Sleep is a fundamental part of our life, just think that we spend a third of our lives sleeping. We tend to associate nocturnal sleep with a simple condition of relaxation, of detachment from reality, in fact while we sleep the body puts itself in a condition of “stand-by” so that all muscles relax, the frequency of breathing and heartbeat decrease. Even the areas of the brain responsible for processing the movement, the production of language, the control of emotions, at night “rest”.
But the functions of our sleep are different and very specific, often linked to hormonal adjustments. Cortisol, which is the stress hormone, decreases significantly in the first few hours of sleep. The result is a “precious” lowering of blood pressure, which however does not occur if a person sleeps little or badly. In the first part of sleep the release of GH also occurs, the growth hormone, responsible not only for the growth of children, but also in the regulation of protein synthesis in adults. There are now so many studies that have shown how good sleep also helps not to get fat. In fact, people who have little rest tend to introduce more calories than those who do not have sleep problems. And here another important role plays, leptin, which regulates the sense of satiety. People who sleep well have high levels of leptin, which acts on the nucleus of the hypothalamus (center of appetite), signaling to the brain that the body has already eaten enough.
And sleep also helps increase immune defenses. It is known that during the phases of deep sleep important substances such as cytokines are released, which modulate the immune response and represent the body’s defense against diseases. So if a person sleeps poorly or badly, with frequent nocturnal awakenings, the amount of cytokines produced is significantly decreased and thus increases the risk of getting sick.
Then there is another fundamental function of sleep, that of the consolidation of memory. During the night we put in the memory store a good part of the information that we have collected during the day. In the United States, a sleep deficit has been found to cause cognitive problems already in children.
It is therefore clear that sleeping well has important implications not only on the individual’s state of “well- being”, but also on the general functioning of the organism. Sleeping well also contributes to a prevention program for various diseases and disorders. Insomnia is the most frequent one: difficulty getting to sleep, or frequent awakenings in the night, or early awakening in the morning, without being able to go back to sleep. Obviously all this has negative repercussions during the day.
It seems clear that a greater attention to the issues concerning the night will have an immediate effect on the quality of life and “if everyone slept better and rested better, the world would be better and would be a better place”.
Dott. Loris Bonamassa