The Pillars of Brain Health: Sleep

The Pillars of Brain Health: Sleep

Imagine if you never took out the trash. That’s what a lack of sleep is like in your brain – a buildup of toxins in your control tower.

When we’re awake, the brain is busy processing sensory information. Its receptors are bathed in neurotransmitters, and it expends a lot of energy to get us where we need to be, say what we want to say, and do what we want to do. The high metabolic activity of the brain results in some oxidative damage and inflammation – two conditions that are bad for the brain if left unchecked. 

The glymphatic system is the brain's waste removal system – it functions primarily during sleep to help restore and clean up the brain. Levels of neurotransmitters decline during sleep, allowing the receptors to rest and reset themselves. Research suggests that this essential task has to occur during sleep because it can’t occur while the brain performs its other essential functions during the day. 

The glymphatic system is the brain's waste removal system – it functions during sleep to help restore and clean up the brain.

Sleep is also critical to learning and memory. 

While we snooze, the brain processes new information, memories, and experiences by organizing and strengthening connections between neurons. This is called memory consolidation, and it’s necessary for effective learning. 

During the first half of the night, our brains enter slow-wave sleep (SWS), which, recent studies demonstrate, is required for the brain to appropriately execute memory consolidation. The opposite is also true: Memory consolidation is negatively affected by inadequate sleep – researchers found that even three to four days of sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on the brain’s ability to encode new memories. 

Memory consolidation is critical to learning, and it occurs while we sleep .

Though hustle culture would like us to believe otherwise, sleep deprivation is not a badge of honor. Too little of it can disrupt metabolism, hormone regulation, and the immune response, exposing us to health risks and reducing our quality of life. In short, we can’t skimp on it.

Role of sleep and sleep loss in hormonal release and metabolism:
Walk to a better night of sleep: testing the relationship between physical activity and sleep:
The impact of sleep deprivation on declarative memory:
Role of sleep deprivation in immune-related disease risk and outcomes: