«…the hens retire to their coop, they roost, close their eyes and sleep, because they know that when darkness comes, it’s time to sleep.» Walter Pierpaoli
The importance of darkness and sleep
Man the mammal has completely forgotten the influence that the different phases of the day and night play on the body’s functions and does not pay the right importance to night-time, the moment when our body changes.
The Pineal Gland , in its function as the body’s biological clock, it tells us when it is time to sleep and to wake up, in relation to the alternating day and night; the same hormones follow a typical cycle over 24 hours, with a precise biological rhythm. This daily cycle is known as the circadian rhythm.
Circadian rhythms mark the life of most living organisms: from bacteria to plants, and human beings. They regulate biological functions according to the rhythms that are dictated by solar, lunar and seasonal cycles.
Why is sleep so important?
Illuminist culture considered sleep as a deplorable interruption to human industriousness and rationality Actually, we don’t sleep on a whim, but because we need to, for as Leonardo Da Vinci tells us: “Nature doesn’t break its law”.
This simple reflection may help us to stop considering sleep as a pointless waste of time and go back to being daytime animals that we are by nature.
Sleep is one of the cyclical programmes of circadian rhythms, as it is repeated within twenty-four hours, during darkness. While the optimal duration of sleep is an individual condition that varies from person to person, the most important aspect of sleep is its quality.
As sleep becomes deeper, our body temperature lowers, breathing slows, pressure decreases, muscles relax, many organ systems slow down their activity and the body starts up its maintenance processes.
While we sleep, our brain cleans out waste, such as β-amyloid, the cause of the onset of many neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, thus improving cognitive functions and learning2.
Another function of sleep is consolidating memories: like the defragmentation operations on computers, our brain takes advantage of sleep to tidy up its historical archive.
Deep sleep has a positive metabolic and repair function on the body, which is then reflected in an improvement to mood and energy, with positive effects on sports performance too3.
The duration of sleep also affects obesity: the less we sleep the more we tend to put on weight.4
When anxiety, stress, exposure to excessive light or bad habits alter the balance of our biological or sleep rhythms, this has a negative influence on preventing damage to our mental and somatic functions.
Recovering the central role of sleep
«[..] if we don’t sleep enough, the body’s entire internal workshop is not able to carry out its extraordinarily important task.» Walter Pierpaoli
It is therefore clear that if we want to preserve our health and live a long life, it is vital that we take care of our sleep, respecting biological rhythms and therefore our daily activities as the basis for our lifestyle.
In the morning, the increase in adrenaline and cortisol allows us to tap into our energy reserves, making us able to carry out our activities. When darkness falls, melatonin is produced, which induces the body to rest.
To recreate a natural regular period of sleep, we must train our body to find the balance: exposing ourselves to sunlight in the morning helps us to “wake up” and face the day with more energy. Limiting exposure to light – especially blue light from electronic equipment – and doing more relaxing activities, helps us to fall asleep.
In this way, we allow the pineal gland – that is activated by darkness – to produce melatonin, which encourages the body to rest, thus benefiting from healthy rest.
However, in a typically “erratic” world, it is necessary to give the body an adequate period of time to resynchronise its rhythms, and as we age, which leads to the physiological reduction in the production of melatonin, resort to supplementing exogenous Melatonin that can be a valid help for restoring circadian biological rhythms and a normal sleep cycle, thanks to its indirect action on the pineal gland.
- Pierpaoli. La Chiave della Vita. Perugia, Morlacchi, 2007 Italian version of the worldwide bestseller The Melatonin Miracle, New York, 1995, Simon & Schuster
- Manzano-León N, Mas-Oliva J. Estrés oxidativo, péptido beta-amiloide y enfermedad de Alzheimer [Oxidative stress, beta-amyloid peptide and Alzheimer’s disease]. Gac Med Mex. 2006 May-Jun;142(3):229-38. Spanish. PMID: 16875352.
- Halson SL, Juliff LE. Sleep, sport, and the brain. Prog Brain Res. 2017;234:13-31. doi: 10.1016/bs.pbr.2017.06.006. Epub 2017 Jul 17. PMID: 29031461.
- Bayon V, Leger D, Gomez-Merino D, Vecchierini MF, Chennaoui M. Sleep debt and obesity. Ann Med. 2014 Aug;46(5):264-72. doi: 10.3109/07853890.2014.931103. Epub 2014 Jul 11. PMID: 25012962.