Sleep and Brain Health

By: Sheila Kun RN, BSN, MS, CPN, FCCP
Salesian Cooperator

file-20200427-145544-1bfj3hqIt is essential to understand the role of sleep in promoting brain health. I am sure most of you have personal experience of not getting a good night sleep and its consequences. I have been trying to find a good article that articulates the topic well. I found it. This publication bRaymond J. Kotwicki, MD, MPH, Charles B. West Chief Medical Officer offers a good insight into the aspects of sleep and brain health. Here is what he says.

We all struggle through times when sleep is in short supply: when college exams, a new baby, or a financial worry prevent us from getting a peaceful night’s rest. But research continues to uncover the consequences of regularly missing out on healthy sleep and the potential perils of sleeping too much.

Sleep seems to be especially important for learning and may play a significant role in the regulation of some mental illnesses like depressionbipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders. As demands for our time and attention increase, what steps should we all take to protect our sleep? What special steps should we take if we have a psychiatric diagnosis?

The Biology of Sleep

Scientists are still working to understand why our bodies need sleep, and it’s a difficult topic to study. However, research is starting to coalesce around the theory that sleep is especially important for our brains and that activity in the brain then drives activity in many other biological systems.

Disruptions in sleep affect a part of your brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN controls circadian rhythms and your body’s sleep-wake cycle. When the SCN is activated, it affects many different biological functions including how hormones are released, body temperature, how sugars are metabolized, and more.

Sleep and Brain Plasticity

Generally, our brains need about eight hours of sleep every night. Beyond just how long you sleep, getting the sleep your brain needs also means ensuring you get appropriate amounts of different stages of sleep.

Getting the sleep your brain needs also means ensuring you get enough deep stage sleep.

Researchers in Italy have demonstrated that, when individuals experience deep stage sleep, their brains shrink about 20 percent. Though counterintuitive, shrinking is good.

Shrinking is an indication that, during deep stage sleep, relevant connections between brain cells become hardwired, while extraneous connections are pruned. The brain consolidates important neuropathways and gets rid of what it doesn’t need.

Researchers think this activity is important for neuroplasticity, meaning our brain’s ability to change. The activity in our brains during restorative sleep seems to allow us to create memories, learn, and adapt to our environment throughout our lifetimes.

Sheila’s note: this concept of pruning the brain network is so interesting; it makes sense to get rid of the thoughts that are no longer relevant to you and preserve a brain that has the best ideas. I love this concept.

Your homework from the Care Ministry this week: Have a good night sleep and wake up bright eyes and bushy tails!

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