“Takin’ out the trash…During sleep?!”
Wouldn’t it be great if your trash were taken out while you sleep, and you could wake up with a fresh and clean house? Well your brain does! Recent research has suggested that one of the main reasons that we sleep is for our brain to restore itself by removing the waste that our nerve cells produce in order for us to function as the highly intelligent beings that we are2. In fact, the cells in our brain shrink about 60% during sleep, which allows the waste to be removed more efficiently with increased space to flush the waste2. Keeping that in mind, our brain does not reduce the amount of energy it consumes during sleep. Why is that? The cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which helps to carry and remove cellular by-products from the brain, requires a great deal of energy2. This may be why we require sleep, since the brain could not perform both information processing and cleaning at the same time.
At this point I hope you are asking, “If I sleep more, then I will have a greater ability to have clear thinking and store memory?” Yes! Your brain’s prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is made up of grey matter, is responsible for cognitive thinking (making decisions, interpreting language, emotional control, etc.), and also has a significant effect on low wave activity during sleep1. Low wave brain activity is when we reach our REM sleep cycle, or deep sleep. As we age our grey matter volume decreases, and this can also occur with brain conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. This may contribute to our changes in memory, and performing daily activities as we age. It is also important to remember that the amount of grey matter is the real reason between getting a good or poor night sleep, not necessarily age.
To all of those living the busy Silicon Valley life (Yes, I’m talking to you): If you thought you could fine a loophole to this situation by making up for your sleep on the weekends… think again! Dr. Epstein of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has found that, “After two weeks of sleeping six hours or less a night, [subjects] feel as bad and perform as poorly as someone who has gone without sleep for 48 hours… [subjects] getting adequate amounts of sleep performed better on memory and motor tasks than did students deprived of sleep”3. Dr. Epstein also mentioned that inconsistent sleep patterns throw off your internal clock. Therefore, how awake you feel during the day could be caused by something as simple as the amount of sleep you have been consistently getting!
The following tips are provided by the AASM to help people get the most out of their sleep:
· Go to bed early
People should go to bed early enough to have the opportunity for a full night of sleep. Adults need about seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
· Get out of bed
If you have trouble falling asleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy.
· Stay out of bed
Don’t study, read, watch TV or talk on the phone in bed. Only use your bed for sleep.
· Limit naps
If you take a nap, then keep it brief. There are 5 stages of sleep, and the first two stages, which are light sleep stages, occur within the first 20-30 minutes of sleep. The following stages are where the body transitions from light and into deep sleep. Naps should stay in the light sleep stages, and be more than five minutes, but less than 30 minutes.
· Wake up on the weekend
It is best to go to bed and wake up at the same times on the weekend as you do during the workweek. If you missed out on a lot of sleep during the week, then you can try to catch up on the weekend. But sleeping in later on Saturdays and Sundays will make it very hard for you to wake up on Monday morning.
· Avoid caffeine
Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and at night. It stays in your system for hours and can make it hard for you to fall asleep.
· Adjust the lights
Dim the lights in the evening and at night so your body knows it will soon be time to sleep. Let in the sunlight in the morning to boost your alertness. Our body’s “master clock”, which governs our circadian rhythms, or sleep-wake cycle, is called the superchiasmic nucleus (SCN)4. How is the SNC, which is a part of our brain, related to the intensity of light around us? The SCN is a structure that sits above where our two optic nerves cross. So, as the lights are dimmed or increased, our master clock receives signals that the day is coming to an end or starting a new, and prepares our body for sleep or wake time.
· Wind down
Take some time to “wind down” before going to bed. Get away from the computer, turn off the TV and the cell phone, and relax quietly for 15 to 30 minutes.
· Eat a little
Never eat a large meal right before bedtime. Enjoy a light healthy snack so you don’t go to bed hungry
Creating good sleep habits now will surely set you up for a healthier brain as your age. Plan your day ahead of time to assure you will be able to get an adequate amount of sleep.
1. University of California Researchers. “Does Getting More Sleep Reduce Memory Loss”, Jan 29, 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/behindtheheadlines/news/2013-01-29-does-getting-more-sleep-reduce-memory-loss/
2. Nedergaard, Maiken M.D., D.M.Sc., co-director of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Center for Translational Neuromedicine. “To Sleep, Perchance to Clean”, Oct 17, 2013. http://www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/index.cfm?id=3956
3. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “College Students: Getting Enough Sleep is Vital to Academic Success”, November 30, 2007. http://www.aasmnet.org/articles.aspx?id=659
4. National Institute of General Medical Sciences. “Circadian Rhythms Fact Sheet”, March 2014. http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Education/Pages/Factsheet_CircadianRhythms.aspx