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How Your Brain Reorganizes Itself While You Sleep


Sleep doesn’t get enough credit these days. We as a society are busy. We push sleep aside to get work done, play on electronics and binge-watch TV. Sleep should be considered just as important as eating to live.

What Happens While You Sleep

What are some of the wonderful things that happen during sleep?

Your brain is an amazing organ. During the day it is busy making sure you know how to do everyday tasks while also learning new things. While you sleep, your brain cleans and organizes itself. Wouldn’t it be nice if your house did that while you slept? A fluid called cerebral spinal fluid is able to go into the nooks and crannies of the brain and clean off built up plaque and toxins. If you don’t sleep well or enough, the toxins may build up. Research suggests that impaired sleep is associated with Alzheimer’s disease

While your brain cells get a good scrubbing during sleep, the memories and things you learned throughout the day also get organized. If you are not sleeping well, you may find you do not remember things and have a hard time with new information, focus and attention.

Sleeping allows us to wake up with a clean slate the next day. If you are not sleeping well, it is important to find out why. Lack of sleep can lead to other health concerns. Think of all the cleaning that can be going on and you don’t even have to lift a finger!

Habits That Can Improve Your Sleep

Pay close attention to habits you may be doing that affect your sleep.

Here are a few habits a lot of us are following that will help improve our sleep:

  • Keep your bedroom dark and cool
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends
  • Turn off electronics at least 20 minutes before bed -- some research says one hour before bedtime for kids
  • Exercise 30 to 40 minutes three to four times a week
  • Do not drink caffeine after 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. -- earlier if you're sensitive to caffeine
  • Avoid alcohol and nicotine close to bedtime
  • Aim for sufficient rest and sleep for your age

Still Having Trouble Sleeping?

If you make these small changes and are still having trouble sleeping, you may want to see your healthcare provider. You may be suffering from a sleep condition that is causing your restless nights and other health issues.

As one example, you may have heard or seen information about sleep apnea. But do you know what it is? A great thing about sleep is that we relax. For some people the soft tissue in the back of the throat relaxes also, sometimes a little too much. This can cause snoring, gasping and breathing to be stopped all together. The collapse of the airway does not allow air to come in or out. Although the interruption of breathing is short it causes a lot of stress on the body. Sleep apnea can happen in any age, gender and body shape.

Other Signs for Concern

Some people do not have someone to tell them they snore or stop breathing during the night and they are asleep so how would they know? There are other signs you can look for that may cause concern to go see your healthcare provider such as:

  • Morning headaches
  • Waking up through the night
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Feeling tired even after a night of sleep
  • Dry mouth in the morning
  • Weight gain

How would you be treated for this sleep condition? CPAP is a common treatment. This is a machine that you use throughout the night. You wear a mask, which delivers air into the throat to keep the tissue from relaxing and closing off the airway.

Sleep apnea is worse when lying on your back. Lie on your side and place a pillow behind your back so you do not roll onto your back. Healthy weight and exercise also is helpful.

Your healthcare provider can go over other options with you. If you think you may have sleep apnea, you should take it seriously. It could be affecting your health and your life.

Most sleep issues are preventable or treatable. So do yourself a favor, take care of yourself by taking care of your sleep. Celebrate life today by getting a good night’s sleep.

Tara Dodd, RRT, RPSGT, CCSH, is a registered respiratory therapist at UH Samaritan Medical Center.

Related Links

Our team of pulmonary specialists provides care for even the most complex pulmonary and sleep disorders, including a focused approach for the diagnosis, treatment and disease management of many chronic pulmonary conditions. Learn more about Pulmonary and Sleep Services at University Hospitals.