Sleep is an important primary biological need just like any basic need such as food or water. We as humans spend a third of our lives unconscious. Without sleep, our memory, attention, and cognitive abilities begin to deteriorate just by cutting a few hours of sleep at night for a week or more.
Sleep is vital for maintaining brain functions and hence, is important for comprehensive brain health. Sleep disruption also causes neurodegenerative diseases. REM sleep (Rapid eye movement) is a state of deep sleep when the eyes move rapidly during which the body works to repair tissue and strengthens the immune system. This is also the period where brain activity increases. This is when the brain exercises important neural connections for mental well-being.
According to the National Institute of neurological disorder and stroke which concentrated on sleep-deprived testing rats, lived only 3 weeks instead of the expected lifespan of three years.
Researchers have also found that sleep is when our brain produces brain waves which are important for storing memories. These waves transmission from the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain where long-term memories are saved. In people with sleep deprivation, this information remains in the hippocampus resulting in forgetfulness.
Scientists suggest that during sleep our brain flushes out Beta-amyloid, a protein buildup that causes Alzheimer’s disease. Matthew Walker from the University of California, Berkeley, and a team studied 32 old adult volunteers for a sleep experiment, None of them had any memory problems. After tracking the Beta-amyloid levels of each participant through brain scans for up to 6 years it was concluded that the ones with sleep deprivation had more beta-amyloid than the ones with better sleep habits
Ehsan Shokri-Kojori from the National Institutes of Health and some colleagues had performed a similar experiment wherein they injected 20 participants with a radioactive tracer to bind with amyloid and used positron emission tomography to track the level of beta-amyloid. This experiment concluded a 5% increase of beta-amyloid after one night of sleep deprivation. The participants with the most increases of amyloid also reported unpleasant moods throughout the day.
We are largely unaware of the importance of sleep. Some experts believe that we live in a sleep-deprived society, the population which is highly sleep-deprived are workers with irregular sleep patterns due to working hours and children who wake up early for school.
It is important to understand that prolonged periods of sleep deprivation can cause permanent damage to the brain and body due to which our brain may not function properly- leading to risks from a bad mood, forgetfulness to more serious issues such as chemical imbalance, memory retention, and Alzheimer’s disease.