8. Sleep Is Brain Maintenance


If we were to drive a car continuously, the engine wouldn’t cope and it would eventually break down.  We take our car off the road for maintenance and we need to do the same for our brain and body. Sleep is essential to our functioning as after just 2 days without sleep, the brain will start hallucinating.


The Greatest Benefit of Sleep

Sleep impacts our health in every area but researchers have recently found sleep's greatest benefit to be physical: cleansing. Our body has a great system for flushing out waste, the lymphatic system, but it does not extend to our brain. As the brain tightly regulates everything, it is kept highly secure behind the blood-brain barrier to avoid contamination, but it does have waste to get rid of.


The brain has its own disposal system, the Glymphatic System which pumps cerebral spinal fluid, CSF, through brain tissue to remove waste. The waste is then flushed into our circulatory system, then into our lymphatic system where it is flushed out of our body with all other waste. The Glymphatic System requires a lot of energy and seems to be about 10 times more active during sleep. This is why our brain uses as much energy when we are asleep as it does when we are awake. Brain cells also shrink up to 60% during sleep so CSF can wash through faster. Waste build up has links to serious brain diseases like Alzheimer's. If we don’t sleep every night, our brain can't cleanse itself of toxins properly.


Missing sleep can interfere with attention, awareness, ability to process information, reasoning and problem solving skills. When tired we are more easily distracted, less able to implement new strategies, less able to confront new situations, far more reliant on habit (doing what we have always done) and less able to control our mood and performance. When tired, emotional capacity is diminished which may result in an inability to handle stress, less control of our moods and performance, being easily upset over trivial things, moodiness or mood swings, increased depressive feelings and burnout, decreased empathy, being more likely to pick a fight, relationship troubles, agitation, decreased libido, irritability or aggression, anxiety, sadness, slumps in attention, thinking and focus, sluggish behaviour, hunger, zoning in and out, and mood swings.


Children's Signs of Tiredness include clumsiness, crying, clinginess or constantly demanding attention, boredom with regular toys and fussiness with food.


Sleep and Health Facts

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal found that inadequate sleep affected more than 700 genes, including those dealing with the immune system, brain function and the body's response to stress. Muscles and organs can fully recover when we are wide awake while the brain cannot.


It was found that 7-9 hrs sleep is the recommended amount. More than 9 hrs sleep means we are more susceptible to obesity. Less than 7 hrs lowers our immune system, meaning we get ill more often and are 3 times more susceptible to viral infections. Less than 6 hrs sleep is associated with cognitive decline, with an equivalence of 4-7 yrs of aging over time. Less than 5 hrs sleep can increase the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. Less than 4 hrs sleep doubles the risk of heart disease. Young people sleeping less than 5 hours per night triple their chance of getting a mental illness.


Sleep and Healing

Sleep gives us time to repair muscles and cells, as well as strengthening our immune system. Sleep and rest provide the quickest recovery time when we are unwell or injured. This allows the brain to focus on fighting infection and cell repair.


Sleep and Learning

Sleep provides the brain time for a nightly mental clean-up. Studies show that if we get sleep straight after practicing something that takes fine motor skills, for example, typing or playing an instrument, it helps us retain that knowledge faster. That is, neural connections or pathways are better established.


When we sleep, our brain takes everything we've seen and done throughout the day and filters through it. It looks for patterns, sifts through what it finds unessential and decides what to turn into a memory. This process is called Memory Consolidation.


Sleep and Safety

A lack of sleep contributes to a greater than two-fold higher risk of sustaining injury. One night without sleep is equivalent to being legally intoxicated.


One of the brain's main roles is to protect itself and its body. Our decisions are often based on previous choices which we have survived, and have thus proven safe. This can result in us doing the same thing over and over, such as, going to the same restaurant, sitting in the same spot and eating the same food. Sound familiar? Always consider your reliance on habit when making decisions or confronting new situations.


Innovation, creativity and trying new things may be quashed when tired. Our thinking is muddled and our decision making is poor. When the brain is tired, it is unable to process well. We are more likely to make poor decisions, to take risks and to indulge in risky behaviours.


Sleep and Mental Health

We are more likely to be happier after a good night's sleep. Research reveals we learn better after a good night's sleep and can better cope with stressful situations. A good night's sleep and regular rest helps build positive relationships and ease conflict.


Tips to Develop Good Sleep Habits For Children (and adults too)


Food and Drink - Avoid sugars and caffeine intake after lunch.


Exercise - 30 minutes of activity or exercise, preferably outdoors, early or during the day will help with sleep.


Bedroom - Separate sleep and entertainment by ridding the bedroom of all electronic equipment. De-clutter your bedroom. A tidy, cool, restful, quiet and dark room helps sleep.


Bedtime Routine - Establish a time for going to bed and waking, as well as a routine for getting ready for bed: have a regular bath time, put on pyjamas, clean teeth, go to the toilet. Reduce stimulation to prepare for sleep by removing toys and talking quietly in soothing tones. Reduce the light and create a quiet wind down time with a chat, a song, reading a book, a cuddle or playing some quiet music.


Persist to develop good habits, settling and sleep may not always come easily. Any new habit takes 4 - 6 weeks to establish. Forming good sleep patterns in the first years of life can help maintain routines with children as they grow.


Small children do require a day time nap. Often as they grow, they may still sometimes need a daytime sleep to catch up on missed sleep. Adults, too, can easily miss out on quality sleep in the business of life. A great way to catch up on sleep is to have a daytime rest or power nap.


"I was brought up to believe that needing sleep was a sign of weakness. The people who taught me that are all dead now.


There is a reason that hospitals have beds for patients instead of chairs. We heal best, both physically and mentally, whilst sleeping. That's why intensive care units put severely injured patients into an induced coma and psychiatrists medicate people whose trauma stops them from sleeping.


For me, the first sign of needing more sleep is loss of control over my emotions, I can burst into tears for no apparent reason and I have no patience or resilience.


P.S One of the worst sleep disruptors is technology in the bedroom"

Food For Thought


What new knowledge did you gain from this lesson?


Now that you know this, how could it be applied?