The Importance of Sleep

We all understand the importance of sleep. Without it, many of us are irritable, slow to respond, and even forgetful. Although sleep is essential, it is also a mystery to doctors and scientists. While the exact reason the body needs sleep is still unclear, research points to sleep being a period of detoxification for the body and brain. Here, the functional medicine experts at Personal Healthcare Providers offer an in-depth look at what goes on while you sleep and how to ensure that your body is getting the rest that it needs. 

The Glymphatic System 

A groundbreaking study conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH) in 2013 revealed the detoxification qualities of sleep. Researchers examined the brains of mice and found that the space between brain cells increases during sleep, allowing the brain to flush out toxins that build up during the day. It was found that brain cells shrink by up to 60%, meaning that the brain’s physical shape changes dramatically during sleep. 

Scientists went on to dub this newfound detoxification system the “glymphatic system”– a name given because of the system’s similarities to the lymphatic system and the fact that it is managed by brain cells known as glial cells. It is believed that the glymphatic system clears away toxins or waste products, such as build up of proteins. This waste may be responsible for diseases such as Alzhiemer’s disease and other neurological disorders. 

The glymphatic system is most active during slow-wave sleep, or SWS, which is the deepest phase of sleep. During this phase, blood volume decreases and that space is filled with cerebrospinal fluid, which flushes out waste and toxins. This cycle happens every 20 seconds during the SWS cycle. 

Sleep: How Much is Enough? 

The importance of SWS raises the question of how much sleep is enough sleep? The amount of sleep needed depends on factors such as age, sleep quality, and previous sleep deprivation. Adults should, on average, be getting seven or more hours a night. Children and babies tend to need more– up to 12 hours. 

In many instances, the amount of sleep a person gets each night is based on convenience. This failure to prioritize sleep can have detrimental impacts on one’s health. According to NIH, 7% to 19% of adults in the United States reportedly do not get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation, the result of a lack of quality sleep, can lead to many chronic health problems, such as heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, depression, and cognitive issues. 

Making Sleep a Priority 

Because of the overarching benefits of sleep, it is essential to prioritize sleep just as you would any other facet of your personal health. If you’ve struggled to make changes to improve your sleep patterns or quality, it may be time to consult with a medical professional. Functional providers are a great resource to improve sleep quality. Due to the comprehensive nature of functional medicine, a doctor will work to examine how all environmental inputs impact your quality of sleep. The following are ways to help improve your sleep and ensure that your glymphatic system is properly functioning: 

Stick to a routine 

Humans are creatures of habit, especially when it comes to sleep. Your body’s circadian rhythm is in charge of determining when it is time to wake up and when it is time to sleep. If this rhythm is constantly thrown off, you may have a hard time establishing a consistent and quality sleep schedule. Stick to a routine by establishing a bedtime and waking up at the same time, preferably getting at least seven hours of sleep. By committing to this routine, you will be able to establish a circadian rhythm that allows you to get the deep, quality sleep your body needs. A functional medicine doctor will be able to help you assess your current routine and provide recommendations for adopting a new one. 

Keep it Out of the Bedroom

Our subconscious is a powerful tool, especially when it comes to association. Make sure that your brain is not associating your bedroom with anything other than peaceful, sleep inducing thoughts. Avoid working or doing homework from your bed. While it may be tempting to check your email one more time before lights out, avoiding any association between your bed and stressors can ensure you’re able to slip into a deep sleep easier. 

Get Your Steps In 

The more active you are during the day, the less pent up energy you’ll have at night. Make an effort to get up and get moving during the day. A functional medicine doctor will work with you to determine what level of exercise is appropriate for your goals. 

Relax and Unwind 

If you’re constantly on-the-go, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to jump into bed and fall asleep right away. Allow your mind and body time to relax at the end of the day. Experts suggest winding down screen time at least an hour before bedtime, as UV lights from cellphones and laptops can suppress melatonin and impact your brain’s ability to reach deep sleep. In addition, activities such as taking a hot shower or bath, meditating, journaling, or reading a book can all prove to help your brain quiet down and prepare for sleep. 

Adopting these habits will make it easier for you to fall asleep and ensure that you’re able to reach SWS and properly detoxify your brain. 

Consult with a Medical Professional About Your Sleep Quality 

As more research emerges about sleep and detoxification, it is becoming more and more clear just how important sleep is for our health. However, it can be challenging to get a good night’s sleep. If you’re struggling to stay or fall asleep, consult with the functional medicine providers at Personal Healthcare Providers. Our team of knowledgeable and experienced practitioners will work with you using a functional medicine approach to help build a more quality and consistent sleep schedule. Contact us today for a consultation!