New research suggests that sleep plays a vital role in brain health, with sleep deprivation being conducive to brain tissue loss

Friday, January 03, 2014 by: Josh Anderson
Tags: sleep deprivation, brain health, tissue loss

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(NaturalNews) The importance of sleep in relation to physical health is well known. Too little sleep has been linked to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents. It is recommended that adults sleep seven to nine hours per night, but 30% of the United States population doesn't get sufficient sleep. When it comes to brain health, recent research indicates that a good night's sleep can be important in strengthening our brains' connective tissue, processing memories and maintaining a healthy brain by preventing brain tissue loss.

The importance of sleep to brain health

In children, sleep is very critical in brain maturation, with connective tissue strengthening between the left and right hemisphere of the brain during sleep, according to a University of Colorado Boulder study. This study, which was conducted on children two, three and five years old indicates that sleep is linked to brain development by strengthening the bonds between the two hemispheres.

Likewise, in adults and even more in children, sleep has been linked to processing and storing what we have learned and encountered during the day by a University of Tubingen study. During sleep, materials that we have learned during the day are stored as long-term memories, making future learning easier. The study looked at the memorization capabilities of children between the ages of eight and 11 and young adults by showing them a series of actions and then either having them sleep for a full night or stay awake for an entire day. The group that slept was significantly better at remembering the previous tests than the group that stayed awake. Not only that, but children were significantly better at remembering than the young adults. It is important for all of us and especially children to get a full night's sleep to store our memories.

Lastly, recent research by Uppsala University in Sweden indicates that sleep deprivation can lead to brain tissue loss. In a relatively small study (n = 15) a group of healthy, young men were sleep-deprived for one full night and then slept for eight hours a different night. Following sleep loss, the men's blood concentration of two molecules typically found in the brain (NSE and S-100B) were significantly increased compared to after a normal nights sleep. The rise of these molecules typically is witnessed during brain damage and brain degeneration, indicating that sleep deprivation may induce brain tissue loss or neurodegeneration. A normal eight hours of sleep per night could be critical in maintaining a healthy brain.

Ways to improve your sleep

Several 2013 studies have demonstrated several ways to improve your sleep. A University of Florida and Research Triangle Park study indicated that smokers sleep substantially less than non-smokers, and those who quit smoking significantly improved their sleep. The study estimated that each cigarette smoked equated to a 1.2 minute loss in sleep. Likewise, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine illustrated that late afternoon caffeine (even six hours before bed) can disrupt your sleep. In fact, two-three cups of coffee six hours before bed are enough to significantly reduce total sleep time by more than an hour, without the study participants even being consciously aware of the disturbance in their sleep. The authors suggest avoiding caffeine after 5 pm.

Lastly, a Mayo Clinic study has demonstrated that the use of smartphones or tablets before bed doesn't have to disrupt your sleep. The bright light emitted from tablets and smartphones has been thought to interfere with melatonin (hormone that regulates natural sleep patterns), therefore causing sleep disruption. This study found that using your tablet or smartphone on a low- to mid-level brightness setting and holding the device at least 14 inches from your face did not cause sleep disruption. The low- to mid-level brightness at that distance is not enough to disrupt the melatonin cycle and therefore your sleep.

Sleep's importance in physical health is apparent, and its significance in brain health is equally as important. Individuals who sleep less than five hours or more than nine hours per night were more likely to identify themselves as being of lower overall health, indicating that we need to sleep within the nightly sleep recommendations. Getting seven to nine hours of quality sleep nightly can help strengthen brain connections (especially in children), turn what we learned during the day into long-term memories and help us maintain a healthy brain!

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