The Science of Sleep

The Science of Sleep


Why a good rest is more of a necessity than a luxury


When was the last time you had a good night’s sleep?


In a culture that is driven by purpose and success in life, the recommended 8-hours-per-evening is often sacrificed to get more out of the day. To hear that one is a little sleep-deprived to finish projects, study for a test, and meet deadlines, it somehow is laudable as a hardworking individual. And the fruits of this sacrifice are all fine and good… that is, until the lack of sleep catches up on you.


Singapore has been ranked as the third-most sleep-deprived city after Tokyo and Seoul, according to a report from the Ministry of Health.[1] Even if it’s unsurprising, this fact should sound off an alarm, knowing just what sleep contributes to good health.


The role of sleep


Sleep is a basic physiological need. Because of the body’s seeming lack of physical movement and diminished reaction to external stimuli, sleep is boxed in the idea of rest—just as a machine is given pause to avoid overheating. But this understanding of sleep oversimplifies just how many functions are affected by it, with the following as the most important:


  • Cell repair, growth, and protection[2] – Sleep is marked by an increased release of hormones related to growth and repair, thus assisting in recuperating from the effects of our activities when we are awake and accelerating the production of new cells to replace older, less efficient ones. This protects tissues and organs from damage-related conditions like cardiovascular diseases.


  • Cognitive function[3] – Opposite of the body’s inactivity, the brain has periods of intense activity at night that corresponds to the neurons seeking to organise its new and old connections, decluttering unnecessary information, and removing its toxic byproducts. This way, the brain becomes more efficient by way of memory, learning, concentration, to name a few functions.


  • Emotional well-being[4] [5] - Feeling a little on the edge after a very short slumber? Sleep also stabilises the areas of the brain associated with emotions, making these less prone to overreacting when faced with activity or stressors.


  • Metabolic processes[6] – Sleep is associated with hormones related to hunger and energy storage. When lacking rest, the body burns less of body fat and instead stimulates us to eat more instead, which may lead to metabolic disorders later in life.


  • Immunity[7] -- Sleep affect’s the body’s ability to produce immune cells and helps with their sensitivity against potential infections.


It should be emphasised that sleep here doesn’t just mean the full number of hours recommended to one’s age group[8] (minimum of 7 hours for healthy adults) but also its quality. Good sleep is continuous, with the brain going through multiple cycles of resting, dreaming, and deep phases. You’ll know that sleep has been sufficient if you wake up fully refreshed, energized, and clear-headed.[9]


An unpayable debt


Feeling short on sleep may already be familiar: tiredness, feeling on the edge, and having difficulty with reacting quickly, problem-solving, or decision making. But it’s the long-term problems everyone has to watch out for. One accumulates a “sleep debt” throughout your lifetime, and it can’t be paid off by sleeping in only during weekends.[10]


Part of the reason is that the body has already compensated for the lack of sleep through reduced insulin production that induces fat storage, reduced energy utilization, and increased hunger. In the long run, these lead to an increase of chronic disease risks for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.


It’s also bad news for a post-pandemic world as it sets us up to be prone to various infections, even against simple viruses like the common cold. Paired with the decreased ability for the body to repair itself, the sleep-deprived tend to get sick for longer, and with more lingering effects.[11]



Slumber planning


For those of us who are used to the idea of shaving off a few hours for the sake of doing more, it’s necessary to focus on how sleep is our friend, rather than a waste of time being inactive. That also means including proper sleeping times in our busy schedules and making sure that our activities and environment during the time is conducive to sleep.


However, if you find yourself having a hard time falling asleep on time or waking up several times during the night, it could be caused by stress—incidentally, one of the things you might be seeking to address with more sleep.[12] If unaddressed, this could lead to a vicious cycle for insomnia, so part of sleep hygiene is making sure that your stress is also managed.


For starters, here are a few guidelines to follow for a good night’s sleep:


  • Regular exercise has been found to encourage sleep, as it releases endorphins that the body combat stress.[13] Incorporate at least 30 minutes of exercise thrice a week.


  • Decrease caffeine and other stimulants in one’s diet, especially before bedtime. Instead of a cup of black tea when winding down, look for caffeine-free infusions that has sleep promoting herbs like chamomile. We like taking Now Foods Real Tea, Nighttime and Now Foods Organic Chamomile Tea for a restful night.


  • Comforting scents from herbs such as lavender, clary sage, chamomile, and ylang-ylang been shown to have a sedative effect when diffused. Always look for a pure essential oil, as with Now Foods Essential Oils in Lavender or Clary Sage to get the maximum effect from the herbs. Or if you don’t know what’s good for sleep, look for blended essential oils that are specifically formulated for it, like Now Foods Peaceful Sleep Oil Blend.


  • Sleep supplements offer support when it’s simply too hard to drift off. Unlike sleeping pills, these are derived from natural sleeping aids that do not encourage dependency. Our favourites are:
    • Melatonin[14] – As a hormone that dictates our biological sleep cycles, melatonin supplements have been established as a safe sleeping aid for decades. Now Foods Melatonin 5 mg Sustained Release improves on this by slowing down its distribution in the body so sleep can go uninterrupted.
    • Magnesium[15] – As a mineral that regulates neurotransmitters, magnesium promotes relaxation in the brain. It also helps relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression that can cause insomnia for some individuals. In Now Foods, Magnesium Glycinate, the mineral is in a highly absorbable form so it’s utilized more.
    • L-theanine and GABA[16] - These amino acids are being studied for their positive effects in treating anxiety and hyperactivity, including improved sleeping patterns. Similar to magnesium, these give a feeling of deep relaxation. As supplements, these are often found separately, as with Now Foods, L-Theanine, 100 mg and Now Foods, GABA, 750 mg.


The many things we can do in a day tend to overshadow the importance of sleep. But that tends to add up to the feeling that we stagger from one morning until the next without knowing just how much of our health we have traded off. But if it’s just about thinking of the future, getting a full night’s sleep should be thought of as investing in a clearer mornings and a longer lifespan.





















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