He’s baaaack! Dr. Adrien Besseiche, the author of hit-articles such as: All allergic tomorrow?, Meat – the story of a balanced diet, The sun – our best frenemy and others is explaining to us why sleep is so important and is bringing us usefull tips about how we can increase our sleep time and quality and, with this, greatly improve our mental and physical health.
What is sleep?
Why do we spend about a third of our lives sleeping? The purpose of sleep is a question that has captivated both philosophers and scientists since the time of the ancient Greeks. Practically every species of animal, even the fruit fly, are known to sleep in some way or the other. But this period of dormancy has significant drawbacks, particularly when predators lurk about. This has led to the observation that if sleep does not perform a vital biological function then it is perhaps one of evolution’s biggest mistakes. But nature doesn’t make mistakes. We knew that it was essential to some important cognitive functions such as memory consolidation. We now know that sleep plays a fundamental biological role and protects against many diseases. Thus, it’s important to identify what daily factors disturb our sleep to be able to restore our sleep balance that promotes a good health.
Sleep clears the brain from daily waste
In findings that give fresh meaning to the old adage that “a good night’s sleep clears the mind”, a study published in 2013 (1) has shown that a new discovered system which flushes waste from the brain is primarily active during sleep. In fact, the restorative nature of sleep appears to be the result of the active clearance of the by-products of neural activity that accumulate during wakefulness. The new findings hinge on the discovery of a system of waste removal that is unique to the brain. The system responsible for disposing cellular waste in the rest of the body, the lymphatic system, does not extend to the brain. This is because the brain maintains its own closed “ecosystem” and is protected by a complex system molecular gateway – called the blood-brain barrier – that tightly controls what enters and exits the brain.
Researchers were able to observe in mice – whose brains are remarkably similar to humans – what amounts to a plumbing system that piggybacks on the brain’s blood vessels and pumps cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) through the brain’s tissue, flushing waste back into the circulatory system where it eventually makes its way to the general blood circulation system and finaly to the liver. Moreover, the cells in the brain “shrink” by 60% during sleep, which creates more space between the cells and allows CSF to wash more freely through the brain tissue.
Table 1. 12 tips for sleeping better, longer hours and improving your health
Sleep well and live healthy
Sleep also helps to prevent many chronic diseases. The timely removal of waste from the brain is essential because the uninhibited accumulation of toxic proteins, such as b-amyloid, can lead to Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, almost every neurodegenerative disease is associated with the accumulation of cellular waste products. Moreover, a study performed on fifteen thousand people in Holland that were followed up for 10 to 14 years (2) has shown that 7 to 8 hours of sleep for people with traditional healthy lifestyle (physical activity, healthy diet, moderate alcohol consumption and non-smoking) resulted in a 83% lower risk to of fatal cardio-vascular deseases.
Why do we lose sleep?
Long perceived as a symptom of a physical or mental disorder, insomnia is now recognized as a disease of its own. Insomniacs are people who have a sleepless night three times a week minimum in the duration of at least one month. Unlike those who are naturally short-sleepers, insomniacs have daily disturbance: tiredness, irritability, concentration problems, increased risk of domestic accidents, more absenteeism at work, etc. No study has yet assessed the economic impact of insomnia while nearly 20% of adults are presumed to suffer from insomnia in industrialized countries (3).
The causes of sleep disorders are multiple and they are sometimes transient and often linked to a difficult period in life. These disorders are caracterized as chronic insomnia beyond three months after symptoms start. It’s estimated that half of insomniacs are affected by this disorder for more than ten years. Anyone can be affected by insomnia. It worsenes with age and it is more common in women, especially after 50 to 55 years, when hormonal changes associated with menopause occur. Other factors, such as night work, a noisy environment, the presence of young children disrupting the parental sleep or stressful professions also promote sleep disorders. Finally, insomnia may be linked in some cases to a disease, diagnosed or not, such as chronic pain (related to cancer or not), respiratory, cardiac or endocrine issues, but also various neurological and infectious diseases. For instance, depression and anxiety are two diseases found in 50% of patients with chronic insomnia. Also, some medications, such as corticosteroids or beta-blockers, can impact sleep.
Table 2. Latest “sleep apps” to help you with you sleeping disorders and get the most out of your nightly sleep
How to find sleep again?
Since everyone is different, there are no miracle cures to find sleep and enjoy its benefits in record time. One must exercit patience and follow a few important tips that can help improve your sleep experience (Table 1) and apps (Table 2) to help you to relax, fall asleep and wake up gently and full of energy. Let us know hey they work for you 🙂
(1) Sleep drives metabolite clearance from the adult brain. Science.
(2) Sufficient sleep duration contributes to lower cardiovascular disease risk in addition to four traditional lifestyle factors: the MORGEN study. Tne European Journal of Preventive Cardilogy.
(3) Warwick Medical School