While you sleep, parts of your body are hard at work
By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations
If you’re reading this article before your morning coffee, sleep is probably still on your mind. The satisfaction of getting under cover and laying your head on a pillow at the end of the day is second to none. We crave rest the way we crave food and water and we need it just as much. Scientists have studied why we need sleep for decades; on the face of it, our need for sleep doesn’t make any sense. In sleep, even the most fearsome and powerful are defenseless. Sleep leaves us vulnerable; it is a dangerous undertaking in the wild. Evolution should have cured us of our need for sleep, but it didn’t. We know sleep is essential to our survival, but we’re still learning what sleep does for our bodies and our health.
A good night’s sleep protects us from becoming ill after exposure to a virus. The seven to eight hours we need to rest each night is the time our immune systems need to release proteins called cytokines. Some cytokines need to increase their presence when we’re under stress or are fighting infection or inflammation. Depriving ourselves of sleep may reduce production of these helpful proteins. Sleep deficiency also causes lower levels of infection fighting antibodies and cells. Getting enough sleep helps to keep us healthy and helps us recover when we do get sick.
Earlier this year, scientists made an exciting discovery about sleep and our brains. Our bodies are efficient machines, but they’re not without waste. When we exercise, for example, toxic byproducts such as lactic acid accumulate in our muscle cells. We’re not harmed by the process because our lymphatic system clears the byproducts out. Our brains are hard at work and they, too, create waste. It was thought at one time that the brain recycled its waste, but studies in mice, baboons, dogs and goats have all shown that the brain doesn’t rely on recycling. Instead, a system of waste removal (through the newly named glymphatic system) is at work during sleep.
Researchers theorize that in sleep, the fluid-filled area between tissue cells in the brain (interstitial space) is mostly used to physically remove daily waste created by brain cells. Interstitial space accounts for about 20 percent of the brain’s total volume. Human studies haven’t yet occurred, but are in the works. Scientists will study fluid moving through the interstitial space to see if it does indeed cleanse our brains. The potential implications of these findings on our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s could be far reaching – to learn more about this fascinating topic, please follow this link.
As we learn more about the role of sleep, its importance to our health is further highlighted. It’s troubling, then, that so many adults report not getting enough sleep or being sleep deprived. Sleep deficiency is when we get less than the six to eight hours a night adults need. (Children, infants and pregnant women in the first trimester need more.) If you’re running on less than six hours, you are sleep deprived. You might feel used to it, but your body isn’t, and we can’t condition our bodies to need less sleep.
Do your body (and yourself) a favor; make it a priority to get a solid seven (or at least six!) hours of sleep a night.