The Neuroscience Of Sleep; All You Need To Know

 sleep




What Is Sleep?


Sleep is a state of rest during which the body and mind recover and repair themselves. During sleep, the body reduces consciousness and activity levels, which allows the brain to focus on other tasks, such as consolidating memories, repairing and regenerating cells and tissues, and regulating hormones. (1)


Sleep is essential for maintaining overall physical and mental health, as well as cognitive and emotional well-being. It helps the body to:


  • Regulate the release of hormones, such as melatonin and growth hormone.
  • Control blood sugar and pressure.
  • Improve mood, memory, and cognitive function.
  • Help repair tissues and cells.
  • Boost the immune system.

Poor-quality sleep can lead to many health problems, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression. An adult generally needs between 7-9 hours of good-quality sleep.



The Four Stages Of Sleep


There are four stages of sleep that make up a complete sleep cycle. These stages progress in a cyclical pattern, becoming deeper and characterized by distinct patterns of brain activity. (2)


The four stages of sleep are:


  1. NREM Stage 1 or Light Sleep: The transition stage between wakefulness and sleep. The brain, in this stage, produces alpha and theta waves, and the body begins to relax. It’s easy to wake up from this stage, and people may experience brief muscle contractions or hypnic jerks.
  2. NREM Stage 2: The brain produces rapid, rhythmic bursts of activity called sleep spindles, and the body temperature drops. This stage is the beginning of actual sleep.
  3. NREM Stage 3 or Deep Sleep: Also known as Slow-Wave Sleep (SWS). The brain produces large, slow delta waves and it is difficult to wake up during this stage. This is when the body repairs and regenerates itself.
  4. REM Sleep (Rapid Eye Movement Sleep): Now the brain becomes active, and dreams occur. The eyes move rapidly, and the heart rate and breathing become irregular. The body becomes temporarily paralyzed, and muscle tone decreases. During this stage, the brain processes information and consolidates memories and emotions.

A sleep cycle lasts for about 90 to 110 minutes. And during the night, a person will go through 4 to 6 sleep cycles.



Benefits Of Sleep

Sleep And The Immune System

During sleep, the body produces immune cells and antibodies, which help to protect against invading organisms, as well as help to repair any damage that may have occurred during the day. The growth hormone produced during deep sleep is essential for repairing and regenerating cells and tissues.


Also, the body produces cytokines which are small proteins that help regulate the immune response. Some cytokines promote sleep, and others promote wakefulness, so the balance of cytokines level throughout the day is crucial for overall well-being. (3)


Another point worth mentioning is cellular senescence and how deep sleep can affect this process. Cellular senescence is a state of arrested cell division and increased resistance to apoptosis, a normal process of cell aging and death. (4)


Studies have shown that sleep deprivation accelerates the rate of cellular senescence, increasing the number of senescent cells in the body. This process contributes to the development of age-related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegeneration. (5)


Good night’s sleep, however, provides a protective effect on cellular senescence. It reduces cellular stress, repairs DNA damage, and boosts the immune system. It also helps remove the senescent cells from the body.



Sleep And Inflammation


Sleep plays a crucial role in regulating inflammation (the body’s response to injury or infection).


Proper sleep helps to reduce inflammation throughout the body. Studies have shown that people who get enough sleep have lower inflammatory marker levels, such as C-reactive protein (CRP). (6)


Additionally, studies have found that people with insomnia or other sleep disorders have higher levels of inflammatory markers.


During the night, sleep regulates the production of several pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory molecules, such as Interleukins and Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF), which help to balance the immune response, and also the cytokines which are involved in the regulation of inflammation. (7)


Sleep deprivation or poor sleep can lead to an increase in pro-inflammatory molecules, which can contribute to various chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and even cancer.



Sleep And Cognitive Function


Sleep is essential for cognitive function, including attention, memory, and learning. (8)


During sleep, the brain processes and organizes information learned during the day, which helps to form new memories. Studies have shown that people who get enough sleep are able to remember and recall information better.


It has even been shown that good-quality sleep boosts creative problem-solving. (9)


Getting enough sleep can also affect our ability to learn new information. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation makes it harder for people to learn new tasks. (10)


Finally, chronic sleep loss can lead to a decline in overall cognitive function and could contribute to the development of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease because it leads to the accumulation of beta-amyloid protein. (11)


Furthermore, chronic sleep deprivation might lead to a decline in neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to form new connections and adapt to new information. (12)



Sleep And Weight Management


There are several mechanisms by which sleep affects eating behaviors and weight gain. One of them is the regulation of hormones that control hunger and satiety. (13)


When we are sleep-deprived, it can lead to the release of more ghrelin, which is a hormone that stimulates appetite and decreases the release of leptin, which is a hormone that suppresses appetite. So, hormonal imbalance can lead to increased hunger cravings for high-calorie foods. (14)


Additionally, lack of sleep has been linked to increased insulin resistance, which is a significant risk factor for obesity and type 2 diabetes. 

Insufficient sleep disrupts glucose metabolism and leads to increased cortisol (stress hormone) which might cause a shift in metabolism and make it harder to lose weight. (15)



Things You Can Do To Improve Your Sleep


There are several things you can do to get a good night’s sleep:

1. Get enough sunlight: 

The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the brain, which is responsible for regulating the circadian rhythm, receives light information from the eyes to synchronize the body’s internal clock with the 24-hour day/night cycle. Exposure to sunlight during the day helps to reset the body’s clock, making it easier to fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning. 

2. Establish a regular sleep schedule: 

Sleeping and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends helps to regulate the body’s internal clock.

3. Create a comfortable sleep environment:

Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.

4. Limit exposure to screens before bedtime: 

The blue light emitted from screens can interfere with melatonin production, so, avoid using electronic devices for at least an hour before bed. (16)

5. Relax before bedtime: 

Try relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga, to help calm your mind.

6. Exercise regularly: 

Regular physical activity can promote better sleep, as long as you finish exercising a few hours before bedtime to avoid stimulation.




Conclusion


Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. The way you feel while you are awake depends in part on what happens while you are sleeping.


Sleep supports healthy brain function and maintains physical health. Make sure to get enough sleep to enjoy a better life quality.



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References:

(1)The Function(s) of Sleep - PubMed (nih.gov)

(2)Physiology, Sleep Stages - PubMed (nih.gov)

(3)Sleep and immune function - PubMed (nih.gov)

(4)Cellular Senescence: What, Why, and How - PubMed (nih.gov)

(5)Telomere length as a marker of sleep loss and sleep disturbances: a potential link between sleep and cellular senescence - PubMed (nih.gov)

(6)Effect of sleep loss on C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker of cardiovascular risk - PubMed (nih.gov)

(7)Sleep and innate immunity - PubMed (nih.gov)

(8)The role of sleep in cognitive processing: focusing on memory consolidation - PubMed (nih.gov)

(9)How Memory Replay in Sleep Boosts Creative Problem-Solving - PubMed (nih.gov)

(10)Sleep loss, learning capacity and academic performance - PubMed (nih.gov)

(11)The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on the Brain - PubMed (nih.gov)

(12)Increased use-dependent plasticity in chronic insomnia - PubMed (nih.gov)

(13)Sleep Deprivation: Effects on Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance - PubMed (nih.gov)

(14)Role of sleep and sleep loss in hormonal release and metabolism - PubMed (nih.gov)

(15)Inadequate sleep as a contributor to type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents - PubMed (nih.gov)

(16)Suppression of Blue Light at Night Ameliorates Metabolic Abnormalities by Controlling Circadian Rhythms - PubMed (nih.gov)

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