Sleep might just be the most important thing you do all day. Experts agree that not getting adequate sleep can be devastating to your health, and there’s even been a link discovered between too little sleep and Alzheimer’s disease! Sleep is essential for peak physical and mental performance. In this post, we’ll discuss why sleep is so important and what happens when you don’t get enough.
Stages of Sleep
Researchers used to think that our minds and bodies were completely inactive during sleep, but it didn’t take long for them to realize that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Our minds and bodies are very active during sleep, and this activity is crucial to keeping the body systems in balance.
Sleep typically involves four different stages: N1, N2, N3, and REM. N1, N2, and N3 are non-REM sleep stages, meaning that they do not involve rapid eye movement like REM sleep. During non-REM sleep, your body processes become progressively slower, and you become more and more difficult to wake. Scientists believe that categorization and storage of memories happen during non-REM sleep. The majority of your sleep is spent in the non-REM stages, with N2 taking the biggest chunk.
REM stands for rapid eye movement, and it’s the stage of sleep where you dream the most. Your eyes will dart back and forth behind your eyelids as your body processes actually speed back up a bit toward daytime levels. One notable system, the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the notorious “fight or flight” response, actually becomes very active during REM sleep, although your body physically stays almost stone still.
What Happens to Your Body While You Sleep?
There’s a lot going on behind the scenes when you’re asleep. Your body goes through phases of sedation and alertness based on what stage of sleep you are in. Your brain, however, is very active the entire time you are asleep. Most of the brain processes can be categorized as cleaning and maintenance. Just a few of the things your brain does while you sleep include:
- Processing the short-term memories gathered that day
- Reorganizing some short-term memories into long-term memories
- Stabilizing hormone levels by releasing extra hormones and reducing the output of others, including cortisol
- Releasing cytokines to reduce inflammation
- Cleaning neuron synapses with microglia cells (also known as janitor cells)
No Sleep = Poor Health
Poor sleep habits can have a snowball effect on your health. It will start with just a little tiredness the following day, which will slowly progress to feelings of exhaustion over time. As you become more exhausted and continue to not get enough sleep, your brain and body will experience some distressing changes:
- Reduced immune system function
- Increase in systemic inflammation
- Depressed mood
- Problems with memory and cognition
- Increased risk of developing:
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Low sex drive
- Loss of interest in activities or socialization
Some effects caused by not getting enough sleep can be easily reversed by…you guessed it…getting in some more ZZZs each night. However, some changes chronic lack of sleep causes are not so easily reversed. For example, when microglia do not have enough time to thoroughly clean the neuron synapses each night while you sleep, a protein called tau begins to build up. Tau causes what is known as neurofibrillary tangles. These tangles are seen prominently in Alzheimer’s patients and cannot be cleared once buildup has begun with current medical knowledge. Research is being done to find out more about this process so that a technique can be developed to either prevent or clear out tau tangles.
Get Help for Your Sleep Issues at TLC Medical
Good sleep habits are a cornerstone of any good health regimen. No treatment is complete without a prescription for at least 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each and every night (or day if you’re a graveyard shift worker!). If you are having sleep disturbances and need some advice to get back on track, schedule an appointment with the experts at TLC Medical in Tampa, Westcahse, or Plant City.