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  • Writer's pictureDarrick Payne

The Power of Sleep

Proper sleep seems to be a difficult thing to come by these days. Whether it becomes more elusive as we age, or due to the constant bombardment of stressors, good sleep has definitely become a rare commodity. Financial worries and work stress, relationship issues and family struggles, and simply the high speed of life all contribute to this problem. And this can be broken down into two areas of dysfunction – length of good sleep and quality of sleep itself. Research supports that 7-9 hours of sleep is optimal for the majority of people, and the quality of our sleep is just as important. Just being in bed 7 hours doesn’t mean you wake up feeling rested and full of energy.

So why is sleep so important? In a very general sense, sleep helps rest our bodies. It allows time for our muscles to relax and recover from activity. Sleep helps us consolidate memories and learning, thus the importance of quality sleep when we are studying or learning new things.

However, most organs in our bodies continue to work while we are sleeping. And this is especially true of our brain. Our brains remain highly active while we are sleeping, hence the aforementioned memory and learning progress that occurs. There also appears to be a significant role in waste management. The cells in our nervous system have a high metabolic rate and produce waste as a result of that. This waste consists of such things as lactic acid and a couple of molecules (amyloid-beta and tau) related to the pathology of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) . These waste products can actually injure our neurons and other cells, therefore there is a high priority to eliminate these things.

Research has shown that the brain’s waste removal system works the most during periods of sleep, using the glymphatic and the meningeal lymphatic systems, or the brain’s versions of the lymphatic system. These waste removal systems are most active when we sleep, with dramatic increases in activity to rid our nervous system of the toxins. There is an increase in the flow of brain interstitial fluid by 60%, and this increase results in flushing of waste products. Those amyloid-beta and tau proteins are removed, thus diminishing the neurotoxicity and preventing the formation and growth of plaques that are present in AD.

Sleep deprivation reduces the glymphatic function, thus leading to increased toxins, neuroinflammation, loss of synapses, and protein plaque formation. This just reinforces the need for good sleep. Any time we are exposed to poor sleep, even if for one night, there is an accumulation of these detrimental proteins. So the take away message is to do whatever you need to improve your sleep.

I will follow up with some tips for better sleep soon – stay tuned!

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