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How Sleep Works - Part 1

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

The Sleep Drive

The minute you wake up, you start falling asleep! 

Your body naturally creates a demand for sleep to maintain homeostasis. One of the biggest influencers over that demand is time. The longer the body goes without sleep, the more it needs it. 

In addition to time, various biological events add to that demand for sleep. 

· The sunlight you see 

· The air you breathe

· The water you drink

· The food you eat

· The exercise you get 

The appropriate amount and quality of each of these things + the time that's passed since you last slept, determines your body's demand for sleep. 

You probably know by now that many things can interfere with sleep, such as blue light and caffeine. However, this is independent of your body’s demand for sleep. Just because your body is demanding that it sleep doesn’t mean that it is ready to receive it. This is why just just having a sleep drive isn’t necessarily enough, you have to prevent insomnia too. (We’ll discuss those factors more when we talk about the Biological Clock.)

A good indication for what is creating your insomnia is measuring how difficult it is to fall asleep against how well you prepare your body and how long it’s been since you last slept. For instance, if it’s been 20 hours since you slept last, you have given your body what it needs to sleep, falling asleep should be easeful. But if falling asleep is still difficult… this is an indicator that emotions may be playing a very big role in your insomnia. 

To help manage the emotions surrounding sleep, I believe understanding the science behind the Sleep Drive can help you conceptualize how to process your emotions. See the story below for an example.

How Sleep Saved the Ant Farm

One day a little worker ant went up to his mum, the Queen, and complained of little sleep. “My dear what gives to such poor sleep,” the Queen asked… and Ralphie replied, “I just lay in bed, worrying why I’m not asleep yet.” Slightly confused, since this kind of thing just didn’t happen to ants, the Queen pointed her stinger at Ralphie, “My dear son have you been distracted from your nightly sleep routine!?”

No mum, I’m doing everything I’m supposed to!” Ralphie exclaimed in defense. “I’m not eating before bed, I’m wearing my blue blocking glasses and doing everything I’m supposed to mum, I promise! I just lay there wondering why I’m not asleep yet.”⁣⁣ "Mmmmmm Oh yes," said the Queen. “Son, it’s time for 'the talk.' This…… is how sleep works.

The longer you’re awake, the more your body needs to sleep, so the longer you lay there, the closer you’re to falling asleep.”⁣⁣

“But why does it feel like I’m becoming more awake the more time that goes by," Ralphie asked with precious disappointment. ⁣⁣

"Well Ralphie, if you don’t realize you’re actually getting sleepier as time goes by, you’ll be just as anxious as you’re sleepy. But there’s no reason for that, as long as you substitute patience for anxiety… You see Ralphie, it’s a simple equation, in fact so simple, your curiosity will be humbled!”⁣⁣

S =^T ➡️ Z’’’➕P><A✖️0⁣⁣  

“Sleep equals more time awake making you sleepier, plus patience being greater than and less than expectations times zero.”⁣⁣

“Yes mum! I think I get it” said Ralphie, "but how can patience be greater AND less than expectations times zero?"

The Queen, knowing this question would come, looked at Ralphie and said, “go ask your father.” ⁣⁣ And so goes the story of “How Sleep Saved the Ant Farm.”⁣

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