We all know that being well rested is one of the most important factors contributing to good health. Medical practitioners recommend adults to get 7 to 8 hours of rest every night in order to stay in good physical condition.
But the importance of getting quality rest at night goes beyond the physical benefits. Over the past decades, researchers have gathered a great deal of information that suggest that sleeping well also has a beneficial effect on the brain.
Why We Need So Much Sleep
As much as science has advanced, there are still knowledge gaps when it comes to understanding the functioning of the neurological system, and many aspects of it still remain a mystery. One of the things that scientists don’t yet fully understand is why exactly we need to sleep every night.
Some theories suggest that slumber plays a regenerative role in our bodies. We can’t possibly keep going non-stop, so this is the body’s mechanism to gather energy for the next day. Other theories claim that there is a cognitive aspect to being asleep, as we use this time to consolidate our memories and to reorganize the information accumulated during the day.
Others suggest that our minds work like a computer. If you are a computer user, you know that sometimes you need to reboot it or free up space to make it work better. A similar process takes place in our minds, which need to be “rebooted” often for optimal performance. According to some lab studies, our mind cleanses itself up while we are asleep - quite literally.
How Sleep Cleans Your Brain
In 2013, neuroscience researchers carried out a study to test the theory that resting at night was needed for a “mental cleanse”. The study was conducted on lab mice and found that while these were asleep, waste products from neural activity were constantly produced. Researchers studied the flow of fluids inside the mice’s lymphatic system, which acts as the body’s drainage system and keeps it free of toxins. This “waste disposal” system took place when the mice were sleeping.
Researchers suggested that if this waste disposal mechanism didn’t exist, there would be a build-up of potentially toxic waste that would affect the nervous system. In that way, nightly rest serves to “flush” the neurological system.
Further studies confirmed that this flow of fluids took place while mice were asleep, and found evidence of much higher activity levels than when mice were awake. This discovery led to the hypothesis that one of the main functions of sleeping is to clear out whatever the mind doesn’t need.
With the data from these studies, scientists have concluded that our neurological system needs periodical clear-outs. This confirms something that researchers have known for a while, which is the link between sleep disorders and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The Link With Dementia
There is a growing body of research that has found a connection between conditions like sleep apnea and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. In one study, scientists found that participants with severe sleep apnea had a larger amount of amyloid, which is an Alzheimer’s marker found in spinal fluid.
More research in that direction has been done recently. In 2019, a study examined the link between the buildup of a specific protein that is also an Alzheimer’s marker, and the presence of obstructive sleep apnea.
Researchers agreed the risk of developing dementia increases in obstructive sleep apnea patients. Everything suggests that in apnea patients, the airways collapse while they are asleep and this blockage of the respiratory system causes increased pressure in the chest and the brain, which makes it harder for neurological waste to clear out.
The conclusion is that good quality rest at night is essential to prevent cognitive impairment and eventually disease. A nightly rest is crucial to have a good working memory, concentration ability, and learning and creativity. In short, being well rested can have a beneficial impact on every task we need in our day-to-day lives. And the benefits don’t end there.
How Quality Sleep Benefits The Body
The body benefits greatly from getting good rest at night, just like the mind does. Today, scientists know that nightly rest plays a crucial role in at least two processes. One is energy conservation.
Our metabolism drops at night and this is believed to be so that we don’t spend unnecessary energy. The other process is cellular restoration. There is evidence that suggests that the body cells need nightly rest to repair themselves and regrow. Several growth and repair tasks happen overnight, including those involving the muscles and tissues, and also the production of hormones and protein metabolism.
There’ s plenty of evidence to establish a connection between nightly rest and weight management too, since imbalances in this area can disrupt hormones and make appetite hard to control. Moreover, sleeping soundly also seems to offer protection against insulin resistance and diabetes.
Sleeping Well And Its Impact On Emotions
Lastly, sleeping well and for long enough matters to our emotional well-being. Although the metabolism decreases while we are asleep, mental activity actually increases in certain areas, such as the amygdala and hippocampus. These areas have one thing in common, which is their role in regulating emotions. If this process is disrupted, the effects don’t take long to become evident in the form of mood swings, depression, and anxiety disorders.
If you’re having problems sleeping well at night, it’s important to find the root cause before this takes a toll on your body. This is especially vital if you think you may have apnea. In this case, the first step is towards better health is booking a consultation with a specialist. You can also screen for your sleep apnea risk using our online questionnaire.