Interrupted Sleep May Be Damaging Your Brain

Interrupted Sleep May Be Damaging Your Brain

As good as it feels to get cozy under blankets and sink into your pillow at night, sleep isn’t a luxury. It's a necessity.

Even mild sleep deprivation can fire up anxiety and distort the brain’s ability to process emotions.

In a recent animal study, researchers at the University of Rochester’s Medical Center showed that sleep might allow us to clear toxic, metabolic waste from the brain. In other words, sleep is an essential part of detoxification and renewal.

Using mice, researchers at the University of Rochester tracked the flow of fluid between brain cells and through the central nervous system. They found that brain cells contract. They also found that the space between cells increased from 14 percent of brain volume to 23 percent.

This translates into a 60 percent increase in space between cells. During sleep, cells are bathed in larger amounts of cleansing fluid than during waking hours.

Catching some zzz's means more than getting your beauty rest. Even mild sleep deprivation has been linked to anxiety and difficulty processing emotions.

Researchers also injected mice with amyloid protein—the same protein that builds up like plaque in the brain and is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. It turns out that a sleeping brain is more adept at clearing amyloid plaque than a brain that is awake.

"The brain only has limited energy at its disposal, and it appears that it must choose between two different functional states—awake and aware or asleep and cleaning up," says Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, co-director of the University of Rochester Medical Center and lead author of the study. "You can think of it like having a house party. You can either entertain the guests or clean up the house, but you can't really do both at the same time."

Interrupted Sleep and Brain Toxicity

When the brain is not able to clear out waste, it accumulates in the brain like dust on a shelf. The problem is that this waste is toxic, and it can instigate mechanisms like inflammation and cell death.

Signs of toxic waste buildup in the brain include:

  • Migraines
  • Seizures
  • Manic highs and lows
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Dementia
  • Autism

Neuroscientists have also found that even mild sleep deprivation can fire up anxiety and distort the brain’s ability to process emotions.

While previous studies have shown a relationship between mental disorders and sleep deprivation, only recently have scientists teased out a causal link between sleep loss and mood disorders, like anxiety. Unfortunately, those who are more anxious also tend to have a low threshold for missed hours of sleep.

5 Suggestions for a Good Night's Sleep

To make the most out of every night’s rest, follow the 5 steps outlined below for a better night's rest!

  1. Avoid stimulants after noon, such as coffee, stimulating tea, and chocolate.
  2. End electronic communication, like email and texting, around sunset.
  3. Turn off the television at least 2–3 hours before bedtime.
  4. Unwind from the day with dim incandescent light or candlelight.
  5. Consider installing bedroom curtains that block out outside light.
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I really don't know how to incorporate this technique into my daily life because I have a terminally I'll son who needs 24 hours of skilled nursing. His insurance gives him 16 so I am required to provide the other 8 hours. I work 8 hours a day on Saturdays, Sundays and Tuesdays and 16 hours on Mondays and Wednesdays. I'm up most of the night sine that is my 8 hours with him so I try to get a couple hours of sleep anytime I can. It never adds up to the required 8 hours we're supposed to get and there's nothing I can really do about it. I have no trouble falling asleep. If I lie down I would be asleep before my head touches the pillow. I just don't have the time to do that. I'm also a single mom so there is no one else to watch him while I sleep. Does anyone have any suggestions? Thank you!!
Reply by mangolady
March 07, 2015
Can you place a cot in his room? Perhaps you will be able to slumber a bit when he is not needing immediate help? Also, do you belong to a church or group where you might get volunteers to come in for a few hours? I sympathize with your situation.
I work third shift and average 2, 2-3 hour naps. I think I may be in for something bad.
Comment by skyqueen1969
February 26, 2015
Oh My. I really need to take a good look at the above suggestions. I don't follow any of them and I sleep horribly. I know it doesn't help that I have an 8 year old that wakes me up most nights, but my awful habits of going to bed so very late at night, eating until 1am, be it chocolate, or chips, or ice cream. My mood swings are awful. I will use this list to make changes. Thank you for the fabulous article.
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