sleep and the brain

Sleep and the Brain – The Healing Power of Sleep

Sleep and the Brain – When you sleep, you might think your body is inactive. But in reality, your body is actually working harder to repair and recover itself.

Here are 5 ways that sleep helps our brains stay healthy and balanced:

Sleep orders and strengthens our memories

Sleep helps the brain file the day’s activities away. As we sleep, the brain fast-forwards through the patterns of brain activity that occurred during the day. This replay not only organizes memories, but also strengthens the microscopic connections between nerve cells in the hippocampus, the brain’s own filing system.

Sleep may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia

Lack of sleep, or sleeping less than five hours a night, can lead to a build-up of beta-amyloid, a toxic protein that forms harmful plaques in the brain of those with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. Getting a good seven hours of sleep a night can reduce the risk that these plaques accumulate in our brains.

Sleep makes the brain stronger

There’s a reason we feel more clear-headed after a good night’s sleep: we are. Sleep boosts alertness, replenishing the neurotransmitters that organize the neural networks in our brains. These networks are essential not only for memory, but also for learning, mental performance and problem solving.

Sleep gives the brain time to detox

Sleep helps restore the brain by flushing out toxins (including harmful proteins) that build up during waking hours. Our brains have a drainage system based on the movement of clear cerebrospinal fluid through channels surrounding the blood vessels. The process, has been named the brain’s glymphaticsystem by researchers.

Sleep enables our brains to perceive pleasure

The link between sleep and pleasure has to do with stress. The more stressed we are, the less we sleep; the less we sleep, the more stressed we get. The result is lowered levels of DHEA, the “life is good” hormone. Without sufficient DHEA, it’s harder for us to experience happiness. It doesn’t just seem as if we’re in a bad mood. Chemically, we are.

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Sleep and the Brain – The Healing Power of Sleep

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Genetics of Sleep

Genetics of Sleep – How Your Genes Can Affect Your Sleep Behavior

Scientists have uncovered a number of surprising ways that genes might affect your sleep. Here are five:

“Short-sleepers” can get by on just 4 to 6 hours a night

In 2009, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco discovered a gene mutation that allows some people to feel refreshed on much less sleep than the normal population.

The gene is heritable and rare. So for the rest of us, a minimum of 7.5 hours it is.

There’s a gene linked to both seasonal depression and poor sleep

A two-for-one special that no one wants: Two rare variants of the PERIOD3 (PER3) gene are linked to both Seasonal Affective Disorder – depression related to change in the seasons and poor sleeping patterns.

DNA may be why sleep and metabolism are associated

In 2013, scientists identified a “gene region” that’s linked with longer sleep, better glucose metabolism and a lower likelihood of ADHD. The region is located near a gene called PAX8,  which helps regulate thyroid hormone levels. The thyroid can impact sleep cycles: People with inadequate thyroid hormones often sleep excessively, and people with too much of it can be hyperactive.

An overactive gene is linked to severe insomnia

The gene known as neuromedin U (Nmu) has been called “nature’s stimulant” for its apparent role in wakefulness and, by extension, insomnia. A new study,published this month in the journal Neuron, showed that zebrafish with over-expressed Nmu became more active both day and night and displayed a “profound form of insomnia.”

Being a “morning person” could be part of your DNA

Scientists recently isolated 15 areas in the human genome that are associated with the tendency toward “morningness,” or a preference for rising early. They also found that morning people were less likely to suffer from insomnia or depression, and had lower average BMIs than so-called “night owls.”

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Genetics of Sleep – How Your Genes Can Affect Your Sleep Behavior

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sleep disruption

Sleep Hygiene – Brushing Your Teeth May Cause Sleep Disruption

According to a talk by Russell Foster, neuroscientist and professor of circadian neuroscience at Oxford University in England, we’ve been brushing our teeth wrong. Instead of relying on light, it may be more beneficial for our sleep habits if we brush in the dark.

‘Often people will turn their lights down at night which helps to get the body ready for sleep, but then they will go and brush their teeth and turn their bathroom light on. That is very disrupting. I often think someone should invent a bathroom mirror light which has a different setting for night-time.’ said Russell Foster, neuroscientist and professor of circadian neuroscience at Oxford University in England.

Out of sync

Whilst your body and mind may be perfectly relaxed and ready for bed, when you step into the brightly lit bathroom to spend a few minutes brushing your teeth, you effectively reset your body’s sleep cycle and send it “wake up” signals. This happens because at night, in response to falling light levels, the pineal gland in your brain starts producing melatonin – the ‘drowsy hormone’ – which helps to ease us into sleep each night. But flipping on that bright bathroom light sends your circadian rhythm spiralling into confusion all over again, and your melatonin back into storage for another time.

While brushing your teeth in complete darkness may sound impractical and unappealing, it’s worth considering the advice of the scientists. If a total blackout is impractical try swapping your current lightbulbs for lower-wattage bulbs, or even a night light. A few minutes in a dark, or more dimly-lit bathroom might might help you improve the quality of your precious shut-eye, and maybe even your wider health concerns.

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Sleep Hygiene – Brushing Your Teeth May Cause Sleep Disruption

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women's sleep health

Women’s Sleep Health – Sedentary Lifestyle in Menopausal Women is Associated with Insomnia

Sedentary middle-aged Hispanic women in Latin America have significantly worse menopause symptoms than their active counterparts, shows a study of more than 6,000 women across Latin America. The study was published online Jan 27 in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

The study analyzed data from the Collaborative Group for Research of the Climacteric in Latin America surveys and health records of 6,079 women, ages 40 to 59, who attended one of 20 urban health centers in 11 Latin American countries. The women completed standard questionnaires about depression, anxiety, insomnia, and menopause symptoms.

Women were considered to be sedentary if they reported fewer than 3 weekly sessions of physical activity, such as walking, jogging, or swimming, that lasted 30 minutes or longer, and menopause symptoms were considered severe if the MRS score was 16 or more.

A sedentary lifestyle was very common, reported by 64% of the women. And the following statistically significant contrasts between the sedentary women and active women stood out: Some 16% of the sedentary women had severe menopause symptoms compared with 11% of the active women. The sedentary women also had higher total menopause scores, and more of them had any of the individual symptoms than the active women did. The sedentary women were also more likely to be obese and to have higher scores on the depression, anxiety, and insomnia scales.

Results of studies of the ability of exercise to reduce menopause symptoms have been conflicting, but this study adds some weight to the exercise side of the equation.

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Women’s Sleep Health – Sedentary Lifestyle in Menopausal Women is Associated with Insomnia

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sleep deprivation and health

Sleep Deprivation and Health – What Happens When You Don’t Sleep for Days

After 24 Hours: You May Have Trouble Focusing

The biggest thing that happens when you’re sleepless for 24 hours (or more) is that your ability to focus and pay attention slips, according to a 2010 analysis of studies published in Psychology Bulletin. They found that the big thing to suffer was “simple vigilance”, or your ability to pay attention to one kind of stimuli at a time.

The brain also finds it a lot more difficult to filter out relevant information from everything it picks up. A study from the Journal of Neuroscience found that, after one night without sleep, people were much less able to filter out irrelevant stimuli, leading to confusion from taking in too much information.

36 Hours: You May Struggle To Remember Things

One study showed that, while even a little bit of sleep deprivation has a negative effect on the cardiovascular system, after 39 hours without sleep, the pressure on the subjects’ hearts had increased, with a higher heart rate and bigger variations in blood pressure.

At this point of sleep deprivation, your cognitive performance is deteriorating, too. You won’t be able to recall faces properly, and your ability to remember words will be significantly impaired.

48 Hours: You May Get Sick More Easily

The body really starts to be under stress. The immune system in people deprived of two days of sleep is pretty drastically different from the body of someone who has gotten enough rest; levels of NK cells, or “natural killer” white blood cells, which are a key part of the body’s immune response, fell dramatically in people deprived of sleep for 48 hours in one study.

72 Hours: You May Be A Total Mess

The interesting thing about serious sleep deprivation is that it doesn’t make you feel uniformly hopeless. Instead, it makes your psychological and motor responses incredibly unstable. A study of people deprived of sleep for three to four days found that, when it came tasks where they had to pay attention, their performance was as erratic as hell: their ability to focus fluctuated madly and tried hard to compensate, but couldn’t maintain a constant for more than a few seconds. The scientists thought that, by this point, they weren’t either fully awake or asleep.

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Sleep Deprivation and Health – What Happens When You Don’t Sleep for Days

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