The importance of enough and high-quality sleep has always been emphasized. But many of us still stay up late at night for various reasons, including both internal and external elements. Staying up late can disrupt a natural, biological clock in our bodies, which is also referred to as the circadian rhythm. This body clock tells your bodies when to sleep, rise, or eat, and regulates many physiological processes.
Given the great impact of the circadian rhythm on our health, many efforts have been made to understand it at the molecular level. In 2017, three scientists — Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young — won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work in identifying molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm. It’s known that environmental clues, especially light and dark, have significant effects on the circadian rhythm. The three scientists demonstrated that PER, the protein encoded by the period gene, accumulates in the night and is degraded in the day. Thus, the level of the PER protein changes in a 24-hour cycle, and this cycle is critical for the circadian rhythm. Their research also shed light on how light can affect the biological clock.
If you always stay up late at night, it may disrupt your biological clock, resulting in many health problems. Lack of sleep or poor sleep may make you feel tired and have low energy, reduce your thinking and learning skills, impair your memory, lead to accidents and injuries on the job, age your skin, cause depression, disturb the balance of hormones, increase inflammation, weaken your immune system, increase inflammation, increase the risk of many serious illnesses like heart disease, and even cause sudden death. Inflammation is a risk factor for many diseases including cancer. It was reported that six or fewer hours of sleep is associated with increased levels of three inflammatory markers: fibrinogen, IL-6 and C-reactive protein.
Sleep is, in no sense, a waste of time. Brain imaging experiments in mice have demonstrated that there is a waste-flushing system in the brain, known as the glymphatic system. This system is much more active when we sleep than when we are awake. So, sleep actually allows the brain to get rid of waste. With this knowledge, it’s not difficult to understand why poor sleep or sleep deprivation reduces brain functions such as memory, thinking, learning, and reasoning. Sleep is not just good for your brain but for the whole body. For example, sleep helps maintain proper blood sugar levels. Sleep actually provides a power boost and a fresh start.
Knowing that why sleep is extremely critical, you may ask how to ensure a night of good sleep. Here are some tips:
- Follow you your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. If you go to bed and get up at the same times every day, you may find it easier to fall asleep and sleep well all night.
- Control your exposure to light. A hormone called melatonin in our bodies is responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycle, and is secreted by the brain in dark environments. Stay away from bright screens and television a period of time before your bedtime. Make sure the room is dark when sleeping.
- Exercise during the day. Regular exercise can increase the quality of sleep and reduce the risk of insomnia and sleep apnea. This is in part because exercise can increase body temperatures, which is beneficial to sleep. Exercise reduces stress and tires and also helps reset the sleep-wake cycle.
- Keep a healthy diet. If you eat large amounts of food that is hard to digest at dinner, you may find it hard to sleep at night. In addition, food and drinks that stimulate the brain, such as coffee, also affect sleep. Drinking plenty of water is also not good for sleep. So, avoid these things if you want to sleep well.
- Clear your head. Worries, anger, stress, and other negative moods may make you unable to sleep well. Although it sometimes hard to get rid of these negative emotions, you can do something that may help, such as doing meditation exercise, shifting your attention to other cheerful things, or seeking supportive therapy or medical care if the situation is serious.
- Improve your sleep environment. You are affected by your surroundings. Keep the noise down, adjust room temperature, and make the beds.
Maintaining good habits allows you to get good sleep. This will greatly benefit our health. Let’s move!
Bess Liu is a writer and typically contributes content on health tips. She is working at Cusabio, a biotech company that provides proteins, enzymes, hormones, Elisa kits, and other reagents and services for researchers in the fields of life sciences.