Sleep is a naturally incurring phenomenon that occurs with humans and animals. After a good night’s sleep, we feel energized and ready to face the day. Sleep is essential to our very survival, like food as fuel for the body. These days, many are suffering from insomnia, stemming from stress, too much screen time and so on. Sleep deprivation over extended periods of time can cause severe damages to our health and wellbeing.
Why do we need sleep? Scientists have been spending a lot of time on this topic. A few common explanations are:
- Energy conservation: we use less energy when we sleep
- Restorative functions: our body is restored during the time when we are sleeping. This includes muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, growth hormone release (very important for infants and children), immunity building, brain and cognitive functions.
When we are awake, our brain produces adenosine, which is a by-product of cell activities. Accumulation of adenosine over the course of the day will give our body the perception of being tired. When we sleep, our body is given the chance of clearing the adenosine, making us once again alert when we wake up. (On this note, caffeine blocks action of adenosine in our body, thus keeping us alert).
- Brain plasticity: when we sleep, our brain’s structure and organization changes. That is why infants need to sleep 13-14 hours a day, with at least half of that time in REM (rapid eye movement, or deep sleep, time when we dream).
How does our body fall asleep at night?
Our pineal gland will produce a hormone called melatonin which regulates our sleep-wake cycle. When we are stressed, for example, our body is not producing enough melatonin, causing insomnia. So, what can we take to mitigate this, naturally?
There are 4 stages of the night’s sleep cycle. REM occurs in the second half of the night. This is the time when we are in deep sleep, and will dream. We want to prolong this where possible.
So 2 aspects here – how to fall asleep, and how to improve quality of sleep.
Melatonin intake is the best way to get the body to fall asleep and get to REM faster. The hormone activates receptors MT1 and MT2 to help us fall asleep. Synthetic melatonin is not addictive and won’t intoxicate.
Cannabinoid, interacts with cannabinoid’s receptors, which is an important part of ECS, or endocannabinoid system. This system maintains the body’s natural rhythms, regulates many processes including mood, stress, pain, appetite, memory, metabolism, immunity and above all, sleep. The receptors produced here are CB1 and CB2, which, (surprise surprise!) belong to the same group as MT1 and MT2, called GPCR (G Protein-coupled receptors).