July 26, 2015

Sleep, Part II: It’s About Much More Than Just Feeling Rested

Mary MahoneyBY Mary Mahoney

J. Robinson Group Blog
sleepless sheep jumping over fence

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.

July 21, 2015

Sleep, Part I: We Crave It, We Need It, We Struggle to Achieve It

Mary MahoneyBY Mary Mahoney

J. Robinson Group Blog
sleepless sheep jumping over fence

With this post, I begin a three-part series on sleep, a topic that is near and dear to each of us yet not universally appreciated as an essential component of health. In this first part, I will set forth the general issues. Part II will look 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 wasn’t that long ago that sleep was considered, to put it plainly, a waste of time. Almost nothing was known about the slumbering brain, dreams or insomnia. There was little research on the subject, and few doctors specialized in sleep disorders. Hard science and snoozing  just did not mix.

Today, however, the medical community is taking a serious look at sleep, trying to decode its function and aiming to optimize its beneficial effects. Many large hospitals, including Orlando Health, now have their own sleep disorders centers.

A deep, continuous, truly refreshing night’s rest eludes about half of the world’s population, according to a survey published by the Huffington Post. And scientists are discovering that sleep is not only far from a waste of time, it is crucial to our health. At the same time, insomnia – or the inability to sleep –has gained importance in the eyes of the medical community, rising from a mere annoyance to serious health problem.

In addition to obvious consequences of insomnia including exhaustion, poor concentration, lower productivity and higher accident rates, there is more real data linking the disorder with serious diseases. Last year the University of Chicago and the National Institutes of Health backed a study on cancer and sleeplessness that showed cancerous tumors in sleep-deprived mice grew twice as fast as those in well-rested mice.

Study director David Gozal, chairman of pediatrics at the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital, said insomnia affects the immune system. “Fragmented sleep changes how the immune system deals with cancer in ways that make the disease more aggressive,” he said.

A series of large-scale studies in the U.S. and Europe indicates the risk of heart disease, diabetes, urinary problems and death can twice as high for people who habitually sleep less than six hours per night.

So what’s keeping people up? Technology plays a part, or rather our 24/7 addiction to it. Video games and streaming entertainment hold a hypnotic grip on many of us, and the ding of the text message is impossible to ignore. Research published in Time magazine says blinking screens also are affecting our biological clock, also known as circadian rhythms.

The 2015 Sleep in American Poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation  found that poor health, chronic pain and stress are “key correlates of shorter sleep durations and worse sleep quality.” In turn, a global study this year found that work and financial issues are the major stressors that keep us tossing and turning in our beds.

Given these distractions plus snoring partners plus bad dreams and – for new parents – the nighttime demands of babies, it is a wonder that any of us get any shuteye at all.

As more of us demand more and better quality sleep, research is intensifying on finding a remedy for insomnia.

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