Sleep, as stated from our early years of childhood, is an essential need of our lives. Biologists call it a primary need. The average person spends 25-28 years of sleeping. To put that in perspective, that’s a third of your lifespan! However, as we progress more through the ages, we have a drastic decrease in the amount of sleep we get a night.
We now know that sleep plays a very important role in learning and memory, although most high school students don’t get enough of it. In sleep, we gain new neural connections and our new information that we learned gets “replayed” during sleep to gain the neural structure. But it’s also true that sleep has an important role in maintaining brain health, and that going through periods of sleep deprivation can have severe consequences. In fact, a new study shows that just one night of sleep deprivation results in gathered brain protein implicated in Alzheimer’s.
The brain does most of the cleaning while we sleep. The brain disposes of its waste with the glymphatic system, a network of vessels that runs alongside blood vessels and drains waste-filled cerebospinal fluid from the organ. Waste products cleared away by this system include insoluble clumps of misfolded proteins that are deposited in the brain. Poor sleep hygiene likely reduces the efficiency of the brain’s waste disposal system, so that the insoluble protein clumps that would normally have been cleared away by the glymphatic system remain in place. As a result, long periods of sleep deprivation can have these insoluble protein clumps reach toxic levels, and this could in turn worsen sleep quality.
We have all had late sleepless nights, and most of us think this harmless. However, we know that losing sleep has dramatic effects in our mental functioning; I like to call it the “hazy cloud function”. It also makes us moody and easily aroused. In addition, it impairs brain function such as memory and decision-making. It also impacts the rest of the body: it impairs the functioning of the immune system so that we are more susceptible to infections and sicknesses. One study, published in 2009, showed that sleep deprivation alters functional connections between the prefrontal cortex and the brain’s reward- and emotion-processing centers, impairing so-called executive functions. As a result, we become hypersensitive to rewarding stimuli, our emotional responses are heightened, and we start acting irrationally. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they reported that total amyloid beta levels increased by approximately 5 percent after one night of sleep deprivation, in the right hippocampus and thalamus, both of which are affected early on in Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, study participants with the largest increases in amyloid-beta levels also reported worse moods the following day.
Yet, we are known as a sleep deprived society. Sleep is one of the best (if not the best) cognitive enhancer, but we are not using it to its highest potential.
Will you make a firm resolve to get enough sleep?
Co-Founder and Editor of StemTalksNC