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Feeling Inflamed? Maybe it's Sleep deprivation

May 17, 2019

Feeling Inflamed? Maybe it's Sleep deprivation

In the United States, it's estimated that 30 percent of adults and 66 percent of adolescents are regularly sleep-deprived. This isn't just a minor inconvenience: staying awake can cause serious bodily harm.

This isn't just a minor inconvenience. Staying awake can cause serious bodily harm. When we lose sleep, learning, memory, mood, and reaction time are affected. Sleeplessness may also cause inflammation, halluciations, high blood pressure, and it's even been linked to diabetes and obesity. And as runners, bikers and just active individuals, lack of sleep can severely affect our performance.

How Much Sleep Do I Need?

We're only beginning to understand why we sleep to begin with, but we do know it's essential. Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a night, and adolescents need about ten. We grow sleepy due to signals from our body telling our brain we are tired, and signals from the environment telling us it's dark outside. The rise in sleep-inducing chemicals, like adenosine and melatonin, send us into a light doze that grows deeper, making our breathing and heart rate slow down and our muscles relax. This non-REM sleep is when DNA is repaired and our bodies replenish themselves for the day ahead. 

How can sleep deprivation cause such immense suffering? Scientists think the answer lies with the accumulation of waste products in the brain. 

During our waking hours, our cells are busy using up our day's energy sources, which get broken down into various byproducts, including adenosine. As adenosine builds up, it increases the urge to sleep, also known as sleep pressure. In fact, caffeine works by blocking adenosine's receptor pathways. Other waste products also build up in the brain, and if they're not cleared away, they collectively overload the brain and are thought to lead to the many negative symptoms of sleep deprivation. 

What Happens When I Do Sleep?

Scientists found something called the glymphatic system, a clean-up mechanism that removes this buildup and is much more active when we're asleep. It works by using cerebrospinal fluid to flush away toxic byproducts that accumulate between cells. Lymphatic vessels, which serve as pathways for immune cells, have recently been discovered in the brain, and they may also play a role in clearing out the brain's daily waste products.

While scientists continue exploring the restorative mechanisms behind sleep, we can be sure that slipping into slumber is a necessity if we want to maintain our health and our sanity. 

Wishing you all a good night's rest.

Content for this post was derived from a Ted Talk called "What Would Happen If You Didn't Sleep?"