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Sleep: You’re probably not getting enough

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Most of the information for this posting comes from Matthew Walker’s book “Why We Sleep.”

Sleep is important! It accounts for one third of our lives. Wakefulness is actually low level brain damage which requires a good night of sleep for a person to properly recover. In 2012, Rochester University found that the brain has a “sewage system” called the glymphatic system. When you sleep, specific cells in your brain will shrink up to 200% and allow the cerebral spinal fluid to fill the brain and “wash out the waste” of wakefulness.

     Poor sleep can increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. When we have poor sleep, we build up oxidative stress, causing neuronal damage, especially in the area of hour brain where our memories are stored. (The hippocampus, for our science friends). 2 proteins, Beta Amyloid and Tau, will build up in the brain if sleep is less than 7 hours or fragmented. These same two proteins are found in elevated amounts in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. As a matter of fact, 8 hours of sleep are the best preventative measures against both high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s.

There are 4 pillars of sleep. 1) Regularity, consistency of a sleep schedule. 2) Continuity, little to no awakening at night. 3) Quantity, the total and amount of sleep in each stage. 4) Quality, as in the quality of the electrical signal of the brain.

There are 2 sleep cycles: REM and non-REM sleep, and these contain the 4 sleep stages. Every 90 minutes the brain cycles between these 2 cycles. Non-REM contains the restorative stages which allow for the preservation of new memories and preparation for future learning. REM, your dream cycle, helps recalibrate emotional networks. All the stages are important for brain health, so you can start to understand why getting uninterrupted sleep is so important.

A study on rats and sleep deprivation performed in 1983 showed that sleep deprived rats met their demise 20% faster than they would die from starvation. Further findings concluded that rats who were totally sleep deprived, or deprived of REM sleep alone, died in 10 days. Non REM sleep deprivation allowed for survival of up to 20 days.

We all know we should exercise and eat better, but what we often don’t consider is that sleep is the foundation of our health. (Because deprivation is so detrimental to our health, Guinness Book of Records banned people from trying to see how long they can stay awake.) Unfortunately, sleeping has been stigmatized as laziness. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were both proud of sleeping only 4-5 hours a night and they both ended up with Alzheimer’s. In 1942 we slept an average of 7-9 hours per night. Currently, we average only about 6.5. Knowing that a good night’s rest can help prevent chronic disease and motor vehicle accidents, (car accident risks are doubled with 5-6 hours per night and up to 12 times higher with less than 4 hours!), let’s all agree to PUT THE PHONE DOWN and go to bed.


-Brooke Rieth NP

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