The Importance of Sleep for Brain Health
OVERVIEW OF SLEEP BENEFITS
In recent years of research, it has been determined that about ⅔ of the world’s population is not getting the recommended 8 hours of nightly sleep. This is a staggering statistic, particularly when one understands the many ways in which sleep contributes to a properly functioning body and mind. Sleep recharges the immune system, modulates blood sugar, clears coronary arteries, removes waste from the brain, and facilitates memory, creativity, problem-solving, and the acquisition of motor skills.
For people recovering from a stroke, traumatic brain injury (TBI), or concussion, sleep is even more important and should be prioritized because of its wide range of necessary functions.
From restoring the immune system to removing excess inflammation in the brain, sleep provides unique benefits that cannot be accessed otherwise and that are absolutely necessary when recovering from a neurological injury.
WASTE REMOVAL aka “BRAIN WASHING”
Recent discoveries in sleep research have shown us that the brain essentially washes itself during sleep, through means of the newly discovered glymphatic system. The glymphatic system operates in a similar way to the body’s lymphatic system, where fluid is sent to remove toxins and metabolic waste from an area, flushing them out and refreshing the area. However, instead of sending lymph, the glymphatic system uses cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) as its washing medium. Think of it as a microscopic sewer system for the brain that is only fully active during sleep.
When a person is not sleeping properly, the glymphatic system cannot perform its duties, and waste builds up in the brain over time. This leads to dementia, Alzheimer’s, and many neurological issues that are severely life-altering and extremely difficult to treat.
MEMORY & LEARNING
Research shows a significant increase in memory issues and attentional deficits in those who do not sleep the recommended 8 hours. This is for a few different reasons, again highlighting the importance of sleep for optimal quality of life.
During stage 2 of sleep, the brain is able to restore its capacity for learning by creating more “storage space” for new memories and information. This allows a person to fully receive and store new experiences, while removing that which is deemed unimportant. Another interesting component of sleep comes after learning something new. Sleep actually protects newly acquired information, reducing the likelihood that it will be forgotten. The deeper one can sleep, particularly in the deep non-REM stage of sleep, the more information they will retain the next day.
This improved retention of information and of learned skills, as you can imagine, are profoundly important when one is learning to walk or talk again after a stroke.
Sleep provides the patient’s brain with a chance to embed the progress made during the day and build on those successes the next day.
SLEEP FOR EMOTIONAL STABILITY & MENTAL HEALTH
Poor sleep and mental health conditions (such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety) are shown to have a bidirectional relationship, meaning that sleep problems are both a cause and consequence of mental health conditions.
According to research statistics, at least 90% of U.S. veterans with combat-related PTSD suffer from insomnia symptoms and poor sleep.
The traumatic events replaying in veterans’ minds, nightmares, and high state of alertness prevent them from sleeping soundly, and the consistent nights of poor sleep worsen their PTSD symptoms. This bidirectional relationship also occurs with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, each in their own respective ways.
While this presents a challenging, seemingly never-ending cycle of intensifying symptoms and poor sleep, it also means that treatment for both issues can go hand-in-hand. There are ways to improve one’s sleep hygiene that can move the needle in a positive direction and give the person the best chance at improved natural sleep, which in turn can begin to relieve some symptoms of their mental health condition. This positive cascade compounds over time, and can be accelerated with some neurological therapies we offer at Resiliency.
How do you know if your sleep is sufficient? What are some ways to improve your sleep? We teach our patients all of these things during their treatment programs at Resiliency.
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