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Sleep is the answer

Sleep is directly related to brain functioning and human wellness

Published: Monday, October 31, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 21:07

Sleeping

Joey Roberts — THE BATTALION

Student is captured falling asleep during class at Texas A&M


Throughout our history, what we haven't been able to explain is sleep. This has rendered our ancestors akin to developing their own pathology, sociology and culture. It is through these belief systems by which numerous lineages and locations have been defined. For instance, in Greek mythology we find Hypnos, god of sleep. What the Greeks could muster about sleep was that it is related to night and could potentially give you dreams of foolishness or inspiration. Therefore he was the son of Nyx, the night Goddess, and became the father of Morpheus, god of dream. All right, so let's fast-forward past the Iliad, the Titans and the Brad Pitt movie (pause for a second—AWESOME!), and eventually we'll arrive in 2011.

3,300 years later, can we quantify what sleep is more astutely than the Greeks?

Truth is, we all have an indistinct conceptualization of what sleep is, but in defining this unexplained phenomenon that we all go through, we find that sleep is complex, unknown and (for the most part) remarkably internal. (The answer to the above question is an emphatic "No.") Sleep, for hundreds of years, has been medicinally observed and researched with the helpings of modern science and is continuously under extreme scrutiny. Why?

Suicide, insomnia, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, memory processing, cognition and emotion (among many more) all display a probabilistic relationship to sleep and sleep patterns (maybe this is why the Greeks made sleep the twin brother of Death). We're going to keep it fifth grade (drop the switch blade) where we'll explore memory processing, stress reduction and body repair.

Hopefully you'll be able to comparatively analyze the detriments of the college student trump card: the infamous all-nighter.

How our brains work

In order to understand sleep, we have to understand our brains. In my caffeine blog, I likened our brains to a game of basketball (to visit, revisit or re-revisit, click here.)

In our brains, neurons fire at an alarming rate, adenosine is produced, adenosine receptors pick up the adenosine and monitor it up to a certain point until our bodies begin to signal "SLEEP!"  This process, all-in-all, gives us the energy to go about our daily business (such as breathing, brainstorming and balancing). A general misconception is that sleep is a period of brain inactivity. But if our brains were inactive, we wouldn't be able to breathe. Neurons fire at a generally low rate during sleep and give us the ability to recover (or be hilarious). Brains are working at all times of the day.

Wellness and sleep

If sleep were a super hero, it would be this overwhelmingly strong, 10–armed, spider-sensing, genius and we are the dames and damsels that rely on it so dearly to get us out of trouble. Yes, that is the equivalent. Sleep is shown to prevent cancer, reduce the risk of heart attacks, reduce depression, make you smarter, augment your memory, repair damaged cells, reduce inflammation, reduce stress, help you lose weight and make your breath smell bad (ha). So, where to start? I believe these next three points are sufficient enough to discredit all-nighters.

Sleep reduces stress: We are often asked two questions: Do I have stress because I don't sleep well? Or do I not sleep well because I have stress? The answer to both questions is yes; they are interrelated. When your body is sleep-deprived, it goes into a state of stress. The body's functions are put on high alert, causing an increase in blood pressure and a production of stress hormones. Stress hormones, such as cortisol, limit your ability to sleep.

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