Let’s consider the adjustments people have made to avoid threats in their surroundings: significant increases in body size and strength, the development of complex languages and tools, and the strong fight or flight reflex.
Then comes sleep. Not only are we unconscious for 7-8 hours, but our skeletal muscles are actually paralyzed during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This normal event may be good for our bed partners during our active dreams, but it certainly does not improve our chances of successfully escaping from predators.
So the benefits of sleep must be so important that we have compromised to spend those hours in such a vulnerable position. When we learn more about the multitude of recovery activities during sleep, it is clearly our most holistic path to good health.
Are we getting enough sleep?
Ironically, as we understand the benefits of sleep, our population is resting less than ever before. A recent consensus statement from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommended a minimum amount of sleep: 7 hours per night for adults. However, between 1985 and 2012, the percentage of adults who slept 6 hours or less per night doubled from 38.6 million to 70.1 million. The CDC views this prevalence of sleep deprivation as a public health emergency.
Insomnia is not the same as sleep deprivation.
It can be most helpful to understand insomnia as “distressing poor sleep” rather than as an inability to sleep. Individuals can be in bed for up to 9 or 10 hours, but the quality of their sleep is unsatisfactory and frustrating. You can also be very afraid of sleep.
However, sleep deprivation occurs when a person cannot spend enough time in bed to meet their biological needs. Let’s look at a common scenario, especially in the past year of the ongoing pandemic-induced overwhelm. A mother tries to work from home while her children log on to remote learning platforms. She watches with dismay as her work efficiency continues to decline after each interruption from her children. When she finally puts her in bed, her real working day begins. She then crawls into bed at 2 a.m. and her children are up again at 6 a.m. and ask, “What is for breakfast?”
Getting enough sleep is critical to our health.
Consistently inadequate sleep (less than 6 hours per night) has been linked to numerous health concerns, including heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, depression, and anxiety. Social pressures, including the lack of adequate childcare, unskilled employment that lead to multiple part-time jobs, and well-paid jobs that are increasingly inaccessible without higher education, have resulted in massively sleep-deprived and, as a result, less healthy populations.
Sleep is one of our most powerful drivers and offers an incredible number of benefits for our health and wellbeing. These include strengthening our immune system, stabilizing our appetite and metabolism so that we do not overeat high calorie foods and store them as fat (fat) and lower the risk of anxiety and depression.
Sleep and our immune system
When vaccinating the country, it is important to consider the effects of sleep on our immune system. Dr. UCSF’s Prather conducted a study of participants with a nasal introduction of the rhinovirus (the virus that causes the common cold) and checked infection rates after hours of sleep. Remarkably, nearly half of those who slept less than 5 hours over a week developed a cold 4.5 times higher than that of their rested counterparts (who slept> 7 hours a night).
Sleep also increases our vaccination response. In a study of 125 healthy volunteers who received the hepatitis B vaccine at three doses, people who slept an average of less than 6 hours a night were at a much higher risk of an inadequate antibody response than peers who slept more than 7 hours a night Slept night. In fact, these sleep deprived people were 11.5 times less likely to be protected from hepatitis B after vaccination.
Sleep is time to thoroughly cleanse your brain.
Additionally, there is a lot of activity going on in your brain during sleep, especially an important deep cleansing to remove harmful toxins. The glymphatic system, first fully described by Iliff and colleagues in 2012, is the brain’s drainage machinery that flushes waste products before they can cause damage. This distance is especially active during deep, non-REM sleep.
Scientists have determined the removal of beta-amyloid (Aß) and tau molecules from the brain during this nocturnal cleansing process. This is important because Aß and Tau contribute to two key formations (Aß plaques and Tau tangles) that have been identified in Alzheimer’s disease. For example, even one night of total sleep deprivation leads to a measurable increase in the Aß load in the thalamus and hippocampus, two crucial brain regions for memory and information processing.
A decrease in glyphatic activity has been noted in those who work shifts, as well as those with a sedentary lifestyle or a history of traumatic brain injury. Exercise appears to improve glyphatic drainage, which may explain the suggested cognitive benefits of regular physical activity.
How can we achieve our health and longevity goals?
While proper sleep, along with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and manageable stress doesn’t prevent all illness, we can give ourselves a powerful, holistic head start by making sure we stay rested. Even if society tells us to “work hard, play hard” and only sleep when we are exhausted, recent discoveries should make us think twice about the significant risk of sleep deprivation. Nothing offers as much healing power as a good night’s sleep, and our bodies and clean, refreshed brains will surely thank us for our efforts.
Iliff J et al. A paravascular pathway facilitates the flow of cerebrospinal fluid through the brain parenchyma and the clearance of interstitial solutes, including amyloid ß. Sci Transl Med 2012. August 15; 4 (147): 147ra111.
Komaroff AL. Does sleep purgation waste brain waste? JAMA. Published online May 17, 2021. doi: 10.1001 / jama.2021.5631
Prather AA, Hall M, Fury JM, Ross DC, Muldoon MF, Cohen S., Marsland AL. Sleep and antibody response to hepatitis B vaccination. Sleep. 2012 Aug 1; 35 (8): 1063- 9. doi: 10.5665 / sleep.1990. PMID: 22851802; PMCID: PMC3397812.
Prather AA, Janicki-Deverts D, Halle MH, Cohen S. Behavioral sleep and susceptibility to colds. Sleep. 2015, September 1st; 38 (9): 1353-9. doi: 10.5665 / sleep.4968. PMID: 26118561; PMCID: PMC4531403.
Sullan MJ et al. Disruption of the glyphatic system as a mediator of brain trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2018; 84: 316-324.
Holstein-Rathlou S. et al. Voluntary running increases the glyphatic influx of young mice when they are awake. Neurosci Lett 2018, January 1; 662: 253-258.
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