Have you heard that sleep is important for your brain?
Are they a waste of time when it comes to improving your brain health?
If sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to complete all of the phases needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite. Then we wake up less prepared to concentrate, make decisions, or engage fully in school and social activities.
In recent years, we have learned the exact structure of waste product that build up in Alzheimer’s disease. The breakdown of the brain’s automatic clearance system may be the cause of neurodegenerative (nerve degeneration) disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease, in addition to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (brain damage after head trauma).
There appears to be a toxic buildup that tracks with the disease progression. They have weird names like beta-amyloid and tau protein. Of course, there are drugs being developed to stop their production, but more interesting to me is the recent discovery about sleep in an article by the Nat’l Institute of Health(2).
“Beta-amyloid disappeared faster in mice brains when the mice were asleep, suggesting sleep normally clears toxic molecules from the brain.” You have heard of the cardiovascular system for blood and perhaps even the lymphatic system for body cell debris, but now there is the “glymphatic system” that cleans waste and toxins from the brain cells. This was discovered by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York(3). They found as the brain’s cells “shrink” during sleep – by as much as 60 percent, this brain-cleaning system is 10-times more active.
Maybe lack of sleep is why teenagers appear to have brain damage. 😉
The research was only done in mice, so we can’t be positive this happens in humans, but it seems logical and likely.
But seriously, the action step to take from this is, “We need sleep. It cleans up the brain,” said Dr. Nedergaard, the lead researcher.
8-10 hours per night is a good range for almost everyone. If you regularly need more, you are likely sick, nutrient-deficient, toxic, or have a fatigued adrenal gland.
This seems a good place to discuss naps and sleep’s effect on learning. So, do you think naps are good, bad, neutral?
John Medina, in a very good book called Brain Rules (4), shares great insights to how sleep affects us.
- A NASA study showed that a 26-minute nap improved pilots’ performance by 34%
- another study showed a 45-min nap improved brain function for 6 hours
A recent study(5) showed that, after learning something new, children retain 14-25% better after sleeping overnight than they do during the same time of being awake during the day.
And, finally, recent research showed(6) that: “…the more complex and elaborate the information to be learned, the more likely sleep will be required for consolidation.”
- – Nat’l Sleep Foundation – http://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/what-happens-when-you-sleep
- – Nat’l Institute of Hlth article on sleep.: http://www.nih.gov/news/health/oct2013/ninds-17.htm
- – Glymphatic system: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/labs/nedergaard-lab/projects/glymphatic_system
- – Brain Rules: http://www.amazon.com/Brain-Rules-Principles-Surviving-Thriving/dp/0979777747
- – Children learninig study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24329882
- – Recent sleep & learning research: http://saramednick.com/htmls/pdfs/MednickINSOM04%5B8%5D.pdf