Sleep is a vital part of human existence. It’s what allows us, as humans, to do amazing things. It’s how we restore our energy levels but it’s also so much more than that. When we sleep, our brains and our bodies work differently bringing us many essential and additional benefits. Sleep is like regular essential maintenance for our brains and bodies.
Think of it like car maintenance…
The Right Fuel Matters
You need to put the right fuel in – to refuel the human body we use food, drink and rest. If you don’t refuel when you need to you will eventually run out of fuel and no longer be able to move forward. The older a car gets the more damage is likely to occur from allowing your car to ‘run on fumes’. If you are allowing your body to ’run on fumes’ you are risking your mental and physical health. You can’t keep going like that forever.
Regular Servicing Matters
Cars should also be taken in for regular servicing. After so many miles different filters need changing to remove all the junk that has collected in the filters over time. The brain does this for you too! When you sleep the brain gets physically cleaned. Cerebrospinal fluid (that’s the fluid in your brain and spine) “washes” over the brain (in sync with your brainwaves). It is thought that this plays a key part in cleansing the brain by removing ‘brain waste’.
Your brain is full of neurones which pass information around. Throughout the day proteins build up around them slowing the rate of information transfer. These potentially harmful proteins are removed when you sleep. Think how ‘fuzzy’ your teeth feel as plaque builds up. Going without enough quality sleep is the brain equivalent of not brushing your teeth. But with a much greater impact. Over time a build up of plaque will cause your teeth to decay. Imagine the impact that a build up of protein can have on your brain.
A Good Mechanic Matters
To maintain a car you rely on experienced mechanics to find and fix problems. The mechanics in our brain are immune cells called microglia. These cells come awake at night and get to work ‘servicing’ and maintaining our brain. However (much like a mechanic I know) these cells are quite sensitive to stress. The chemical ‘norepinephrine’ helps us to regulate our sleep. The more of it we have in our system the more awake we feel. The more stress we experience the more norepinephrine we produce. When the mechanic I know gets stressed, he tends to give up on work and you’ll likely find him having a nap somewhere. This chemical has the same impact on microglia (the brain mechanics), the presence of it stops these cells from working on the brain – they go and have a nap instead.
The Impact Your Sleep Is Already having
All of that may make sense but if you’re anything like me, you don’t really think about car maintenance until it actually starts to impact on you driving the car (which is why I’m glad that a little light comes on to remind me to get it serviced). The thing is, though you may not notice it, a lack of sleep will already be having a more immediate impact on your day-to-day life.
The functions described above do keep your brain working effectively on a day to day basis but that’s not all. Each night (of good sleep) the synapses (or connections between neurones) get ‘pruned’ and reduce by around 20%. This allows the brain to continue learning new things. Our ability to absorb new information and to remember and recall existing knowledge is possible largely because of this process. Otherwise we would have a tangled mess of old connections getting in the way and no space for learning new things and strengthening useful connections. Spend some time now creating more positive sleep habits and maintain them. You will find your memory improves along with your ability to learn new things.
It’s Not Just About Your Brain
The examples above are just a fraction of the full story.
Sleep quality and quantity can have a huge impact on so many areas of your health.
There are many studies linking sleep quality with mood and emotional regulation. Demonstrable correlation between sleep and weight loss (weight loss is much harder when not sleeping well and we actually loose weight when we sleep).
Memory and cognitive function improve greatly with the right sleep and there are even links between a lack of sleep and the development and onset of Alzheimer’s among other ailments.
Isn’t it time you started to give more priority to your sleep?
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