How Good Sleep Helps Your Brain
The science is in, and it turns out that getting a full night’s sleep is just about the best thing you can do for your mental health. It’s not just that you’ll wake up feeling refreshed (though who doesn’t love that feeling?), there are new studies to suggest that catching a full eight hours will make you more empathetic, increase your memory, and boost your critical thinking and decision making skills. That’s why the age old question of how to get a good night’s sleep remains.
Sleep is a super important step in how your brain processes information, reinvigorating the cells that transmit information back and forth to the different areas of the brain. Deep REM sleep is a key component to brain health. We looked at the ways in which brains benefit in the short term, and how they can be healthier in the long term all thanks to a giant dose of sleep.
Short Term Boosts
Next time you’re worried about a big test, or a presentation at work, try sleeping a full eight hours and see the difference. Sleep has been proven to help with the formation of new memories and long term learning. It has to do with how information is stored in the brain. Think of your brain like a hard drive. It’s connected by all these little pathways called neurons that transmit electric pulses of information. When we sleep, we clean those pathways and allow our memories to be moved from short term memory into long term memory. That means that the recall of that specific information will be much stronger when you give the brain a night to recover, instead of pulling that all-nighter.
Not only that, you’ll make better decisions. The amygdala is a vital component of brain health and decision making, and its optimal state has recently been directly tied to sleep. Short change your sleep and you risk sabotaging your amygdala, which has been tied to emotional balance, decision making, and even empathy.
Long Term Benefits
This is where things start to get real. Good sleep helps your brain age, and conversely not getting good sleep can be a severe detriment. Long term sleep loss has been linked recently to all kinds of neurological disorders, from alzheimer’s to dementia. It turns out the brain is a muscle, and just like any other muscle it needs to be worked out, and also allowed to replenish. It has to do with something that Dr. Walker, a sleep scientist at UC-Berkeley calls the build up of, “beta-amyloid proteins.”
“We also know that a lack of sleep will lead to an increased development of a toxic protein in the brain that is called beta-amyloid,” says Walker. “[This] is associated with Alzheimer’s disease because it is during deep sleep at night when a sewage system within the brain actually kicks in to high gear and it starts to wash away this toxic protein, beta-amyloid.”
If you don’t get enough sleep each night, those Alzheimer’s-related proteins will build up. It’s a vicious cycle, as the proteins build up, it becomes harder to sleep, and brain function decreases hence, the greater your risk of going on to develop dementia in later life.
The good news is all these benefits are easily attainable, and the risks of long term neglect are equally avoidable: just sleep more! You’ll see the added benefits immediately, and your friends and family will appreciate the change. Give yourself permission to sleep in, a healthy brain demands it.