It’s Sleep Awareness Week, so I thought I’d share some information about the importance of sleep, dreams and circadian rhythms.
Something I have found with many clients, and especially teenagers, is that they are not getting enough sleep. This was particularly true at the intensive outpatient clinic I worked at, where emerging adults (aged 18-28) came in for mental health issues such as severe anxiety, depression, suicide ideation and substance abuse.
One issue for young people is that they stay on their phones (often unbeknownst to the parents) until 2 or 3 in the morning, and then have to wake within 5 hours for school. This is not enough sleep and is damaging to brain development and functioning. Many people of all ages have challenges with getting enough sleep, and this can be due to many different factors, such as traumatic brain injury (which I’ll cover in the a future post - March is TBI awareness month), past trauma, diet, nutrition, lack of exercise and natural light during the day. Many factors play into sleep so it’s important for us to pay attention to our own patterns, and try different things that may help us get the sleep we need. For some people, in addition to making adjustments to diet, exercise and time outside, supplements - such as those containing CBD - can also help.
Sleep is an important issue, and I believe that its importance is not honored enough in our society. There is little awareness or education about it - which I think would be helpful especially for young people who may not realize that their habits are seriously and negatively affecting their brain functioning, mental health and overall performance and wellbeing.
Studies on veterans have also shown that sleep (and social support - more on that coming soon) plays a critical role in the ability to function optimally post-deployment.
With that, here are some aspects of sleep, dream and rhythms that are tied to high quality and adequate amounts of sleep…
Dreams help the body learn and perform physical tasks.
The brain stores information into long-term memory through something known as sleep spindles, short bursts of brain waves at strong frequencies that occur during REM sleep.
This process can be particularly helpful for storing information related to motor tasks, like driving, swinging a tennis racquet or practicing a new dance move, so that these tasks become automatic. What happens during REM sleep is that the brain transfers short-term memories stored in the motor cortex to the temporal lobe, where they become long-term memories.
Another part of REM sleep (which you can only get to if your sleep is deep enough), is a generation of motor simulations. During REM sleep, intense neural activity occurs in the cortex, including in the primary motor cortex. The activity of these motor neurons create organized sequences of activities that simulate commands for bodily movements. But during REM sleep, only the respiratory muscles and the muscles of the eye and the middle ear will actually be able to carry out these commands–they never reach the motor neurons of the arms and legs. The EEG activity recorded from the scalp resembles that seen during wakefulness. While research is still emerging, REM sleep plays a critical role in brain functioning.
Sleep clears out brain toxins.
Cerebral spinal fluid is pumped more quickly throughout the brain while you sleep. It acts like a vacuum cleaner, whisking away waste products, such as molecular detritus that brain cells make and toxic proteins that can lead to dementia over time. So you wake up with, quite literally, a clean slate.
Researchers at the University of Rochester found that during sleep, the brains of mice clear out damaging molecules associated with neurodegeneration. The space between brain cells actually increased while the mice were unconscious, allowing the brain to flush out the toxic molecules that built up during waking hours.
Sleep “shrinks” the brain--and that's a good thing
Research has found that sleep “shrinks” the brain’s synapses — the connections among neurons—by nearly 20 percent. During this time, the synapses rest and prepare for the next day, when they will grow stronger while receiving new input—that is, learning new things.
If you don't sleep, your ability to learn new information could drop by up to 40 percent.
Sleep gets your brain to make creative connections.
A 2007 University of California at Berkeley study found that sleep can foster "remote associates," or unusual connections, in the brain -- which could lead to a major "a-ha" moment upon waking. Upon waking from sleep, people are 33 percent more likely to make connections between seemingly distantly related ideas.
Sleep-Wake cycles are intimately linked to our circadian rhythms.
Circadian rhythms regulate changes in the brain and body that occur over the course of a day. Your body’s biological clock controls most circadian rhythms. Almost every cell in the body contains a circadian clock. For example, these clocks, called peripheral oscillators, have been found in the adrenal gland, oesophagus, lungs, liver, pancreas, spleen, thymus, and skin. The hormones cortisol and melatonin are affected by the signals light sends through the body's nervous system. These hormones help regulate blood sugar to give the body the appropriate amount of energy that is required throughout the day. The earth's natural light-dark cycle is the basis for the release of these hormones.
All animals, including humans, have evolved circadian rhythms, which respond to the earth's 24-hour cycle.These rhythms include the sleep–wake cycle, hormone production, and core body temperature cycles. The timing of these patterns is set by the 24-hour light–dark cycle.
Disruption to sleep and circadian rhythms is shown in research as having negative effects on overall functioning and has links with some mental health issues like bipolar disorder as well as physical health such as cardiovascular disease.
Make it a priority this week to get sleep and try new ideas to help you with sleep challenges you may be having in getting enough! This could include making sure you get natural sunlight in the morning, not eating too close to bedtime, creating soothing bedtime rituals, exercising, supplements, cutting down on caffeine later in the day. There are plenty of resources out there to give you ideas of adjustments you can make - understanding how incredibly important sleep is for your brain and health is a first step.
With Love From Me to You
On a side note...
Getting excited for my move to Montana in a few weeks! Looking forward to the amazing community I got to connect with in February, and continuing those connections, as well as having amazing access to the outdoors and a jiu jitsu community with women! More trainings coming up that will be putting me back into a beginner mindset - a place I love to be. I'll share more about those as they come up.
- children's untapped potential
- cognitive flexibility and why context from long-form content and open dialogue is important for society
- the critical role of social support in 'unlearning' maladaptive thought patterns