July 26, 2015
Sleep, Part II: It’s About Much More Than Just Feeling Rested
BY Mary Mahoney
This the second part of a three-part series on sleep. Part I set forth the general issues. This part looks at new research showing the benefits of sleep. Part III will look at treatments for sleep disorders and why there is no magic bullet.
It’s hard to beat that great feeling after a good night’s sleep. New scientific evidence, however, shows sleep is about so much more than how we feel the next day. Sleep enables the body to cleanse and regenerate itself – suggesting that “beauty sleep” is anything but sophistry.
A National Institutes of Health primer, Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep, concludes that slumber is a busy, purposeful and extremely important time for the brain. That finding is corroborated in a recent issue of Time magazine, devoted entirely to sleep research.
The magazine describes how neuroscientist Maiken Nedergaard discovered the brain cleans and replenishes the body during slumber, purging wastes created when the body is wakeful and using energy.
Nedergaard saw a big difference in the activity of the brain’s glial cells when patients were alternatively awake and sleeping. The glial cells seem to be responsible for “cleaning out waste,” similar to the action of the body’s lymphatic system. The brain needs sleep to do the job.
Sleep also enables children and teens to grow. While we have been conditioned to discourage teenagers from staying up late and then sleeping in, recent research shows their internal clocks are different from those of younger children and adults. Teenagers more natural sleep-wake cycle is later. Dragging them out of bed early may not be such a good idea.
Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that middle and high schools readjust class times to enable students to get 8½ to 9½ hours of sleep nightly. Hundreds of schools have heeded the suggestion and claim that students are focusing better.
While four hours of sleep may have been a thing to brag about in the past, today a long night of undisturbed zzzz’s is becoming the latest health craze. More sleep can bring extra benefits, such as weight loss and cell regeneration. It can even spur creativity.
The cat nap is also gaining newfound respect. While five days’ worth of late nights can’t be made up on the weekends, a catching up on sleep study found benefits, including lowering diabetes risk, from a little siesta.