Sleep Decline Equals Brain Decline

Restorative slumber is meant to ward off mental and physical ailments

Sleep Decline Equals Brain Decline. Healthy Living Magazine

Sleep Decline Equals Brain Decline. Healthy Living Magazine

Fitful, restless sleep ages people, say University of California, Berkeley researchers in the journal Neuron. The unmet sleep needs of the elderly elevate their risk of memory loss and additional mental and physical disorders. And popping pills from the doctor won’t give us the sleep that restores our bodies, either.

"Nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep,” senior author and UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience Matthew Walker said. “We’ve done a good job of extending life span, but a poor job of extending our health span. We now see sleep, and improving sleep, as a new pathway for helping remedy that.”


Starts in One’s Thirties

Poor sleep is linked to Alzheimer’s and heart disease, obesity, diabetes, stroke, accidents, memory loss and shorter life span. The transition people may go through from the deep restful youthful sleep of the innocent to the mentally overactive, worried sleep of the experienced happens quite early in life, as young as thirty, the article says. Unfortunately, we usually tolerate bad sleep as the necessary bumpy road to daylight instead of realizing how deeply poor quality slumbers age cells.

Read: Sleep, The Only Time That Repairs Aging

Pill Sedation

Sleeping pills from the pharmaceutical industry rain down upon us and create droplets of billions of dollars in profits. But the sleep they provide is poor quality. “Don’t be fooled into thinking sedation is real sleep. It’s not,” Professor Walker says.

“The parts of the brain deteriorating earliest are the same regions that give us deep sleep,” said article lead author Bryce Mander, a postdoctoral researcher in Walker’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at UC Berkeley.

Sleep Spindles

Non-rapid eye movement (NREM), also known as “slow wave sleep,” is almost nonexistent in adult sleep. NREM periods have a highly distinguished brain wave pattern that consists of slow undulating waves punctuated by bursts of peaks called “sleep spindles.”

Read: Need Brains?- Sleep!

Why Brain Sleeps

The brain needs to transfer information from one region to another. When we have NREM sleep with slow waves and bursts our minds are transferring memories and information files from the hippocampus—sight of the brain’s short-term parking area for memory—into the prefrontal cortex. Here is where there is long-term storage and data integration reside.

“Sadly, both these types of sleep brain waves diminish markedly as we grow old, and we are now discovering that this sleep decline is related to memory decline in later life,” Jospeph Winer, a doctoral student in Walker’s lab and study coauthor, says.

Neurochemical Deficit

Galanin and orexin are the two brain neurochemicals that the mind needs to quiet down and get into a hypo-rejuvenation state. Galanin promotes sleep, orexin wakefulness.

Among interventions the article suggests are electrical stimulation to amplify brain waves during sleep and acoustic tones that act like a metronome to slow brain rhythms. Melatonin is a hormone required for restorative sleep. Theanine, an amino acid in green tea, also produces desirable brain waves.

Read: Music Grows Brain

Walker says: “The American College of Physicians has acknowledged that sleeping pills should not be the first-line kneejerk response to sleep problems. Sleeping pills sedate the brain rather than help it sleep naturally. We must find better treatments for restoring healthy sleep in older adults, and that is now one of our dedicated research missions.” Indeed, we need both quantity and quality.

References
Bryce A. Mander, Joseph R. Winer, Matthew P. Walker. 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.02.004. Neuron, April 2017 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.02.004
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