Your Brain on Sleep—The Practical Side
Prior to the 1950s, scientists believed that our brains went dormant when we slept (www.hopkinsmedicine.org). We now know this is absolutely not true. Your brain cycles through REM and non-REM throughout the night, sometimes up to 4 or 5 times. When you experience quality sleep, you are better able to both understand and remember information. That is why we feel foggy after a poor night’s sleep.
Sleep affects our moods, our appetite and our performance. For example, a definite connection between sleep loss and depression exists. In fact, many individuals who attempt and/or complete death by suicide complained of insomnia in the days and weeks leading to their attempts. Appetite is also negatively impacted by poor sleep, meaning that chronically sleep deprived individuals are more likely to be overweight. Cognitively, we are less able to learn and retain information when we cannot rest well at night. In fact, new research is suggesting that the brain sheds toxins and “prunes” itself during sleep (www.forbes.com). This phenomenon may suggest that the brain’s ability to prune itself keeps it ready and able to grasp new information.
We all know by now that sleep is vital to good health. Much like we know eating vegetables and exercising is good for us. So, why aren’t we better sleepers? The answer is complicated. We live in a very anxious world. Just today, I learned that pediatricians are now being asked to screen all children 8 and up for anxiety. Technology, and being able to know everything all of the time by computers we carry called phones has also increased our anxiety. We are not meant to be connected all of the time. That is exactly why we have sleep. Finally, genetics play a part, as well as current life stressors. Scientists at Johns Hopkins tested mice and found that removing a certain gene impacts sleep (www.hopkinsmedicine.org). Some people are genetically wired to not be great sleepers.
I will speak more to sleep hygiene and fostering healthy sleep patterns in the practical blog on this piece. For now, consider your sleep. Do you get enough sleep? Do you sleep well? Do you suffer with insomnia or early wakening? If you are having trouble sleeping, we suggest seeing your primary care doctor to rule out any medical issues that may be impacting your sleep. If you are still having trouble, we can help. Our trained and licensed therapists can help you learn ways to reduce stress in your life and build a relaxing bedtime routine. Please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.