The scary reason quality sleep is more important than you think

Sadly, reports chronicling America’s collective and extended battle with chronic insomnia nearly outpace the blossoming mass of academic papers detailing just how important quality sleep really is. In addition to the immediate cognitive benefits, like focus retention,  stress reduction, and improved mood, a new study presented by experts at Boston University posits that an imperative toxin cleansing process that occurs during NREM could drastically lessen one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease down the line.

“There are a bunch of things that are probably contributing to people’s likelihood (of) getting Alzheimer’s and I think sleep is going to turn out to be one of them,”  researcher, WIlliam Jagust told NPR. 

It’s easy to forget that sleep health isn’t solely determined by quantity. Every individual has a chronotype,  which is a series of biomarkers that better enable us to optimize the gears in our circadian clocks. This physiological nuance dictates that if you’re not tailoring your rest and nutrition toward a  considered calibration, you depriving yourself of the slow waves integral to cognitive wellness. ‘

“Some disruption to the way sleep is working could potentially be contributing to the decline in brain health,” the study’s lead researcher, Laura Lewis of Boston University explained. “It’s been known for a long time that sleep is really important for brain health, but why it is was more mysterious.”

After analyzing the sleep patterns of a crop of participants alongside the volume of liquid in their brain and spinal fluid, poor sleep was concurrently linked with less toxin expelling slow NREM wave cycles and a higher degree of protein buildups.

Stones unturned

For developed countries, there are only a handful of maladies that have maintained their treachery into the 21st century. Cancer and dementia might reign supreme among them, but for slightly different reasons.

With cancer, our horror is spirited by the idea that this living, self-immolating entity is feeding off of us with a vacuous intention to take us down with it-in contradiction of the innate instinct that even common house flies have to privilege survival above all else.  Dementia, on the other hand, taunts a similar intimidating mindlessness, but its attack is an existential one. A mocking exhibit of John Locke’s compelling sameness of consciousness thesis. The disease gradually undoes all of the fundamental things that make us-us. i.e “we don’t have brains we are our brains.” That same truth makes the illness uniquely challenging to eliminate. As with any enigmatic disease, all preventive measures must be considered before any reasoned swing at a cure can be initiated. Right now, we know that the pathology is knighted by a build-up of proteins, plagues and tangles, the appearance of which owe themselves to an imperfect cocktail of genetics and lifestyle predictors. 

Recently, a psychiatrist at the University of California by the name of Ruth Benca, told a panel on brain health at the summit in Washington, DC. that poor sleep, almost certainly, contributes to dementia decades before any prodromes associated with the condition have even manifested. Benca has been fattening the correlative chapters that bridge sleep and the appearance of cognitive decline for some time now. Back in 2017, her research disclosed a gene variant that exponentially surges one’s likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s, called APOE. In that very same paper, it was determined that subjects that routinely received poor sleep evidenced a larger quantity of amyloid and tau buildups—two proteins independently linked to the condition’s progression in patients of advanced age. Not only does NREM seem to dispel many of these toxic buildups, but these buildups also prohibit quality sleep, which is why long-time sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease  often report intermittent sleep patterns.

In the last decade, more and more papers have kindled the curiosity from various disciplines and angles, until they have begun to happen upon the same cobbles. For instance, the same year Benca and her team indexed the genetic impact on dementia risk increase, a paper published by the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, found that when otherwise healthy patients were awakened earlier than they were used to, they expressed a higher number of amyloid protein buildups, the very next day.

From the report:

“There has been an emerging interest in sleep and its association with β-amyloid burden as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Using positron emission tomography, here we show that acute sleep deprivation impacts β-amyloid burden in brain regions that have been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. Our observations provide preliminary evidence for the negative effect of sleep deprivation on β-amyloid burden in the human brain.”

On this subject, every new development, however small, excites the most important inquiry posed to modern science. That is, how many more moves ahead do we have to be to checkmate natural order? Growing old is, in actuality, a burgeoning resistance to life on planet earth. Nutrients become toxins, sunlight aims to infect, and even our cells get increasingly worse at replicating themselves. In regards to retaining our cognitive prowess, the fountain of youth is more likely a preemptive blueprint.