You know that sleep is important. But do you know why it’s important? Or what happens to the brain and body when you sleep? These are just a few of the questions we will answer in this post, along with tips for how to sleep better, including trying vagus nerve stimulation at home.
What Makes Sleep So Important
First, let’s start with the basics: what makes sleep so important? A big part of the answer is that sleep is vital for “brain plasticity,” which refers to the brain’s ability to adapt to input. Without enough sleep, we become unable to process what we learn and have more trouble remembering it in the future.
Sleep also assists with the removal of waste products from your central nervous system—something that your body doesn’t do as efficiently when you’re awake. This function may be one reason why chronic sleep deprivation has been linked with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
What Else Happens to the Brain and Body When You Sleep?
Recovery is another critical function of sleep. When we exercise, for example, we create microscopic tears in our muscles. While this sounds bad, it’s a good thing—it’s how our muscles get stronger. But for our muscles to repair themselves, they need time to rest and recover, which explains why a good night’s sleep is so vital for athletes.
Memory consolidation and sleep also go hand in hand. When we first learn something, it’s stored in our short-term memory. But for it to become part of our long-term memory, it needs to be consolidated or transferred from the short-term memory to the long-term memory. This process seems to occur during sleep.
As we mentioned before, sleep also plays an important role in the removal of waste products from brain cells. This process is known as the glymphatic system, and it may help to protect the brain from diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Finally, sleep is essential for the immune system. When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more likely to get sick. This is because sleep helps to regulate the production of cytokines, which are proteins that play a role in inflammation.
Consequences of sleep deprivation
In addition to its effects on brain function, sleep is also vital for the rest of the body. When people don’t get enough sleep, they are more likely to experience a range of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to a bigger risk of accidents and errors.
For many people, the effects of sleep deprivation are cumulative. This means that the more nights you don’t get enough sleep, the worse the effects will be. So if you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep, it’s time to do something about it.
Sleep-Regulating Processes: Circadian Rhythms and Sleep Drive
Next, let’s talk more about two primary processes that control our sleep: circadian rhythms and sleep drive.
As this article from Hopkins Medicine explains:
“Circadian rhythms are controlled by a biological clock located in the brain. One key function of this clock is responding to light cues, ramping up production of the hormone melatonin at night, then switching it off when it senses light. People with total blindness often have trouble sleeping because they are unable to detect and respond to these light cues.”
Sleep drive: Your body craves sleep, much like it does food or water, in response to how long you’ve been awake. This is why you’re more likely to feel tired at the end of a long day than you are in the middle of the night.
These two processes—circadian rhythms and sleep drive—work together to regulate how much sleep we need. But they don’t always work perfectly, which is why we sometimes have trouble sleeping even when we’re tired.
How to Sleep Better
Now, with everything we’ve just covered in mind, let’s talk about how you can sleep better. The first step is to understand how much sleep you need.
Seven and eight hours of sleep each night is optimal for most adults, although some people may need more or less. Babies and young children, on the other hand, need much more sleep than adults—up to 18 hours per day!
Once you know how much sleep you need, you can start taking steps to make sure you’re getting enough. One simple way to do this? Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, weekends too!
You should also keep away from caffeine and alcohol before you head to bed, as they can interfere with sleep. And try to create a regular relaxing bedtime routine that will help you wind down before sleep. This might include listening to music, taking a bath, or doing gentle stretching.
Creating the optimal sleep environment in your room is another important step. Keep your room dark, quiet, and cool—between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.
You can also try taking sleep supplements like melatonin or magnesium, which have been shown to improve sleep quality. And if all else fails? Then you may need to see a doctor or sleep specialist who can help you identify and treat any underlying conditions that may be causing your insomnia.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation
Still not getting the sleep you need? There are other options you can try. One is vagus nerve stimulation, which involves using electrical signals to stimulate the vagus nerve—a large nerve that runs from the brainstem to virtually every system in the body. This therapy is approved by the FDA for treating epilepsy and depression, but it’s also been shown to improve sleep in people with insomnia.
However, vagus nerve stimulation at home is now possible without invasive measures, including surgery. Instead, you can try vagus nerve stimulating headphones, which target the vagus nerve through your ear.
There are also different ways to biohack your vagus nerve, stimulating it in the process. These include things like cold therapy, deep breathing exercises, and even certain foods.
In conclusion, sleep is vital for both your brain and your body. It helps to promote brain plasticity and remove waste products from brain cells. It also helps to regulate the rest of the body, including metabolism, appetite, and immunity. If you’re not getting enough sleep, there are steps you can take to improve your sleep habits. And if you’re still having trouble sleeping, there are other options you can try, including vagus nerve stimulation.