Sleep is extremely important for a number of reasons. I will try to give you some of the most important parts geared towards this audience but I promise I won't completely capture all its majesty. Before I was a bodybuilder, before I was a powerlifter, before I practiced medicine and before I was training for neurosurgery, I was in grad school trying to develop new drugs to enhance memory, sleep, and alter the mind. This is a neuroscience article and is more focused on the Mind than it is the body….or is it?
My father used to say that he hated sleeping because he felt he was missing something. My grandfather felt it was a waste of time in which could be spent working. While, me for example, as a teenager liked to sleep so I didn't have to leave my mind. Sleep means something different to different people. Most people get too little sleep and others too much. The recommended amount of sleep is 8.2 hours with 9 hours spent in bed. Those who exercise need less sleep but for those of us who lift with intensity, our bodies need more physical rest, if not mental rest.
To be deep in the embrace of Morpheus is some people's greatest desire and others most dreaded fear. Many are plagued with nightmares; symbolic hallucinations of the stressors of their lives. Others have glorious dreams of the future and lost loves, places one is destined to visit and objects one may desire, fills the subconscious mind. Some believe that if you die in your dreams, you die in real life, that your soul is eviscerated by your inner demons. Others see prognostic portents, clairvoyant visions in these dreams... or at least believe they do.
In India, the Brahmin women have a red dot on their foreheads. This is to represent the third eye. Supposedly it is to grant spiritual vision and wisdom beyond that one such as I, can reach. An interesting detail is that the pineal gland is called the third eye!
Melatonin is released from the pineal gland and that induces sleep. This release is triggered by a lack of light entering our two normal eyes. With the profound dreams induced by melatonin release and the many cultures belief that dreams give us an opportunity to access spiritual and psychic information we don't normally have access to, is it any wonder that the gland that grants us these dreams is tied to this mystic third eye?
Dreaming occurs in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep or stage V. In this state, our eyes twitch about at the same rate of 40 movements per second that they do when we are actually seeing things when we are awake. An interesting detail is that despite our eye muscles being fully active, our other muscles are paralyzed! Additionally, the hippocampus, the part of our brain that encodes experiences into memory, is extra active...but it's working backward.
Instead of our eyes gathering data and our hippocampus encoding this information into memories and storing those memories in the parietal lobe, it is taking memories from the parietal lobe and tricking our subconscious into believing we are experiencing them in real time! Since it is running backwards we don't remember our dreams…or at least we aren't supposed to. If the dream is horrific enough, we snap awake in a cold sweat and have the last details of our dreams active in our working memory for about 4 minutes. After that, we can't remember what we dreamt about, just the emotions we felt upon waking.
What are the point of dreams?
Dreams help to force your daily stressful events into solidified skills. There are two forms of memory: One form is declarative memory, which I’m using to write this information down and the other is physical memory, which I'm using to type this out without having to think about typing. REM encodes these physical memory skills into place.
REM occurs more after the 4 hour mark and a lot more after the 6 hour mark of sleeping. So, by shortchanging yourself on sleep, you stop yourself from maximizing your learning. In med school many people would take Valium to sleep because they were on Adderall and Ritalin all day. The problem with this is that Valium, like all Benzodiazepines, stops you from forming new memories (it gives you anterograde amnesia).
That's why if someone takes Ambien, they might cheat on their diet or their spouse and not remember the next day because it lowers inhibitions, much like alcohol, and makes you “blackout,” not forming new memories.
Sleepwalking is when your body isn't paralyzed while you're dreaming but your body is acting as if you are in the situation you're dreaming about. As you can imagine, you can get hurt or hurt others while you're dreaming so it's a nifty evolutionary event that those of our ancestors were paralyzed while dreaming, lived to reproduce more frequently than those who did not. Now most people are descendants of those non-sleepwalkers and subsequently few people sleep walk.
In the next chapter of Sleep: An Incomprehensive Guide, I will cover metabolism during sleep!
Nothing in this article or on this site should be considered medical advice or as an endorsement to violate any law of the country in which you reside. The information given is for fun and entertainment purposes only. All claims are 100% dependent upon proper diet and exercise. Please consult a medical practitioner prior to any diet and exercise program.