How Important is Sleep Anyway?, 1021 COBJ, Vol. 50, No. 9 Pg. 12

PositionVol. 50, 9 [Page 12]

50 Colo.Law. 12

How Important is Sleep Anyway?

No. Vol. 50, No. 9 [Page 12]

Colorado Lawyer

October, 2021



Throughout human history, humans have slept through one-third of their lives. The significance of this cannot be overstated. Regardless of the lack of security, lost time finding food or a mate, and vulnerability to predators, humans slept approximately eight hours a night. Thanks to the sun, humans had regular sleep patterns regulated by a fully functioning circadian rhythm and sleep hormones.

Since the invention of the electric lightbulb and other technologies, humans have been able to manipulate their circadian rhythms to determine when they will go to sleep and when they will wake. Unfortunately, fighting the body's natural rhythm comes at a price.

What is Considered "Normal" Sleep?

During sleep, die body is at rest but die brain is active. Shortly after falling asleep, the average person spends about seven minutes in stage 1 sleep. This is considered a light sleep where the sleeper can be easily awakened. When the sleeper enters stage 2, the body's temperature and heart rate begin to decrease and chemicals are released to help keep the sleeper asleep. This stage is thought to be vital to retaining information that was learned while awake. Stage 3 is the transition into deep sleep, and stage 4 is considered the deepest stage of sleep and when the body repairs itself.

After stage 4, the sleeper enters REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is when most dreaming activity occurs. Then the cycle repeats itself, starting at stage 2, with REM periods getting longer throughout the night and non-REM stages becoming shorter.1

How Does Your Circadian Rhythm Influence Sleep?

Before the invention of the clock, your body had (and still has) its own 24-hour clock called the circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is responsible for knowing what time it is and whether you should be awake or asleep. It's responsible for secreting melatonin as the sun goes down and your environment gets darker.

If you remain exposed to bright light even after the sun has gone down, you interfere with your body's circadian rhythm's ability to produce enough melatonin to keep you asleep. Different people have different sensitivities as to how much their melatonin production affects their sleep.

Your circadian rhythm is also responsible for another hormone called...

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