our sleep quality. Our chief appetite hormones are ghrelin and leptin. They are like the yin and yang of our eating patterns. They signal when the body is hungry. Ghrelin stimulates hunger, and increases appetite, while leptin tells the brain when to eat and maintains the level of insulin production by decreasing appetite after eating. Hunger begins in the morning, when the body is at its optimal functioning. The digestive system is ready to crunch down and absorb nutrients. Digestion in the body is constant, as we digest everything that comes at us through the organs, including the air that touches our skin. According to Ayurveda, when the sun is highest in the sky, eat your biggest meal of the day. And when the sun goes down so does digestion, thus the body gets ready to sleep. Should you eat a late night dinner, your sleep shall be disturbed, and in a domino effect scenario, other hormonal and mental-physiological disruptions may follow. Proper sleep stimulates a strong connection from brain to gut, and so the gut is happy, the mind is happy, so the body is happy too. By now researchers have established a strong connection to brain and gut, and how hunger and satiety play a role in our sleep quality. Our chief appetite hormones are ghrelin and leptin. They are like the yin and yang of our eating patterns. They signal when the body is hungry. Ghrelin stimulates hunger, and increases appetite, while leptin tells the brain when to eat and maintains the level of insulin production by decreasing appetite after eating. Hunger begins in the morning, when the body is at its optimal functioning. The digestive system is ready to crunch down and absorb nutrients. Digestion in the body is constant, as we digest everything that comes at us through the organs, including the air that touches our skin. According to Ayurveda, when the sun is highest in the sky, eat your biggest meal of the day. And when the sun goes down so does digestion, thus the body gets ready to sleep. Should you eat a late night dinner, your sleep shall be disturbed, and in a domino effect scenario, other hormonal and mental-physiological disruptions may follow. Proper sleep stimulates a strong connection from brain to gut, and so the gut is happy, the mind is happy, so the body is happy too.
Cortisol and Melatonin are another set of yin/yang hormones that are released based on the perception of light and dark.
Cortisol known as the stress hormone sometimes gets a bad rep, but it is in charge of many physiological functions including metabolism, blood pressure, and immune function. Manufactured by the adrenal glands located on top of the kidneys, Cortisol helps control body’s use of fats proteins and carbs. Cortisol regulates bloods pressure and increases blood sugar levels. High levels of cortisol however, are no good. The constant rising of blood sugar can lead to other resistances and weaknesses in the body. High cortisol keeps the body alert at all times, thus unable to rest. The body goes into “fight or flight” mode of survival. In terms of brain waves, high beta state tends to dominate the left hemisphere, focusing the mind more toward cognitive mathematical and predictable logic. Keeping the mind overactive in seeking logical and predictable outcomes to life’s events sends the body into overdrive, where suddenly nothing makes sense. Continuous high beta frequency is related to insomnia, migraines and anxiety. During these states, there’s lack of melatonin production, which leads to de-regulation of the circadian rhythms, and here again, the domino effect takes place, where all other shifts occur in the human body system.
When balanced, this hormone is released in the morning and decreases throughout the day ( much like the function of our gut, since cortisol and digestion are related ) until its counterpart melatonin begins to takeover control of the human vehicle at night time. Melatonin is our body’s natural sleep hormone in charge of our entire 24hr body rhythm. The body releases this hormone after sunset, and it slows all body functions down so we can sleep.
Melatonin is released by the pineal gland located in the middle of the brain. Melatonin is derived from tryptophan and regulates circadian rhythms. It also plays a major role in female menstrual cycles and it is connected to the production of estrogen (females), and testosterone ( males). For more information about our Endocrine System Click Here !
So what happens when the body doesn’t sleep?
Without sleep, we disturb the circadian rhythm and biological functions in our body. How does the constant attachment to technology like smart phones and computers affect sleep?
Researchers have explained that the overstimulation of the artificial light from your smart phone at night glitches the photoreceptors in your eyes to signal the brain, and Endorcine system to produce hormones for daylight, thus keeping the body functioning, and mind overstimulated, hence the lack of sleep and busy monkey mind.
Our daily behavior tailors the style of sleep we endure, and thus, a habit forms where we go through a cyclic motion of repeat behavior. Habit is a pattern that develops when we allow the autopilot function in our physiology to take the wheel. Some habits are not serving our higher purpose and optimal functioning. Such is the lack of sleep due to overstimulation by technology. Habits that are keeping us in a place of stagnancy rather than growth are to be made aware of, so we can begin to break them and replace them with a healthy nurturing pattern. When you go to bed at night, give yourself at least an hour break from technology and keep it away from your head and bed. Let the body fully relax into sleep. Good night sleep is a healthy pattern, that brings you into a brand new day full of possibilities.
As to my friend’s comment about being taken to another dimension…. theoretically, she is right, sleep is another form of life, where consciousness is at rest and our superconsciousness gets activated. Sleeping cleanses the body of stagnancies and obstacles the waking body could not process.
Sleeping allows for the body to restore, replenish and aid in cell growth. Each day is a new story for the body, its only the mind that is capable of staying and dragging the past into a new day. This is how powerful our thoughts are, they can shift and change our physiology. Our mind has been programmed to behave in the way it does, but also the mind is extremely plastic, thus we have ways to rewire our own circuits of how we behave. Habits are not inherent and they are breakable. Sleep is not a habit, but the length and behavior around your sleep is. The body really only needs a few hours of productive sleep to complete all restorative and healing aspects to its systems. Sleeping 8+ hours is therefore unnecessary and in some types, not recommended. Oversleeping, overstimulates melatonin production, leading the body’s metabolism to stay slow, and thus body feels sluggish and heavy.
To Recap on Sleep Importance
Sleep stimulates brain wave frequencies. These frequencies in turn stimulate the endorcine system and the production of hormones. Hormones than activate functions of vital organs, such as the function of the thyroid in the process of food metabolism, or liver, in the production of glycogen or the kidneys in the function of our body’s filtration system. Everything is interconnected and thus vital to our existence. Sleep is good. Sleep is healthy. Sleep is necessary.
Should you find yourself having difficulty falling asleep, I’d like to share with you a breathing technique that is designed to shift your brain waves by removing your attention to thoughts and focusing on your present moment of being.
The following combination of breathing techniques is to stimulate an Alpha moving into Theta and Delta state. From Meditative state into a sleeping state of full body relaxation. Once the muscle tension of the body dissipates the body relaxes and sleep is induced.
When you find yourself staring at the ceiling unable to sleep, removing all light from your room at night, lay flat on your bed, arms and legs spread wide like a starfish. Bring your awareness to your breath. Observe how air moves in and out of your nostrils. Take a few observing breaths. Exhale everything out.
Inhale for 4 seconds. Hold the breath for 6 seconds. Exhale out for 7 seconds. Hold the emptiness for 8. Then Inhale big full inhale in 2 seconds. Hold the breath for 4 seconds. Exhale for 6. Hold the emptiness for 7 seconds. And repeat from the top again a total of three rounds. The goal of this exercise is to shift your High Beta frequency to low beta and better yet, Alpha wave. At the end of your third round, take a few regular breaths. Notice the length it takes to fully inhale, and exhale. Focus on exhaling longer than inhaling. Slow down the process of inhaling and exhaling even further. Begin with each exhalation to bring awareness to the top of your head, and observe all muscle groups with each breath as you move down your body, starting with the wrinkles on your forehead, ear lobes, jaw, facial muscles... etc. Follow along your muscles through out your body and exhale each into conscious relaxation.
This process helps you enter in an induced state of conscious sleep similar to the beginning of yoga nidra, or experiencing theta and delta states.
The relaxed body, and the shallow breath, the numbness of organs then releases us into a Delta state and the beginning of the 3rd stage of Non- REM sleep.
May you find this practice part of your daily routine that stimulates awareness of your present moment. Bring your mind away from the stories, and into the heart and body.