The Science Behind Why We Sleep—Adenosine and Melatonin
Why Do We Sleep?
We spend one-third of our lives sleeping. We know that without sleep, we don't feel well. Research is making it clear that lack of sleep is linked to many heath risks. It is as important to our well-being as nutrition and exercise.
We may get tired at different times of the day. Some of us fall asleep early in the evening, some late at night, insomniacs struggle to get to sleep at all - but eventually, we all fall asleep. What is the secret of how we slip into this essential state? Scientists have found that two important cycles regulate our sleep—the homeostatic sleep drive and the circadian signal. These cycles are controlled by two vital components —adenosine and melatonin.
The Homeostatic Sleep Drive Process
The homeostatic sleep drive process regulates the drive to sleep based on the amount of time we're awake and how much energy we're expending. The chemical adenosine binds to adenosine receptors during waking hours. The more you do and the longer you're awake, the more adenosine you accumulate, making you feel tired. It's your body's way of saying you've done enough, and it's time to quit. While you sleep, this chemical is broken down and adenosine levels decrease. Therefore, scientists feel that adenosine is the way the body keeps track of how much sleep you've gotten, and how much sleep you need. If you don't get enough sleep, the adenosine in your body is still remaining when you wake up, making you feel groggy. The next night you may sleep longer to rid your body of the extra accumulation of adenosine.
The Circadian Process
The circadian process is regulated by the a tiny internal biological clock located in the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). This structure receives light waves from the eye directly through the optic nerve. This Light resets the clock to correspond to the day-night cycle. Signals from the SCN travel to the pineal gland which switches off the production of melatonin during day, and increases it during night. Similar to adenosine, the build up of melatonin in our bodies makes us feel sleepy. This is why Melatonin is often taken as a natural sleep aid, and is successful for many people.
It All Comes Together
This combination of melatonin from the circadian system and adenosine from the homeostatic system normally peak together around 9 P.M. signaling the body that it's time to sleep. If everything is working as nature intended, we drift off peacefully to a good nights sleep shortly thereafter.
Why Does Caffeine Keep You Awake?
Caffeine is a substance that can block the adenosine receptors in our bodies, thereby interfering with the accumulation of adenosine. Because you have less adenosine built up in your system, you feel energized and less fatigued.
Turn Off Electronic Devices in the Bedroom!
Did you know that having a light on in the bedroom interferes with your sleep? Scientists are even concerned about the light emitted from our electronic devices such as smart phones, laptops, tablets and E-readers. They feel that light in the bedroom can completely distort your natural sleep cycle. Why? Because light interferes with your body's ability to produce melatonin. Scientists recommend that if you want a good night's sleep, turn off those electronic gadgets in your bedroom before retiring for the night!
Did You Know That Lack Of Sleep Puts You At Risk For:
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure
Having Trouble Sleeping? Try These Tips!
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Margaret Perrottet