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:
- Manic highs and lows
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!
- Avoid stimulants after noon, such as coffee, stimulating tea, and chocolate.
- End electronic communication, like email and texting, around sunset.
- Turn off the television at least 2–3 hours before bedtime.
- Unwind from the day with dim incandescent light or candlelight.
- Consider installing bedroom curtains that block out outside light.