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How Sleep Affects The Brain

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All Sleep Is Not The Same

How Sleep Affects Your Brain

Throughout your time asleep, your brain will cycle repeatedly through two different types of sleep: REM sleep and non-REM sleep.

The first part of the cycle is non-REM sleep, which is composed of four stages. The first stage comes between being awake and falling asleep. The second is light sleep, when heart rate and breathing regulate and body temperature drops. The third and fourth stages are deep sleep. Though REM sleep was previously believed to be the most important sleep phase for learning and memory, newer data suggests that non-REM sleep is more important for these tasks, as well as being the more restful and restorative phase of sleep.

As you cycle into REM sleep, the eyes move rapidly behind closed lids, and brain waves are similar to those during wakefulness. Breath rate increases and the body becomes temporarily paralyzed as we dream.

The cycle then repeats itself, but with each cycle you spend less time in the deeper stages three and four of sleep and more time in REM sleep. On a typical night, youll cycle through four or five times.

How Sleep Clears The Brain

A mouse study suggests that sleep helps restore the brain by flushing out toxins that build up during waking hours. The results point to a potential new role for sleep in health and disease.

Scientists and philosophers have long wondered why people sleep and how it affects the brain. Sleep is important for storing memories. It also has a restorative function. Lack of sleep impairs reasoning, problem-solving, and attention to detail, among other effects. However, the mechanisms behind these sleep benefits have been unknown.

Dr. Maiken Nedergaard and her colleagues at the University of Rochester Medical Center recently discovered a system that drains waste products from the brain. Cerebrospinal fluid, a clear liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, moves through the brain along a series of channels that surround blood vessels. The system is managed by the brains glial cells, and so the researchers called it the glymphatic system.

The scientists also reported that the glymphatic system can help remove a toxic protein called beta-amyloid from brain tissue. Beta-amyloid is renowned for accumulating in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Other research has shown that brain levels of beta-amyloid decrease during sleep. In their new study, the team tested the idea that sleep might affect beta-amyloid clearance by regulating the glymphatic system. The work was funded by NIHs National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke .

Sleep Helps Your Brain Cement Memories

Imagine if every single time you did or experienced something new throughout the day, you had to stop what you were doing to file the experience away in your short- or long-term memory file so you could recall it later when you needed it. Chances are, youd be spending so much time archiving your life that youd never actually get anything done.

Thanks to the power of sleep, you dont have to do that. Thats because snooze time is prime time for your brain to get busy processing memories. As you sleep, your brain works to solidify memories that you formed throughout the day. It also links these new memories to older ones, helping you make connections between different pieces of information to come up with new ideas.

Remember the stages of sleep we talked about earlier? Stages 1-4, the ones where you arent experiencing REM, are key for learning and the memory formation that comes with it. In fact, if you skimp out on non-REM sleep, your ability to learn new information plummets by as much as 40%,say expertsVerified SourceNational Library of Medicine Worlds largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible.View sourceat the National Institutes of Health. Thats because sleep deprivation interferes with your hippocampus, the part of your brain thats responsible for processing memories.

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The Relationship Between Sleep And Mental Health

Its no secret that sleep plays an important role in good physical and mental health. Sleep deprivation can leave you feeling irritable and exhausted in the short-term, but it can also have serious long-term health consequences as well. Lack of sleep is linked to a number of unfavorable health consequences including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and depression.

Some psychiatric conditions can cause sleep problems, and sleep disturbances can also exacerbate the symptoms of many mental conditions including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

Research suggests that the relationship between sleep and mental health is complex. While sleep has long been known to be a consequence of many psychiatric conditions, more recent views suggest that sleep can also play a causal role in both the development and maintenance of different mental health problems.

In other words, sleep problems can lead to changes in mental health, but mental health conditions can also worsen problems with sleep. Lack of sleep may trigger the onset of certain psychological conditions, although researchers are not completely certain of the underlying reasons for this. Because of this circular relationship between your sleep patterns and your mental state, it is important to talk to your doctor if you are having problems falling or staying asleep.

Poor Sleep Makes You Moody

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Think cranky toddler in need of a nap. We all know that sleep affects mood and irritability. But brain-imaging studies have shown that a good nights sleep helps our brain regulate mood and cope with whatever the next day brings. Conversely, insufficient sleep boosts a part of the brain thats known to be affected by depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders.

Without sleep, the brain had reverted back to more primitive patterns of activity in that it was unable to put emotional experiences into context and produced controlled, appropriate responses, the studys senior author Matthew Walker, Director of University of California Berkeleys Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory, said in a statement in 2007 .

Chronic insomnia has also been linked to increased risk of developing a mood disorder, including anxiety or depression. Another study found that after a week of getting just four-and-a-half hours of sleep per night, individuals reported worse moods .

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Study Blames Mental Lapses On Sleep

A new UCLA-led study is the first to reveal how sleep deprivation disrupts brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other. Itzhak Fried, MD, PhD ’81, professor of neurosurgery, and his colleagues believe that disruption leads to temporary mental lapses that affect memory and visual perception.

We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly, Dr. Fried says. This leads to cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us.

The international team of scientists studied 12 people who were preparing to undergo surgery for epilepsy at UCLA. The patients had electrodes implanted in their brains in order to pinpoint the origin of their seizures prior to surgery. Because lack of sleep can provoke seizures, patients stay awake all night to speed the onset of an epileptic episode and shorten their hospital stay.

Researchers asked each participant to categorize a variety of images as quickly as possible. The electrodes recorded the firing of a total of nearly 1,500 brain cells as the patients responded, and the scientists paid particular attention to neurons in the temporal lobe, which regulates visual perception and memory. Performing the task grew more challenging as the patients grew sleepier. As the patients slowed down, so did their brain cells.

Selective Neuronal Lapses Precede Human Cognitive Lapses Following Sleep Deprivation,Nature Medicine, November 6, 2017


Sleep Is A Physiological Necessity

and lacking sleep can correlate to a varied array of negative physical, mental, and behavioral outcomes. A study linked abnormal sleep duration or a sleep disorder diagnosis with an increased incidence of obesity, hypertension, or metabolic syndrome. To clarify, not getting the recommended 8 hours a day could lead to obesity, high blood pressure, or heart disease.

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How Much Sleep Do You Need

Your need for sleep and your sleep patterns change as you age, but this varies significantly across individuals of the same age. There is no magic number of sleep hours that works for everybody of the same age. Babies initially sleep as much as 16 to 18 hours per day, which may boost growth and development . School-age children and teens on average need about 9.5 hours of sleep per night. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night, but after age 60, nighttime sleep tends to be shorter, lighter, and interrupted by multiple awakenings. Elderly people are also more likely to take medications that interfere with sleep.

In general, people are getting less sleep than they need due to longer work hours and the availability of round-the-clock entertainment and other activities.

Many people feel they can “catch up” on missed sleep during the weekend but, depending on how sleep-deprived they are, sleeping longer on the weekends may not be adequate.

Deep Sleep Relieves Anxiety In Key Brain Region

Your Brain On Sleep Deprivation | Inverse

As to the anxiolytic effects of sleep, functional MRI scans and polysomnograms have shown that the medial prefrontal cortex in the brain is key. This region deactivated after a sleepless night in some studies co-led by the same Prof. Walker.

Previous research suggests that the medial prefrontal cortex helps calm anxiety and reduce stress levels. In Prof. Walkers research, other regions associated with processing emotions were hyperactive in sleep-deprived patients.

Without sleep, Prof. Walker explains, its almost as if the brain is too heavy on the emotional accelerator pedal, without enough brake. A sleepless night caused anxiety levels to spike by up to 30% in their study, report the scientists.

Furthermore, the study found that anxiety levels dropped after a full night of sleep and that this decrease was even sharper in participants who spent more time in the deep non-REM stage of sleep.

Deep sleep had restored the brains prefrontal mechanism that regulates our emotions, lowering emotional and physiological reactivity, and preventing the escalation of anxiety.

Eti Ben Simon, study co-author

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Sleep Helps Your Brain Work Faster And More Accurately

You might already know this intuitively. When you stay up too late or fall behind on sleep, you end up caught in a dense cloud of brain fog. You know, the one that causes you to make mistakes that you know are dumb but cant seem to avoid, or that makes it harder than usual to figure simple stuff out.

Adequate quality shut-eyehelps your brainVerified SourceNational Library of Medicine Worlds largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible.View sourcefire on all cylinders when youre awake, so you can think and respond faster and with fewer mistakes. Likely, that could be because sleep is an opportunity for the neurons that youve been using all day to take a break and repair themselves before you start calling on them again tomorrow. Because everythingeven tiny neuronsneed to rest at some point.

But after theyve had a chance to chill, you have an easier time concentrating and remembering stuff. Youll also be less likely to phone it in when it comes time to solving a tough problem, according toone studyVerified SourceNational Library of Medicine Worlds largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible.View sourcepublished in the National Library of Medicine.

In other words, they knew that they werent as sharp, and tried to avoid failing all together by taking an easier route. Which is fine for an experimentbut probably isnt the type of behavior thatll get you the promotion at work.

Causes Of Sleep Deprivation

In a nutshell, sleep deprivation is caused by consistent lack of sleep or reduced quality of sleep. Getting less than 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis can eventually lead to health consequences that affect your entire body. This may also be caused by an underlying sleep disorder.

Your body needs sleep, just as it needs air and food to function at its best. During sleep, your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. Your brain forges new thought connections and helps memory retention.

Without enough sleep, your brain and body systems wont function normally. It can also dramatically lower your quality of life.

A found that sleeping too little at night increases the risk of early death.

Noticeable signs of sleep deprivation include:

Stimulants, such as caffeine, arent enough to override your bodys profound need for sleep. In fact, these can make sleep deprivation worse by making it harder to fall asleep at night.

This, in turn, may lead to a cycle of nighttime insomnia followed by daytime caffeine consumption to combat the tiredness caused by the lost hours of shut-eye.

Behind the scenes, chronic sleep deprivation can interfere with your bodys internal systems and cause more than just the initial signs and symptoms listed above.

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Treatment For Sleep Deprivation

The most basic form of sleep deprivation treatment is getting an adequate amount of sleep, typically 7 to 9 hours each night.

This is often easier said than done, especially if youve been deprived of precious shut-eye for several weeks or longer. After this point, you may need help from your doctor or a sleep specialist who, if needed, can diagnose and treat a possible sleep disorder.

Sleep disorders may make it difficult to get quality sleep at night. They may also increase your risk for the above effects of sleep deprivation on the body.

The following are some of the most common types of sleep disorders:

  • insomnia
  • circadian rhythm disorders

To diagnose these conditions, your doctor may order a sleep study. This is traditionally conducted at a formal sleep center, but now there are options to measure your sleep quality at home, too.

If youre diagnosed with a sleep disorder, you may be given medication or a device to keep your airway open at night to help combat the disorder so you can get a better nights sleep on a regular basis.

The best way to prevent sleep deprivation is to make sure you get adequate sleep. Follow the recommended guidelines for your age group, which is 7 to 9 hours for most adults ages 18 to 64.

Other ways you can get back on track with a healthy sleep schedule include:

Get The Right Light Exposure At The Right Time

This Graphic Explains How Lack of Sleep Can Negatively Affect Your Brain

Get plenty of light and sunshine in the morning and avoid blue light from mobile devices and LED lights at night.

Blue light from devices delays the release of your hormone of darkness, melatonin, which helps you get sleepy. Getting your light right helps your body clock regulate day and night naturally.

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How Does Poor Sleep Affect The Brain

Without sleep, the brain struggles to function properly. Because they dont have time to recuperate, neurons become overworked and less capable of optimal performance in numerous types of thinking.

Poor sleep can take many forms. It can be caused by short sleep duration and/or fragmented sleep. Both insufficient and interrupted sleep make it difficult to progress through sleep cycles in a normal, healthy way.

The short-term implications of poor sleep on the brain and cognition can be the result of simply pulling an all-nighter, while those with chronic sleep problems may see their day-to-day tasks affected. Over the long-term, however, poor sleep may put someone at a higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Sleep Helps Your Brain Keep Your Body Looking Good

Seriously, they call it beauty rest for a reason. Sleep is the time that your brain gives the green light for releasing the growth hormone that your body uses to grow new cells and repair damaged tissue.

Of course, your body needs growth hormone to do things like heal wounds or build stronger muscle tissue after a tough workout. But it also uses growth hormone to fight stress and damage caused by the sun and the oxidizing environmental pollutants that were all exposed to on a daily basis.

Over time, those things can cause your skin to get dull and wrinkly. And while you cant keep your skin looking like the way it did when you were 20 forever, logging adequate shuteye can help stave off premature aging by fostering the growth of fresh, healthy cells that keep your skin looking younger, smoother, and more radiant.

And research suggests that you wont be the only one who can actually tell the difference. In one Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine study, University of Michigan researchers looked at adults with untreated obstructive sleep apnea who experienced excessive sleepiness.

After just two months of CPAP treatment, the subjects boasted improvements in their facial volume and less redness, while independent raters said that the subjects appeared more youthful and attractive.

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What Does Sleep Do To The Brain

Sleep helps the brain re-organize itself, essentially. Brain tasks that occur during sleep include disposing of toxins that build up in the brain during the day and stabilizing memories of the days events. Getting enough sleep is also linked to higher levels of cognitive performance, creativity, and improved moods.

Hacks To Help You Fall Asleep

Poor sleep may affect brain’s ability to clear waste

Part of this has to do with the fact that insulin sensitivity fluctuates during the day meaning our bodies actually metabolize food differently at different times of the day, she says. And though theres a lot more research thats needed to fully understand the connection between sleep and metabolism, its clear that theyre connected, she says and likely has a lot to do with why people who report getting worse sleep are more likely to be overweight.

The bottom line, says Bazil: sleep is not a waste of time and you cant get away without it.

When it comes to staying healthy, people pay a lot of attention to nutrition and physical activity, Bazil says which are both very important. But I would put sleep on that same level.

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