It is common knowledge that a decent night’s sleep has a plethora of positive effects on our mental, physical and emotional well-being. Research has shown adequate sleep decreases the stress hormone cortisol, lowers the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and obesity, improves memory consolidation and strengthens the immune system. It also reduces inflammation, stimulates creativity and promotes longevity. Plus, we all know that a solid eight hours of sleep does wonders for our overall mood and energy levels!
A recent study at the University of Rochester has illuminated that the brain has a restorative function as well. Neural tissue is highly active, utilizing about 1/5 of the body’s total energy. Nerve cells are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment; it is essential that metabolic waste products do not accumulate. The newly named “glymphatic system” consists of glial cells that act as sanitation workers for the brain. These cells clear out neurotoxic factors such as β-amyloids that build up as a result of the brain’s metabolic reactions. It is hypothesized that high levels of β-amyloids are significant risk factors for the development of Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s diseases and other degenerative neurological disorders. This also may contribute to the reason why brain function is impaired (and why we feel so groggy!) when we are sleep deprived.
Adequate exercise, avoidance of alcohol and caffeine and sleeping in a completely dark room are all factors that promote restorative sleep. Turn off that laptop! Research has also shown that looking at illuminated screens too close to bedtime can also interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Let your glymphatic system get to work while you get some rest, and you will wake up feeling energized, focused and rejuvenated!
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"Why Is Sleep Important?" - NHLBI, NIH. N.p., 22 Feb. 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
Xie, Lulu, Hongyi Kang, Qiwu Xu, et al. "Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain." Science 342.6156 (2013): 373-77. Web. 27 Feb. 2014. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6156/373.long.