Recent research from Boston University describes our brains as engaging in a 'cleansing flood' while we are sleeping. This helps ward off diseases such as dementia. This research builds on previous findings that have also shown that our brains are working rather than resting during sleep.
The exact 'working process' that takes place involves our glymphatic system, which is essentially a waste clearance system for our central nervous system.
According to the Boston researchers while we are awake, precursor proteins called amyloid-betas spike and accumulate in our brain.
During our sleeping hours, our brain flushes these amyloid-betas, preventing them from forming into plaque and damaging our neurons.
Without adequate sleep, our brain cannot effectively wash away these precursor proteins.Their accumulation has been associated with a higher risk of dementia due to the damaged neurons. Hence the research adds new insights into the sleep-dementia connection.
"Poor sleep makes the glymphatic system less efficient," says a medical expert from Guwahati who endorses this research theory. "These proteins are toxic and their accumulation could lead to inflammation and degeneration of neurons in the brain that over time may contribute to Alzheimers and dementia," he adds.
The Alzheimer's Association however agrees that it is still too early to determine a causal relationshipHowever, the Alzheimer's Association agrees that it is still too early to determine a causal relationship. Evidence is building that sleep disturbances, like sleep apnea or disruptions in sleeping patterns may increase risk of later life Alzheimer's and dementia, or may even be an early sign of these diseases.
Most healthcare experts are in agreement that more research is needed to understand the relationship between sleep and dementia.
So how do you define a good night's sleep?
According to researchers who were engaged in the Boston University research, adequate sleep is about both quantity and quality. They reiterate that a common misconception is that as people age, they need less sleep.They also state that only uninterrupted (consecutive) hours of sleep qualify as good sleep.
Poor sleep can also result in obesity, diabetes and thyroid dysfunction due to hormone dysregulation. Sleep assists hormone regulation.
"If you have sleep related issues it is necessary to ascertain the root cause of the problem," says another medical expert. "When our stress levels increase, sleep is often affected," informs N Phukan, a reputed psychiatrist from Guwahati. "Increased pressures at work, worry about finances and stress around the pandemic and other stressors can create sleep disruptions," he adds.
"On the contrary the best way to reduce stress or to be able to handle stressful situations is to be adequately rested," informs Phukan.