Good Sleep Matters to All

Sleep stories spanned the generations this week, from teenagers to seniors.

In “Wake up when? Minnesotans should back bills for later school starts,” an editorial I wrote for the Star Tribune, I cited the biological reasons that teenagers need more sleep and argued that we should support legislation (SF 2938 and HF 3256) that would require secondary schools to start after 8:30 a.m.

Our teenagers’ health and well-being, now and in the future, depends on their getting optimal sleep. “Our future capacity for discipline and resilience, our compulsions and our tempers all can be predicted by the changes taking place in our sleeping brains as teenagers. Composed of more than 100 billion evolving nerve cells, the mind remodels itself nightly. While adolescents sleep, brain connections that number in the trillions are working to master skills ranging from calculus to free throws, while emotional circuits ready themselves for unforeseeable stresses ahead.”

Sleep is different in teenagers than it is during any other time of life. Teenagers across the board, and across cultures, are wired to stay up later. It’s what we in sleep science call “a delayed circadian rhythm.” So to get optimal sleep, teenagers naturally tend to sleep longer.

Early starts to school prevents teenagers from getting the sleep they need. Research by University of Minnesota researcher Kayla Wahlstrom shows that delaying high school start times “increases sleep intake, improves academic achievement and decreases behavioral problems.” Delayed start times also decreased illicit substance abuse, truancy and motor vehicle accidents.

While research is clear about delayed start times and the benefits to students, connection between sleep and a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is just beginning to emerge.

According to a new study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, “losing just one night of sleep led to an immediate increase in beta-amyloid, a protein in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease.”

The buildup of amyloid plaques is considered one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. These plaques are created by beta-amyloid proteins that clump together. Beta-amyloid is a metabolic waste product that exists in the fluid between brain cells.  In mice, acute deprivation increases beta-amyloid levels. This recent study is one of the first to show that sleep might play a role in removing beta-amyloid in the human brain. 

It will be interesting to see the evolution of research related to sleep and Alzheimer’s disease; whether there is a proven connection remains to be seen. It’s already clear, however, poor sleep increases the risk factors for heart disease and obesity, and even slight sleep deprivation can affect memory, judgment and mood. So there are plenty of good reasons to get your sleep, no matter how old or young you are.

Daylight Savings Time Highlights Poor Sleep Habits

Daylight savings makes one thing clear: most people are lousy sleepers. Normally, an hour shift in sleep should not make much difference. But for many people, the annual spring time shift makes for a very hard week—or worse.

 

Party’s Over: Post-Super Bowl, Olympics Sleep Tips

Sleep is underrated today in our overcommitted lives. That’s why we’re launching a Sleep Blog to promote the benefits of sleep. And not just any sleep: optimal sleep.

For most people, optimal sleep means that they get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, fall asleep within 15-20 minutes of lying down, and sleep continuously without long periods of lying awake. But optimal sleep isn’t just about the sleeping process itself; it’s about how you feel afterward. With optimal sleep you wake up feeling refreshed and you feel alert and productive during waking hours.

Basically, optimal sleep is what many Minnesotans did not experience over the month between hosting Super Bowl LII and watching Minnesotans compete—and win gold medals!—in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, a 15-hour time difference.

What's the best way for us to collectively recover? We’d like to kick off our Sleep Blog with some tips:

1. Increase the number of hours you're sleeping at night. When you get 4 hours of sleep or fewer a night for a week, your performance equates to what it would be if you were beyond the legal limit of alcohol consumption (read: drunk). So you need to increase the number of hours you're sleeping, particularly as you’re trying to recover. The general rule is that the number of hours of sleep you miss in a given night requires that many days to recover. That's right days. So, get sleeping, Minnesota!

2. Nap! That is if you nap for less than 30 minutes or for more than 90 minutes. Deep sleep usually occurs after 30-60 minutes of sleep, and a full sleep cycle is about 90 minutes. Sleep is cumulative so 20-30 minutes will add up; it's not a waste of time. If you have 90 minutes or more, nap away. But if you nap between 30 and 90 minutes watch out: you may wake up feeling groggy and a little disoriented, and it's hard to shake off. You risk feeling worse after your nap than before.

3. Cut off caffeine after noon and don’t eat large meals before bedtime. Times of high stress and activity can lead to unhealthy drinking and eating habits. When the rush is over, it’s important for people to get back to their routine. A good place to start is to avoid alcohol within 4 hours of bedtime, caffeine after 12pm (noon), and large meals right before bed as they affect one’s ability to fall, and stay, asleep.

Follow these tips for a speedy recovery from short-term sleep deprivation and for healthy sleep habits in general. Sleep well, Minnesota!