It would seem that the correlation between sleep and the brain’s health is more prominent than with any other organ in the body. And while enough sleep or the lack of it has a way of affecting the entire body, the majority and core of its operation occur in the brain. It should come as no surprise, then, that its complications can have adverse effects on such a vital organ.
In this article, we will be looking at the effect and relevance of sleep on the quality of function of the brain. By the time you get to the end, your mantra should have changed from “sleep is for the weak” to “sleep is an important need.”
SLEEPING IN THE CAVE VERSUS SLEEPING IN THE BED
It would interest you to know that there have been studies conducted on the “evolution” of sleep in the lives of humans. Some believe that the primitive man, in the absence of today’s modern pressures, gadgets, and busy life, slept better than the modern man of today. It sounds logical when you think about it. But its soundness is set against the measure of objectivity when it meets research conducted on “natural sleep and its seasonal variations in three pre-industrial societies.”
The research, conducted specifically in Tanzania, Bolivia, and Namibia, revealed interesting results. Researchers discovered that primitive men or societies devoid of the usual bustle and hustle of the modern world simply expressed core sleeping patterns like the rest of us. Except that for every measure of sleeping parameter, they scored higher than the modern man.
This was seen in such factors as the average number of hours spent in sleep. As against 5.7-7.1 hours of sleep, researchers discovered that these pre-industrial groups had average sleep periods of 6.9-8.5 hours! Again, it was concluded that, where the modern man would sleep well after the hours of sunset, this other group only spent an average of 3.3 hours after sunset before hitting the sacks.
What difference does this knowledge strike? One positive effect this research points out in favor of the traditional societies is the benefit of the absence of the several sleep disorders that plague modern society. And guess what? While they did report a few mishaps in their sleep from time to time, this group of people did not have a word for insomnia in their language. This meant it was practically absent in their lives.
THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP
The question now holds; is it possible to mimic such an environment and sleep phenomenon in our various modern societies and busy schedules? And what would it do for us?
The brain is the major hub of operations for the sleep cycle. Not less than six of its parts are engaged in the sleep process. Some of these parts include the thalamus, pineal gland, basal forebrain, and amygdala. When the brain is healthy, it allows for a smooth sleep cycle which brings significant benefits to the rest of the body. Thus we can speak of generic benefits of sleep such as:
- Sleep places us in a pleasant mood.
- A good sleep habit boosts your immune system.
- Cultivating a good night’s rest can prevent weight gain.
- Sleep strengthens our hearts.
- Productivity and performance are increased when one is well-rested.
- Sleep improves memory.
The last benefit in our list leads us to focus on the impact of sleep on the brain and its components.
THE IMPACT OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION ON THE BRAIN
What happens to the brain when we skip sleep or cannot get suitable periods of it? In the deepest part of the brain sits a peanut-sized structure called the hypothalamus. Within the hypothalamus are clusters of thousands of cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). These clusters of cells perform an essential function in our sleep.
They are the parts of the brain that regulate behavioral rhythms using information received from the light exposed to our eyes. Poor lifestyle choices such as irregular sleep patterns and delayed sleep phases are directly linked to the factors that cause the dysfunction of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN).
When this particular functionary structure is damaged, one significant effect it has on you is that you tend to sleep at irregular times and frequently throughout the day. This is a result of the inability of your circadian rhythms to match with your light-dark cycle.
Another significant impact of poor sleep patterns on the brain is its consequences on the brain waste disposal process. According to research, the brain disposes of cerebrospinal fluid, and insoluble protein folds through the glymphatic lymphatic system.
Poor sleep reduces the efficacy with which the glymphatic lymphatic system works. This causes these unhealthy insoluble protein folds and fluids to build up in the brain. This gradually becomes toxic. As a result, we end up becoming worse at having better nights and quality of life.
When we ignore good sleep hygiene, we lose grip of our emotional stability and mental fortitude. Thanks to brain imaging and research, it has been discovered that the centers of the brain that stimulate emotions are disturbed. The prefrontal cortex and emotion-control centers lose their connection and stir adverse effects. These effects include unusual behaviors and some paranoia.
Brainpower is memory power. Sleep deprivation has been known to cause strong effects on our executive decision abilities and mental capacities. People who are deficient in quality sleep are reported to display difficulty in learning and replaying new information. This ultimately affects productivity and contribution to vital roles in life.
A few other honorable mentions include:
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Decreased immune strength leading to infections
- Reduced quality of life
- Neurodegenerative diseases
- Psychiatric disorders
THE POSITIVE IMPACT
Good quality sleep, on the other hand, has powerful positive effects on the brain. Good sleep practices nurture and empower the brain to function as it’s supposed to, for a ripple effect in the body.
At the SLEEP 2018 event held in June in Baltimore, findings were presented to indicate the influence of sleep on the moods of Alzheimer’s patients. Following up on this fact and other examples, it is established that quality sleep has a positive impact on neurological conditions.
Sleep has therapeutic effects when appropriated rightly. As indicated by Russell Foster of the University of Oxford, Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, sleep was used in one of their projects to ensure the stability of psychiatric disorders.
Other perks of a good long night’s rest include a sharper memory, increased concentration on tasks, and overall improved moods.
WHAT CAN I DO TO SLEEP BETTER?
Considering the extent of damage poor sleep hygiene and practices can cause us, it is only right that we make an effort to sleep better at night. If you have been having trouble sleeping well at night, these are five steps that can help you resolve that:
- One of the best ways to improve your sleep is to strengthen your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the part of the brain that uses the light coming from your eyes to determine your light-dark cycle for daytime and night-time activities. It has been proven that adults who were exposed to two hours of bright light added two hours of sleep time to rest. Expose yourself more to daylight, and it can increase your quality of sleep.
- Stay away from caffeine. Researchers estimate that about 90% of Americans take in caffeine. It comes as no surprise that there is a high rise of sleep anomalies in the country. Caffeine has been shown to stay in your body for 6-8 hours. As such, it is known to be an enemy of sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, stick to decaffeinated drinks. Otherwise, you should take caffeine not less than nine hours before your bedtime.
- Be intentional about your sleeping times and patterns. One of the best ways to develop a good sleeping habit is to sleep and wake up at calculated and deliberate times. This must be consciously worked on for many days until it becomes a habit. This results in the eradication of irregular sleep patterns.
- Sometimes it is hard to sleep at night because you have developed an unhealthy habit of sleeping for long hours during the daytime. While naps have been known to power up brain function sometimes, it has also been recorded in a study that it is possible to feel sleepier after long naps. Long naps in the daytime tend to disorient the brain’s record of the body’s sleep pattern, thus disturbing it. It must therefore be regulated.
- Pay attention to your sleep environment. A good night’s sleep can be interrupted by noise, lights, and even the type of arrangement in the room. Efforts must be made to orient your bedroom to become serene and conducive for a long quality rest.
Considering all of the above factors, it is clear that sleep has a vital role to play in the efficacy of our brain functions. Care must therefore be given to ensure sleep becomes an integral part of our day. Our times of productivity are equally important as our times of rest; ignoring it comes with serious consequences, as seen in this article.
Be the modern you but sleep like a caveman for rewarding brain power and quality of life.
Disclaimer: The author of this article is not a medical professional. This article should not be construed as medical advice.
Medical Disclaimer: The information in this article is not meant for diagnostic purposes, and we are not doctors. Please consult your doctor before making any decisions concerning your healthcare.
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