Sleep makes us feel rejuvenated and energized. We have more physical energy, but more importantly more mental energy and cognitive ability, and a more upbeat outlook on the world.
The phrase "sleep pressure" resonates. We know what it means – the need and desire to sleep – but scientists cannot describe what happens inside the brain to make us feel this way.
What if we could redirect the focus from fixing broken sleep to making sleep better?
Sleep medicine is all about dysfunctions and solving them, mitigating them, and living with them. It is useful, but even without formal medicine you can do your part to maintain a good sleep regimen and make the quality of your sleep - and waking - better.
What makes you sleep?
The immune system is part of the body's production of a feeling of sleepiness. Chemicals called cytokines are released by the immune system and tend to make you sleepy. This is why we are more easily fatigued when sick. Even when we are not sick the immune system participates driving pressure to sleep.
See our page on fixes for insomnia.
Humans generally do our best work during the day or early evening. Some people are indeed night owls, and many may claim they work better at night, but in reality most people are most mentally alert and physically stronger during the day.
The necessity of night work means people get shift-work sleep disorder. Productivity in jobs is generally lower at night (despite what some individuals may claim about their own productivity).
Drowsy driving is also a major public health problem.
Night workers are more prone to heart problems, digestive system upsets, and infertility.
Dealing with night shifts
In the old days, the emphasis was always on uncovering and addressing the underlying cause of the insomnia. The assumption was that all insomnia was secondary insomnia. New thinking is that it is best to consider insomnia to be comorbid with (not secondary to) another condition.
"There is only one thing people like that is good for them; a good night’s sleep." - Edgar Watson Howe (American Editor, Novelist and Essayist, 1853-1937)
Hygiene in general refers to a state ideal for maintaining health or forestalling disease. Sleep hygiene is used to refer to the practices around sleep.
Bad sleep hygiene practices would include sleeping on the floor, in regular day clothing, with the TV or radio on, in a hot room or car seat unable to lie down. When people wake up in their living room after a drunken night, feeling miserable, is the misery due to hangover or because a bad night’s sleep? Both, of course, and the bad night’s sleep is partially due to poor sleep hygiene. You pay the price the next day for not taking the time and effort to prepare for bed in a comfortable environment.