There are a lot of things you can do to be healthy!
Eating right provides your body with critical micro and macronutrients, keeping all of your internal functions working properly.
Exercise helps to control stress, strengthen your body, enable better movement, and cleanses toxins from your body.
Meditation helps to keep your mind calm and gives you an outlet for the emotions you’re often hit with during your busy life.
All of these things are great for your health, but there are many experts who argue that it’s actually sleep that is more important overall.
We all know that our bodies need sleep in order to function, but do you know the full extent of just how much your body relies on sleep?
Some of the functions that are sleep-dependent include:
Human growth hormone production
Testosterone and estrogen production
Hunger hormone regulation
Memory and recall
and the list goes on and on!
Recent studies have delved into the mind and body connection to sleep, and the many, many ways that sleep plays a role in keeping our brains and internal functions working well.
One of the most important recent discoveries have to do with the glymphatic system, the system that is responsible for clearing waste products out of the central nervous system. As one recent study  showed, the glymphatic nervous system is modulated by sleep. Without enough sleep, the system can’t properly eliminate waste products from your nervous system, which has been linked to neurodegenerative disorders.
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And it’s not only cognitive disorders that could result from sleep loss. The same study found that a lack of sleep also led to a higher risk of mood disorders, as well as impaired transmission between the synapses in the brain. Without the ability to clear waste products from the brain, your body begins to break down and experiences the cognitive decline common to neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.
Another study  looked at the various sleep disorders and their link to cerebral degenerative disorders. The study listed a number of sleep problems:
Rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder
Circadian rhythm disorders
Restless leg syndrome
According to the study, these sleep disorders “may be caused by the primary symptoms of the neurologic disease or may result from damage to sleep-controlling centers in the brain.”
Whoa, pretty scary! They could be both the cause and the result of neurological conditions that damage the sleep parts of our brain. Or, put another way, sleep disorders could trigger neurological damage, and neurological damage can trigger sleep disorders. It’s a cycle of nasty that leads to a downward spiral in both sleep habits and cognitive function.
The study also mentioned that sleep disorders can be present for years without any sign of neurodegeneration, but they can actually be a symptom or precursor of future conditions, including dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s. Poor sleep can also lead to an acceleration of the onset and progression of these neurodegenerative conditions.
A third study  looked at the relationship between sleep loss and dementia specifically, analyzing whether sleep disturbances realistically could increase dementia risk.
The study systematically searched nearly thirteen thousand research papers, but ended up using only eighteen involving nearly 250,000 test subjects (25,847 of whom developed dementia).
As they analyzed the research, the scientists discovered that the subjects who reported higher sleep disturbances (sleep loss, sleep disorders, etc.) had a higher risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but not all-cause or vascular dementia. Those with insomnia had a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s specifically, while sleep-disordered breathing (sleep apnea) led to a higher risk of vascular and all-cause dementia.
Talk about a fascinating conclusion! Not only did the research find a link between sleep problems and dementia, but it actually found that specific sleep problems had a higher risk of specific types of dementia. That’s definitely a clear link between the effects of sleep loss on our brains.
Suffice it to say, it’s absolutely imperative that you get a good night’s sleep in order to protect your brain. Not only are you at higher risk of neurodegenerative disease as a result of sleep loss, but your cognitive function overall will be seriously impaired as well. A lack of sleep can lead to concentration problems, recall difficulties, challenges with learning, and, of course, a higher risk of causing real damage to your brain which could lead to neurodegenerative diseases down the road.
Make it a point to get those solid 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, and take care of any sleep disturbances you might be suffering. Your mind and body both rely on healthy sleep!
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