According to SleepFoundation.org human beings are the only mammals that deliberately fight off the urge to sleep. In this fast-paced technological era this may work to our advantage when competing for productivity with the pervasive machines and algorithms, but the biological instinct that drives us to sleep, does so for a reason. The pros to not sleeping, comes with cons. What is ironic is that, we often stay up so we have more access to our conscious brain, but a lack of sleep may be damaging to our brains. By sleeping less, we may be replacing the quality cognitive function with a less effective quantity of brain power.
So what’s so important about sleeping and your brain health? Here’s a little background. Moheb Costandi, author of Neuroplasticity wrote in an article for the Dana Foundation about the importance of sleep as it relates to the upkeep of the brain. Think of your brain as a house for all your thoughts and dreams. Sleeping is your body’s way of doing housekeeping, particularly as it relates to waste disposal. Costandi makes the point that our brain’s waste removal activities are extremely sensitive to a loss of sleep. How it works is, the brain removes waste through pathways in what we call the glymphatic system, that drains cerebrospinal fluid that is filled with waste through vessels. A lot of this waste, which consists of misfolded proteins that occur as we age, causes the risk of neurodegenerative diseases to rise. Diseases like Alzheimer’s are caused by similar proteins. In simple words, sleeping allows us to get rid of brain waste, which then lessens the chances of us suffering from conditions of the brain as we grow older.
So how exactly does sleep help your brain? Here’s a list compiled from several sources from organizations specializing in brain health:
- Sleeping helps your brain remove waste that may cause neurodegenerative diseases.
- Sleeping gives your brain time to go over the thoughts you had in the day which helps in your memory creation processes.
- Lack of sleep can cause mental issues as studies from PubMed have shown a correlation with an increase in rates of depression and lack of sleep.
- Your neurons show a lot of activity while sleeping, indicating that your brain may be using this time for several important processes.
- Sleeping between 7-9 hours per night has shown to have positive effects on overall cognitive performance.
Studies have shown that there are several factors that affect just how much sleep we need. Even genetic evidence suggests that our bodies may have different sleeping needs. And, as we age we may feel the need to sleep less, but based on research, it is safe to say that we all should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Having trouble sleeping? The National Institute of Health suggests setting a schedule for when you go to sleep and wake everyday, exercising a few hours before bed, avoid caffeine at night, relaxation through warm baths or any other relaxing routine, and creating a room for sleep with no bright lights or loud sounds.
Sleep is essential to our overall health, studies also show that it affects our risk of stroke and several other illnesses. Why do we have to sleep? A lot of that remains a mystery, but what we do know is that if we don’t sleep tight, our brain, and our bodies, can’t be made right. So get some Zs to help prevent disease!