Ron Colone: Sleep as an active part of your life

Ron Colone: Sleep as an active part of your life

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During this time known as “the lockdown,” we’ve all been having to find new ways to entertain ourselves and each other, and to pass the time and converse with our roommates and housemates and the ones with whom we are sheltered.

At our place, we’ve been playing a lot of variations of trivia and word games. A question that came up the other night during one of our sessions was, if you could relive any moment from your life, what would it be?

It seems the type of question that would evoke recollections of adventure, travel or triumph, but in that moment the episode from among all the billions of moments of my life that came hurling through time and space to grab hold of my yearning and direct my response was that I wanted to relive a specific time when I was sleeping.

Granted, it was a romantic and restful sleep during a daytime date, the second date I ever had with the woman I’ve spent the last 30 years with. I was showing her one of my power spots, a cliff along the coast, and then afterward we strolled out on to the beach, lay back into the warm sands, and with my arm around her we descended into a deep, peaceful sleep. I find it funny now that the episode I would point to as one of the great moments of my life would be a time when I was asleep.

I think it’s not unusual to regard sleep as a passive time, more like a break from life when we’re shut down to the waking world. But more and more we’re finding out there’s a lot that goes on during sleep.

For one thing, it’s during sleep that memories get fully consolidated, moved from short-term to long-term via a dialog that takes place between the hippocampus, which is located in the middle of the brain, and the cerebral cortex, which is in the outer layer where all the folds are.

Some researchers have likened the process to a walk through the woods, where once you travel the path and begin to form a trail it makes it easier to remember it the next time.

For another thing, metabolic waste products and harmful proteins get loosened and carried away from the brain during sleep by waves of fresh cerebrospinal fluid that flow into the sleeping brain every 20 seconds or so.

In addition to supporting brain health, a great amount of bodily healing occurs during sleep. I doubt the mechanism is fully understood but something happens during deep, restful sleep that helps replenish the strength and elasticity of the connective tissues throughout the body and the organs to provide cohesion and structural support.

Sleep also plays a key role in stress reduction. Throughout the waking day, stress hormones get released, putting us on edge and preparing us to react, and sometimes over-react, to whatever may arise. But during periods of deep sleep the secretion of stress hormones gets put on hold, causing a lowering of blood pressure, a slowing of heart rate, and a return to a calmer state of mind. In this way, sleep helps protect against heart disease and stroke.

Then there’s the role and function of dreaming, and who can say what that whole thing’s about, but researchers believe it plays a crucial role in learning, memory, emotional processing and creative problem-solving.

Those are just the things we sort-of know about. We’re learning new things every day. One thing we can say for sure, though, sleep is not life-on-hold. It’s not a time when we are not living. It’s an important and vital part of life, and I will remember the great sleep sessions with as much fondness as I do the great waking moments of my life.

Ron Colone can be reached at ron.colone@gmail.com

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