Ahh, sleep. Glorious, glorious sleep. We need it. We love it. And most of us don’t prioritise it.
THE PAIN OF LOSING SLEEP
I don’t need to tell you that a lack of sleep results in a drop in mental performance, that’s a given. What you might not know however, is that scientists recently discovered a brain-based connection between perceived pain and sleep deprivation. This revelation calls for an early night.
American scholars conducted two sleep-related studies and their extensive research revealed two things.
Even one night of inadequate sleep causes the brain’s pain-sensing regions perk up.
At the same time, areas responsible for decision-making and perceiving pain nod off.
Simply put, a person’s “pain radar” increases and his or her pain threshold dips, all thanks to a lousy sleep.
According to this discovery, scholars state that seeking quality sleep is a legitimate and effective way to minimize physical pain.
DEEP SLEEP = BETTER BRAIN CLEANING
It turns out that one of the reasons the brain needs sleep is to allow it to undergo its cleaning process, called the glympathic system.
The glymphatic system works by using cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) to powerwash brain tissue and remove waste. Waste refers to anything considered rubbish, cranially speaking, including the proteins beta amyloid and tau, which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
A new study published by Science Advances indicates that the slow and steady brain activity associated with deep non-REM are optimal for the function of the glymphatic system.
The study focused on six groups of anaesthetised mice. While they were sleeping, the researchers tracked brain electrical activity, cardiovascular activity, and the flow of CSF through the brain. The mice that had a sleep pattern closely resembling deep non-REM were found to have the most active glymphatic systems.
So, deep sleep = better brain cleaning.
The discovery that deep sleep promotes the activity of the glymphatic system matches up with the clinical observations that show an association between sleep deprivation and a heightened risk for Alzheimer’s.
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CONSISTENCY IS KEY
So, we agree that quality sleep is essential. It increases our productivity and reduces pain perception. People often ask how many hour of sleep they need, and whilst this is a valid question, the more important thing to focus on is consistency.
It’s recommended that adults have 7-8 hours of sleep per night, but most of us don’t achieve that. Many people power through the week on a deficit knowing we can make up for it on the weekend. This was my sleep modus operandi until recently.
The reality is that sleep deficits during the week can’t really be recovered with weekend lie-ins. “Yo yo sleeping,” defined loosely as not getting enough sleep during the week and sleeping longer on the weekends, much like the same behaviour when dieting, is harmful to your brain and body and doesn’t actually work.
In a recent Current Biology study, researchers compared several groups of sleepers: 9 hours per night, 5 hours per night, and a third group that had 5 hours per night and unlimited sleep on the weekends. The last group, who binge-slept on the weekends to make up the deficit, had the same negative impacts as the 5-hour group who ran a constant sleep deficit, including:
27% reduction in insulin sensitivity
This behaviour also messed up circadian rhythms, similar to the effects of jet lag, making it more difficult to fall asleep on Sunday nights.
So, to regulate your sleep: aim for a consistent schedule every night. Instead of trying to sleep for 9 hours a night like the people in the study (let's be honest, for most people that's never going to happen), the next best thing is to sleep the same 6-8 hours every night, regardless of the day of the week.
PILLOW TALK: HOW TO SLEEP DEEPLY
Cultivating superior rest and managing physical pain are as simple as establishing healthy habits. Here’s some tips to get more deep sleep:
Dodge blue light exposure. Cut off after-hours screen time. Sixty minutes before curfew is ideal.
Be cool: the temperature of your bedroom matters. According to #science (and my Oura ring), the right median temperature for a body to rest at night is around 19.5°C.
Relax that sh*t. Meditation, aromatherapy, stretching. Maybe you want to chug turmeric-fused moon milk. It’s up to you.
No big meals or workouts too close to bedtime. Gotta keep your digestive systems and cortisol levels in check!
Bottomline: grab a cup of Sleepy Time tea and limit the blue screen activity an hour or two before bedtime. You’ve got this.
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