If you’ve ever tried to work a full, productive day after a terrible night’s sleep, you’ve experienced the short-term effects of sleep deprivation on your brain’s capacity to operate optimally. Sometimes, we don’t even operate functionally. Imagine that we’re using only a small fraction of our brain’s capacity. It’s like having a full tank of gas but only being able to sputter around the block.
The brain does some pretty serious business when we sleep. Of course, all of the cells in our body use this imperative restoration time to detox, declutter, and rejuvenate, healing us and repairing us, and keeping us sharp. It’s a magical time. If you’re ever been caught up doing self-care practices late into the night to fit them all in, cut ’em out, and get to bed earlier instead. It really does it all for you.
In fact, the long-term effects of sleep deprivation are actually quite dangerous. Chronic, inadequate sleep patterns put us at higher risk of developing depression, cognition and memory problems, and neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia later down the road—and earlier.
Good, restorative sleep plays a vital role in the brain’s natural detox function. Beta-amyloid is a metabolic waste product—a type of protein—that accumulates in the fluid between brain cells. When we rest, relax, and sleep deeply, our brains flush this out. When we don’t take time to relax or achieve quality rest, this protein builds up and clumps together, forming a thick, plaque-like material.
As one might guess, thick, plaque-like material is not a good barrier to have build up between brain cells. It blocks communication between neurons, which affects memory and cognitive function, and is a catalyst for the onset of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Another important function that a proper night’s sleep provides is a reduction in inflammation. Even just one night of poor sleep can raise inflammation levels in the body, including the brain. Increased inflammation on a chronic level from ongoing sleep deprivation can result in metabolic syndrome, which is a cascade of possibly life-threatening conditions like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. This inflammation also encourages the further accumulation of beta-amyloid.
If this sounds like a scare tactic, we don’t mean to freak anyone out. However, we can’t stress the benefits of prioritizing sleep enough for beauty, weight management, and even more significant issues like brain health and cognitive function. Even fragmented sleep can have an impact on our health, so if prioritizing sleep has not proved fruitful in the actual ability to sleep, it may be smart to talk to a doctor about possible solutions.
A good night of sleep is like a clean sweep for our brain. It effectively wipes out metabolic waste and reorganizes our hippocampus, the center for memory. Think of decluttering, and taking out the garbage, each and every night, for a squeaky-clean thinking space. When our brains don’t have this important time to clean house and take out the trash, this is what increases our risk of dementia—we need to have a fresh hippocampus so that we can keep our memory files organized for future recall, and make space for fresh memories to process.
Just where does all this metabolic waste go? We have lymphatic vessels in our brains that process the waste out, which is why a little facial massage before bed and in the morning is great for gentle detox. It’s a good idea to get our bodies moving to help complete the process of flushing out our brain garbage via the lymph. This lymphatic system in the brain is known as the glymphatic system, and it kicks into high gear when we are catching our heavy-duty beauty z’s.
Part of getting a great night’s sleep is being able to bring our brains into a state of relaxation in our waking lives, too. Turn off TV and news at night, and opt for soft music, quiet time, reading, and candlelight, maybe even some meditation. This cultivates the best environment for the brain to start powering down its daytime activity, and powering up its very important nighttime role.