by every definition.

21 Early Days Week 2: 5 Sleeping Facts You Need to Know

Week 2 of my 21 Early Days Challenge had just went by. There were not much changes when compared to how I felt in the first week, apart from Day 12 (Friday - 28th November) when I overslept and only woke up at 5:30am. (Click here for a detailed view of all 21 days!)

I didn't wake up feeling refreshed as well. It was a familiar process of waking up feeling "like I just got hit by a car" symptom that is common to many who do not practice proper sleep habits.

But quick calculations done using the data provided by my Jawbone UP24 revealed that my quality of sleep was not the cause of Friday's ugly awakening.

Looking into the details over the past two weeks, 51.4% of my sleep was light while the 48.6% was deep. This is actually in line with the level of quality of sleep an average person should be getting  Was it because much like Day 5, Day 12 was also a Friday in which my usual work day was replaced by an event that allows me to sleep in, thus making my body react differently?

I will continue to observe my body for the final week of the 21 Early Days Challenge. But more about this week.

Word has been spreading that I am on this extreme 21 day challenge. Many were curious why I still looked and performed normally despite waking up at 4:30am and only sleeping for six hours per night.

I had friends asking me about how my challenge was going, how I felt and what I had learned. So I think this is a great opportunity to share with you these top five sleeping facts that I have shared with my friends.

You can share them with your friends when they are asking about how you sleep at night or start talking about this all important topic. =)

1. It's natural to take afternoon naps

Photo Credit: star5112 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: star5112 via Compfight cc

Yes it was. Back in the 1600s, before artificial lights invaded the darkness of night, people used to sleep twice per day as discovered by Roger Ekirch, professor of History at Virginia Tech. Contradictory to modern beliefs that we need a full straight eight hours of sleep, our ancestors slept in two chunks of four hour sleep periods.

Fun Fact: We started to lose this natural cycle when the invent of candles and light bulbs crept into our nights. It also started to become unfashionable to sleep at night, especially during the industrial age where progress was rapid.

When psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted a sleep experiment in the early 1990s, he concluded that it was natural for humans to prefer segmented sleep and a very distinct sleep pattern at that. It was revealed that in the days of old, we most likely slept a period of four hours which was followed by two hours of activity, and then another four hours of sleep.

This could be why we yearn for a second sleep despite centuries of sleeping through the one 8 hour period cycle.

Tip: There are four different types of naps: Planned napping, Emergency napping, Habitual napping and Appetitive napping, each resulting in a different effect. (source)

So next time when others ask why you are sleeping in the afternoon, despite many of them sneaking a nap too, just remember, it is completely natural.

But if that is not enough, you can also say that...

2. Sleep Helps Improve our Memory and Learning Capabilities

Photo Credit: Ars Electronica via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Ars Electronica via Compfight cc

Yes it does. When we rest, our brain gets to work. While we continue to uncover the complexity and importance of sleep, it is widely accepted that sleep is crucial to our brain's ability to learn and remember.

Though the exact process is still being debated, it seems memories are either consolidated and/or protected during sleep.

Multiple research and studies have concluded that sleep-deprived individuals experience a worsening of their memory and ability to absorb new information.

In fact, a study conducted by a China/US team using advanced microscopy showed that new connections between brain cells known as synapses forms during sleep. More connections means more learning.

A recent but compelling theory has emerged. Linking sleep with our brain's plasticity (the ability for the brain to modify its own structure and function following changes within the body or in the external environment) is. If this is true, the importance of sleep will greatly increase.

As we continue to understand sleep, the question shifting from WHY we sleep to HOW we benefit from sleep.

Another increasingly concrete benefit of sleep is...

3.Sleep Reduces the Risks of a Number of Ailments

Photo Credit: William Brawley via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: William Brawley via Compfight cc

Yes it does. In the BCC documentary series, "Trust Me, I'm a Doctor", Michael Mosley and a team of volunteers underwent a sleep experiment.

In the two week experiment, one group was asked to sleep six-and-a-half hours a night while the other got seven-and-a-half hours for the first week, then were told to switch their sleeping duration for the second week.

Blood samples were taken from them at end of both weeks and the results are interesting to say the least.

They discovered that by cutting their sleep by an hour, genes that are associated with processes like inflammation, immune response and response to stress became more active. There were also increased risks of cancer and diabetes.

Their conclusion was simple. If we are getting less than seven hours of sleep but have the flexibility to increase it even by a little, it is advised that we do so for our health's sake.

So when you want to change your sleeping habit, just remember, cutting back your sleep to below seven hours will take away some important functions of sleep.

Disclaimer: When I underwent the 21 Early Days Challenge. This was something that I had considered. However, given the perimeters of my environment (work, activities, goals), I decided to stick to a six hour sleep duration. I do intend to adjust my sleep habit to seven hours once my 21 Early Days challenge is complete.

But remember, while some of us may skim on sleep, looking for that daily cup of kopi or teh may not help. It's time to lay down the fact that...

4. Coffee Does not Affected us the Same Way

Photo Credit: Pierre Mallien via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Pierre Mallien via Compfight cc

No it does not. Many of us would have come across this when talking to our friends and family, the fact that some of us can still drink coffee before going to bed - I for one can enjoy such a luxury as well!

While the average person will take about five minutes before caffeine is absorbed into the blood and 30 minutes for the effects to be felt, the lasting effect of caffeine is primarily determined by how the caffeine is metabolised in the liver.

The average person will see his caffeine intake degrade after about 24 hours before being excreted from his body, but the enzyme called cytochrome P24501A2 (CYP1A2), which is responsible for 95% of the metabolism process, differs based on our genetic make up.

Scientists have so far identified eight genetic variants that determine coffee drinking behaviour. Six of which are identified in extremely large scale analysis conducted by Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital of over 120,000 regular coffee drinkers in 2014.

The identification of these variants, which are associated with caffeine metabolism, influence in the rewarding effects of caffeine and glucose and lipid metabolism, will not only bring us closer to why some require more coffee and other caffeinated drinks than others but also help doctors in advising patients about their caffeine intake.

So, we have learned that it is natural for us to have two sleep periods, that sleep is crucial to our memory and learning capabilities and also critical to our health.

We learned that coffee doesn't affected us the same way because we are genetically different.

We are unique...

5. And so are our Sleeping Needs

Photo Credit: cobalt123 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: cobalt123 via Compfight cc

Yes it is. Margaret Thatcher was famous for her incredible sleeping habit of just four hours per night. She was not alone, many who run the world belong in this group of sleepless elites (1% - 3% of the world's population), this group includes Donald Trump, Barrack Obama Thomas Edison and Benjamin Franklin just to name a few.

That doesn't mean you should start shaving off time in bed to become successful.

Once again, genetics plays a determining role in how we much we can improve our sleeping habits.

Scientists have discovered that people carrying the gene variant 'p.Tyr362His' were able to function on fewer than five hours of sleep per night. This was after researchers at the Centre of Applied Genomics in Philadelphia studied 100 sets of twins to identify what was responsible for changes in sleep patterns.

You can read more about the experiment in detail here, but in short it concludes that everyone has their own biologically required amount of rest to perform in their optimal condition.

The debate about sleep is as essential to our pursuit of knowledge as it is crucial to our well-being. We have learned much more about sleep in the last 25 years than we did in all of human history.

As we continue to debunk misconstrued beliefs of yesteryears and shift the world's thinking about sleep, we may soon see our lifestyle change to prioritise this all important habit - and that is something we can all dream about.

Well that's it for Week 2 of my 21 Early Days Challenge. I am looking forward to end the challenge strong on Week 3, with a major double article feature on December 7th 2014.

I am not on twitter often, but if you DM me, I WILL RESPONSE. So let me know if you have any questions about my 21 Early Days experience, what I have learned, or just to chat! DM me at @okjdiscoveries.