Quiet Please … Brain At Work
- Over the past 50 years, the average total sleep time has dropped from just shy of eight hours to slightly under seven per night.
- The brain is constantly busy, and during the time we sleep it is critical that it work at maximum efficiency.
- Car crashes are more frequent in sleep-deprived individuals. In addition, sleepiness will produce inattention and errors.
- Prolonged sleep deprivation also has adverse effects on a human immune system, learning new material and on storing and retrieving memories.
We live in a society that is always on the go. Sometimes, it seems that there just aren’t enough hours in one day. At the end of a long and busy day, bedtime is highly looked forward to. Sleep gives the body and mind the opportunity to relax and rejuvenate.
However, Americans are chronically sleep deprived. Over the past 50 years, the average total sleep time has dropped from just shy of eight hours to slightly under seven per night. Lack of sleep has a profound effect on the most important organ in the human body - the brain. So what really happens when we go to sleep? Does our brain ever turn itself off?
Asad Khan, M.D.
The truth is that, no, the brain never shuts off. In fact, the brain is constantly busy, and during the time we sleep it is critical that it work at maximum efficiency. Ever wonder why doctors say it is important to attain eight hours of sleep each night? The main reason is to help us function. “The biggest problem in America is that we are all sleep deprived,” says Asad Khan, M.D., medical director of the Crozer-Keystone Sleep Center at Brinton Lake. “As compared to 100 years ago, the average American is sleeping an hour less a night.”
Khan says that educating people about sleep deprivation is a significant health issue and is one of his biggest tasks. “Patients do not think sleep deprivation is a big problem. They think of it as a nuisance, but not as a health issue.”
Though our bodies may be shut down while sleeping, the brain is still working hard to learn and remember the things that have been previously learned and storing them into memories that can be recalled when needed. This is called memory consolidation. Other than storing and recalling memories, there are other reasons why enough sleep is crucial.
“Many hormones are secreted while we sleep and are specific to different stages of sleep. For example, the growth hormone is secreted during slow wave, or deep sleep, and it can be very restorative to the healing of the body,” says Michael Weinstein, M.D., medical director of the Crozer-Keystone Sleep Center at Delaware County Memorial Hospital.
Often, people think that skipping a full night of sleep will only have the side effects of feeling groggy and tired the next day. In actuality, lack of sleep can cause serious and maybe even life-threatening side effects. “Accidents from drowsy driving or operating equipment while drowsy are a serious risk of sleep deprivation as well as untreated sleep disorders. Untreated sleep apnea is an independent risk factor for hypertension, heart disease, mood disorders, pulmonary hypertension and stroke,” Weinstein says.
“The most reliable effect of chronic insufficient sleep is increased sleepiness,” says Calvin Stafford, M.D., medical director of the Crozer-Keystone Sleep Center at Taylor Hospital. “The consequence of increased sleepiness is a tendency to doze off. This can happen in dangerous situations such as while driving, operating machinery or monitoring critical data. Car crashes are more frequent in sleep-deprived individuals. In addition, sleepiness will produce inattention and errors. The FAA recommends that pilots on transatlantic flights take a nap during the flight in order to be more awake at the time of landing. Prolonged sleep deprivation also has adverse effects on a human immune system, learning new material and on storing and retrieving memories.”
Not sleeping enough during the night not only hinders our ability to organize and store thoughts, but also places ourselves and others at risk for potential injury. Even though the brain never sleeps, make sure you do to help your body and mind function properly throughout the day.
Crozer-Keystone’s sleep centers are staffed by neurologists and pulmonologists who are fellowship-trained and board-certified in sleep medicine. For more information about sleep or to make an appointment, visit http://sleepcenters.crozerkeystone.org, call 1-888-SLEEP-03 (1-888-753-3703) or submit an online appointment request form.