Sleep, Glorious Sleep!

Part One in a 5-Part Series
Have you ever heard someone say:

“I would give anything if I could just get a good night’s sleep.” Or “I just don’t know why I can’t get to sleep.”  Or “It seems I just lie awake and can’t stop thinking about stuff.” 

Everyone is talking about sleep.  Nearly everyday, a news article or internet post appears about the topic. My own research about sleep is eye-opening. So, for the next few blogs, I want to share some of my lessons learned.

Restful, refreshing sleep is undoubtedly one of life’s great pleasures. But we have become a nation of sleep-deprived adults, teenagers, and children. We can’t get to sleep because we’re stressed out and we’re stressed out because we can’t sleep. 

Lack of sleep is not just stressful. Scientific research links poor sleep to depression, heart disease, obesity, anxiety, increased colds, poor work performance, work related accidents, and even Type 2 Diabetes.

Why do we struggle to sleep? After all, sleeping is a natural activity. We were born to sleep. It’s written in our DNA. So, sleeping should be a simple biological function. We get tired, we go to sleep. Babies do it all the time.

In actuality, falling asleep and staying asleep are part of a complex symphony of physical and environmental conditions working in harmony. Several different stages of sleep and many different structures within the brain contribute to sleep.

It all begins with something called circadian rhythms. The world runs on circadian rhythms. These are natural periods of light and dark, day and night, and changing seasons, resulting from the rotation of the earth. 

All living organisms, from bacteria to plants, to animals, and to humans. Circadian rhythms govern us all. In fact, circadian rhythms influence sleep/arousal cycles, hormone release, eating, digestion, behavior, migration patterns, and even sexual activity.

Humans, like all other vertebrates (animals with backbones), have biological, internal master clocks similar and related to the environmental circadian rhythm. Our internal master clocks form our own personal circadian rhythm. They regulate our sleep/arousal cycles, bodily functions and even moods and behaviors. 

Located deep within the brain is our master clock, which is located in a peanut-sized area known as the hypothalamus. 

3d rendered illustration – hypothalamus

In addition to the hypothalamus, several structures within the brain contribute to the regulation of our sleep/arousal cycle. In the next blog, I will discuss some brain anatomy and physiology involved with the sleep/arousal cycle.

I hope you stay tuned and watch for my next installment.

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