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Sleep: The mind at rest?

Updated: Sep 17, 2022


The mind and the process of sleeping are tightly intertwined.

One-third of your day is devoted to sleep, making it an essential component of your daily routine. As vital to survival as food and water, quality sleep – and obtaining enough of it at the correct times – is equally important. Without sleep, you cannot establish or maintain the neural pathways that allow you to learn and form new memories, and it is more difficult to concentrate and respond.


This article covers the relationship between sleep and the brain, as well as some healthy habits that may be employed to ensure that you get enough restful sleep each night.

In spite of the fact that the brain is almost always engaged in some form of activity, making decisions, finding answers to problems, and recalling past experiences all require different modes of functioning from the brain. As you engage in the numerous activities that make up your day, your brain will go from one mode to another while you are awake.


However, when you sleep, your brain cycles among these modes in a manner that is unique to you, returning night after night to the same ones (and this cycle repeats itself every 90 minutes).

Sleep deprivation can have detrimental impacts on a person's mental and physical health. Studies suggest those who don't get enough sleep may have a higher accident rate than those who do. Poor sleeping patterns have also been proven to impede learning ability and memory storage, as well as decision-making skills such as selecting nutritious foods and avoiding harmful behaviors like drinking and driving.


Sleep and stress


The connection between stress and sleep deprivation cannot be separated. We had earlier established that stress is the cause of insomnia, which can proceed to a variety of sleep problems such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea. The release of the hormones of stress disrupt neuronal action potentials and neurotransmission and hence the most common source of nightmares, sleep paralysis, and even hallucinations can be stress. We are all familiar with the type of vivid dreams that occur when you are being pursued and unable to escape. According to the dictionary, this is a nightmare!


The mind and sleep


A certain amount of sleep is required for proper brain function. It is necessary for healthy brain and mental function, as well as everything else associated with them. Sleep enhances your capacity to recall information and focus on particulars. In addition, it is necessary for activities such as learning and creativity.


Even though the importance of sleep has been recognized by humans since ancient times, we still do not fully appreciate the underlying causes. There is, however, a school of thought maintained by some researchers that after the induction of sleep by melatonin from the pineal gland, other neurochemicals aid in the construction of new memories when we are awake and may even aid in the discovery of patterns or connections between seemingly unrelated items.

Your brain will ultimately reach its limit if you don't get enough sleep at night, and you don't want to be there when that happens!


Sleep and healthy brain function


Even though it is a highly complex organ, as we noted in an earlier video and blog, the human brain can be divided into three major parts: the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brain stem. The cerebellum is responsible for equilibrium and coordination, whereas the cerebrum is responsible for thought and emotion. The brain stem is in charge of regulating sleep cycles.


Neurons, referred to as nerve cells, are brain cells and are responsible for our cognitive, motor, and sensory abilities. Neurons in the body use neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine to transfer an electrical signal to another cell. These messages are transmitted from one neuron to the next via connections known as synapses (tiny gaps between two nerve cells). The Neurotransmitters are chemicals that aid the body in both receiving and delivering impulses from the senses. They accomplish this by facilitating nerve cell contact.

During the day at the height of activity, these chemicals are in constant secretion and use, but needs a period of sleep to replenish supply at the nerve endings,


Dendrites, which receive signals, axons, which transmit information to nearby cells, and myelin sheaths are all components of neurons (a fatty substance wrapped around axons). On the inside of these cells are even more intricate chemical compounds which also need replenishing at the end of a long day!


Sleep hygiene


There are clusters of nerve cells in the peanut-sized hypothalamus, which is located deep within the brain, that regulate sleep and wakefulness. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is a group of thousands of cells in the hypothalamus that regulates your daily routine based on the amount of light you're exposed to.


When the SCN is damaged, a person's circadian rhythms no longer synchronize with the 24-hour light-dark cycle, causing them to sleep at odd times of the day. Some degree of light perception and the ability to regulate sleep/wake cycles persist in the vast majority of blind people.


The transitions between wakefulness and drowsiness are regulated by the hypothalamus, which receives information from the brain stem. (The pons, medulla, and midbrain are all parts of the brain stem.) GABA, produced by cells in the hypothalamus and brain stem, suppresses activity in these regions' arousal centers and hence facilitates sleep.


In rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the brainstem (particularly the pons and medulla) perform a unique function by sending signals to relax muscles necessary for body posture and limb motions.


Both the duration and quality of your sleep are crucial factors to consider. During sleep, the human body repairs damaged cells and tissues, processes memories, and strengthens neural connections in the brain. A good night's sleep allows you to be alert during the day, which in turn allows you to absorb new information and retain what you've already learned. If a person does not obtain sufficient, high-quality sleep, they run the risk of developing adverse health issues like memory lapses, mood disorders include major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. There is an increased probability of acquiring cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes.


Just sleep ?


In the debate of quantity and quality, most lifestyle medicine practitioners now agree that small is better than none. So taking short naps throughout the day can be beneficial for a healthy brain. The risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and depression, which are all associated with poor sleep quality, may be reduced by naps, so enhancing health and longevity. Those who have problems falling asleep or staying asleep benefit the most from naps.


It has been shown that napping can increase activity in brain regions associated with attention span and memory consolidation known as the the hippocampus, decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol, improve mood (due to an increase in dopamine), enhance creative thinking (due to an increase in brain waves known as alpha waves), and even promote neurogenesis!


In fact, it appears that these benefits are so substantial that an increasing number of companies are urging their employees to "recharge their batteries and take many pauses during the day" so that they may resume their productive work later.


In all however, it has been established that adequate sleep improves cognitive processes such as performance and attention, as well as memory and learning, as well as mood and stress levels. Insomnia and sleep apnea sufferers can benefit greatly from their ability to improve sleep quality.


Best 'sleep practices'


Even on weekends, you should maintain a consistent bedtime and wake time because it establishes a consistent neuronal circuitry that sustains it as a habit.

After 3:00 p.m., afternoon naps should be avoided.


Because coffee's effects can persist in your system for up to eight hours, caffeine use should be restricted after 2:00 p.m. (and some sources say 10.00 am). If you must have coffee in the evening, switch to decaf or black tea instead of soda pop or caffeinated energy beverages.


If you consume more than one glass of wine (or the equivalent) in the hours before bed, your body's generation of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your biological clock and circadian rhythm, can be interrupted. Therefore before going to bed, you should not consume more than one glass of wine (or the equivalent) so as not to disrupt the circadian rhythm.


Alcohol can make falling asleep initially easier, but it can prevent you from getting into a deep slumber later in the evening. This makes it more difficult to get a decent night's sleep for those who already have difficulty falling asleep at night owing to the stress of their day job or personal life.


Sleep and Neuroplasticity.


Neuroplasticity is the capacity of a brain nervous system to undergo structural and functional changes over its lifetime. During the nineteenth century, scientists conducted research on the alterations that occur during embryonic development. These scientists coined the phrase currently in use.


However, it has since been expanded to describe changes in other biological systems, such as those created by adult brain learning, experience, and aging. This is illustrated by the term "evolutionary plasticity." In this context, "plasticity" refers to the adaptive mechanisms (such as learning) that alter the connections between nerve cells to influence the structure and function of the brain (neurons).


Long-term potentiation is the process by which repeated exposure to information enhances synaptic strength between neurons involved in retaining that knowledge, allowing us to remember it better after a period of time has elapsed since it was initially learned. This is exemplified by short-term memory. When exposed to information repeatedly, the synaptic strength between the neurons involved in storing that information rises (LTP).


To put it another way, sleep facilitates the acquisition of new information and better sleep quality has been linked to gains in memory, concentration, and health as a whole.

If you want to make changes in your life, modifying your sleeping habits is a great place to start. Sleep is essential for preserving the health and plasticity of the brain, which means that it helps the brain to continue to operate normally and preserves its capacity for new learning.


It contributes to the preservation of our youthful bodies by lowering stress and maintaining our alertness throughout the day. However, how is it feasible for this to occur? Not only does sleep occur when we are asleep, but it is also a dynamic process in which our brains undergo a variety of changes.


Sleep quality and the sleep cycle


The majority of people sleep in four stages:

  • Rapid Eye Movement REM,

  • Light sleep,

  • Deep slow wave sleep (SWS)

  • Extremely deep SWS (stages 1-4).

Due to mechanisms such as neuronal firing suppression and synaptic potentiation, the SWS is where the majority of benefits are realized. While each phase is essential for maintaining our health, the SWS is when the majority of benefits are realized.

The term "synaptic potentiation" refers to the strengthening of connections between neurons in order for them to work more efficiently when firing together during learning tasks at high speeds, such as driving on highways where traffic lights change quickly from red-green-red without any warning signs before changing again abruptly and without notice. Synaptic potentiation is a mechanism that increases the efficiency of neuronal function.

It has been established that sleep enhances and optimizes synaptic potentiation.


Sleep-wake equilibrium.


The homeostatic sleep drive governs sleep duration and timing. This sleep urge strengthens every hour you're awake and causes you to sleep longer and deeper following sleep deprivation.


Medical issues, drugs, stress, sleep environment, and diet affect sleep-wake cycles. Light may be the biggest factor. Retinal cells process light and notify the brain whether it's day or night, affecting our sleep-wake cycle. Light can make falling asleep and returning to sleep harder.


Night shift workers have problems falling asleep and staying up because their circadian rhythm is disrupted. When people fly to a foreign time zone, their circadian rhythms mismatch with the time of day, causing jet lag.


Sleep Tips

The above outlines in a simplistic way the core understanding of how sleep is important to the management of stress and health. Here are some sleep tips:

  • Bedtime and waketime should be the same each day.

  • Late-day coffee, nicotine, and booze should be avoided.

  • Warm baths, reading, and other soothing activities are great before bed.

  • Avoid bright lights and loud sounds, keep the room cool, and don't watch TV or use a computer in bed.

  • Sleep soundly. If you can't sleep, try reading or listening to music.

  • If you can't sleep or feel unusually weary, see a lifestyle medicine doctor.

  • Sleep difficulties are usually treatable.


Because sleep is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle, it is necessary to have a precise grasp of how much sleep you need. If you have the sensation that your brain isn't operating as it should, try getting more sleep, particularly if you have trouble falling or staying asleep at night.

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