One of the biggest mysteries for the human race is sleep!
When we look at it from an evolutionary point of view, sleep should have been one of those things we should have stopped doing many millennia ago. Thinking about the fact that when we sleep, we are practically unconscious for 1 whole third of a day which leaves us open to so many dangers our predecessors faced in the early ages, leaves me wondering how on earth we ever survived as a species.
So, it goes to show that sleep is actually super beneficial to us and our overall well-being. If sleep lacked this level of importance, those ‘lucky’ few who could survive and thrive on less sleep would have climbed the ladder on the gene pool ages ago, and those of us who need a good night’s rest would have eventually succumbed to some or other danger like being eaten alive. On a side note, I am so happy that I was born now as it’d really suck to have been eaten in my sleep while snoozing away in some cave! Even though so much research has been conducted over the years, the scientific community is yet to provide us with a solid answer as to why we sleep.
But, as many researching sleep and countless new moms would tell you, a good amount of sleep is good for you in so many ways.
All of us at some time in our lives have experienced how hard it is to focus and function when we’ve had less sleep. Trying to take in the information presented to us while being sleep-deprived is not the only battle we have to face. If we want to get into the technical side of things, this is only a third. The learning and memory side of things are divided into 3 parts – acquisition, consolidation and recall. In simple terms, you first need to receive the information, then it needs to settle into your memory and finally, you would need to able to tap into this stored information when you’re doing something like watch ‘Jeopardy’!
During the learning and memory process, acquisition and recall occur when someone is awake while consolidation “takes place during sleep through the strengthening of the neural connections that form our memories. The overall evidence suggests that adequate sleep each day is very important for learning and memory.
So, if you are able to focus on whatever it is, you’re learning on minimal amounts of sleep, that information unfortunately won’t go through the proper processes to be stored in your brain for you to access it at a later time, which in most cases leaves you drawing a blank when needing to access this information. You know that look your beloved husband gets, that glazed-over look, when you ask him about something the two of you discussed a while back? Yes, that one!
I have and will always be a firm believer that the pursuit of knowledge should be a lifelong one even beyond our basic schooling, but as we get older, learning becomes more and more of an option. For your kids on the other hand, learning is their primary activity for the first 18 or 20 years of their lives, so looking at the amount of information they need to retain, sleep becomes more important to them to ensure optimal learning.
We all know that when we are running on empty and haven’t been getting a good night’s rest, we tend to be more irritable and short-tempered. A study done at the University of Pennsylvania illustrated that study participants who had been experiencing even partial sleep deprivation were reporting feelings of anger, sadness, mental exhaustion and stress.
This information is however not anything new. We all know that we get negatively emotional when we don’t get enough good quality sleep, but why is that? Shouldn’t lack of sleep have the same effect as a few glasses of wine for instance? As I said earlier, sleep is one of the many mysteries of the human race and much still needs to be done in terms of research. Some researchers suggest that sleep deprivation stimulates activity in the amygdala, the little almond-shaped part of your brain that is responsible for feelings including anger and fear. These heightened feelings can contribute to overall stress as well as hostility towards others, which is often why you’ve lost it at your co-worker when they asked you a random and usually normal question.
Apart from sleep being an integral part of the learning process as well as our emotional well-being, what are the other benefits of having a healthy amount of sleep?
Sleep, like eating and breathing, has a huge amount of health benefits. “Sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness and mood,” says Dr. Merrill Mitler, a sleep expert and neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Health. “Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies,”
The part of the population who regularly get a good night’s rest of between 7-9 hours have significantly lowered rates of high blood pressure, obesity, depression, inflammation, heart failure and heart disease etc. This group of people also report performing better at work, take fewer sick days and have a higher satisfaction in their sex lives as opposed those getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night.
So, with all the research and clear benefits, sleep is definitely an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. But then you have a baby and all that changes right? Since you brought this baby into this world your role has now shifted, and you’re expected to sacrifice your sleep for a few years in order to best respond to what your baby needs. And for some reason, babies need you more right in the middle of the night. This is just one of the many parenting myths doing its rounds for as long as I can remember.
Here is the truth though, your baby needs even more sleep than you because of all the internal magic going on getting your little human ready for the big, big world.
Those little bodies may look like dolls while they are asleep, but there is so much magic happening that we cannot see. Some of what happens while your little one is asleep includes growth hormones that are being secreted to help your baby gain weight, cytokines are being produced to build up your baby’s immunity and produce antibodies. All these highly advanced systems are laying the foundation for your baby’s growth and development and this will continue through childhood and into adolescence, if they are given the proper chance to. Mother nature is doing all the hard work, all your little one’s need to be doing is closing their eyes and drifting off to sleep. As this is my field of expertise, I still see many parents being told babies just don’t sleep well and that they should expect them to be waking up 7 to 8 times during the night. So, before I continue, I would like to outright say that you have absolutely NO idea of what you’re talking about! The advice these people are sharing is not only wrong, but it’s extremely harmful too. Telling parents to suck it up and accept that their baby’s sleep issues are just a normal part of the process is preventing this problem from being addressed and fixed. And this is a huge concern for not only the children, but the rest of the family as well. Yes, parents need their sleep but having their babies sleep well is not just about them. As I stated earlier, when a baby is not able to sleep properly, this messes with their natural and much-needed developmental process. Sleep issues can be seen in the same light as an ear infection and just like the infection, there is a remedy for it. Many people telling parents to bite it out is doing them more of a disservice and this needs to stop. When we allow ourselves and our children to believe that inadequate sleep is acceptable, they carry it over into adolescence which in turn creates adults who then don’t value the importance of sleep. And so, the cycle continues.
So, to all those new mothers out there, I am here to tell you today that you don’t have to accept the idea that sleep has now become a luxury you need to sacrifice for a few years. If your baby is not sleeping well, let’s address it.
Remember, you’re not selfish for doing this. You are positively contributing to your baby’s life not only to benefit them now, but this will carry on benefiting them right into adulthood and you know what? You’ll have taught them the importance of sleep which they will then pass on to their children!
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