Understanding Sleep (Part I)

By Sheila Kun RN, BSN, MS, CPN, FCCP

Before the age of technology, i.e. the time when there were no stethoscope, no EKG, no sleep lab, no ultra sound, no X-Ray, no MRI and no CT scan, doctors used their naked eyes to visualize your health, asked pertinent questions to assess your problems and felt your pulses at your wrist to determine your health status. By inspecting you from head to toe, they would identify possible health problems. For example, if you looked jaundiced (yellow), you could have liver or kidney problem. If you looked tired, it could be a multitude of issues. However, to get an idea of your general health, the following three key questions would give them clues as to how healthy you were:

  • How is your appetite? (Do you eat well?)
  • Any problems with bowel movement? (Do you poo well?)
  • Do you sleep well? (Any insomnia or difficulty with falling asleep?)

If you answers were “fine” with these three questions, generally you should be okay. The point is, from very early on, physicians recognize that sleep is an essential part of your health. It is within the last 30 years or so that the study of sleep and its disorders became a separate scientific field. Because it is so important to your health and daily function, I thought we should spend the coming weeks to explore this topic. We will go slowly and really enjoy knowing the role of sleep in our life. So let us begin with studies from NIH (National Institute of Health).

Abstracted from NIH National Institution of Health for Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep


Sleep is an important part of your daily routine—you spend about one-third of your time doing it.  Quality sleep – and getting enough of it at the right times — is as essential to survival as food and water.  Without sleep you can’t form or maintain the pathways in your brain that let you learn and create new memories, and it’s harder to concentrate and respond quickly.

Sleep is important to a number of brain functions, including how nerve cells (neurons) communicate with each other.  In fact, your brain and body stay remarkably active while you sleep.  Recent findings suggest that sleep plays a housekeeping role that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake.

Everyone needs sleep, but its biological purpose remains a mystery.  Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body – from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance.  Research shows that a chronic lack of sleep, or getting poor quality sleep, increases the risk of disorders including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.

Sleep is a complex and dynamic process that affects how you function in ways scientists are now beginning to understand.

Sheila’s note: The following weeks we will explore how your need for sleep is regulated and what happens in the brain during sleep.

Your homework from the Care Ministry this week: Examine your sleep habit and pattern. Do you sleep well?

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