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Is Your Brain Getting Enough Sleep?

Getting enough sleep is important because it helps your body and mind to recover from the day's activities. When you're well-rested, you're able to think more clearly, make better decisions, and be more productive. Sleep helps to boost mental wellbeing by improving mood and memory function. A good night's sleep can improve mood and concentration, reduce stress, and increase energy levels.

The 4 major reasons we need sleep are:

Poor sleeping habits are the most common cause of insufficient sleep, but there may also be underlying medical conditions that a specialist, like a psychiatrist can diagnose and treat.

There is a direct connection between sleep and brain health. Sleep is important for the brain because it allows the brain to rest and recharge. During sleep, the brain processes information from the day and consolidates memories. Additionally, sleep is necessary for healthy brain function and plays a role in mood regulation.

A deep dive on the science of sleep and the brain

As we prepare for bed, clusters of sleep-promoting neurons in many parts of the brain become more active. This happens because the body releases chemicals called neurotransmitters that activate these cells. These sleep-promoting cells help to quiet down other parts of the brain so we can get a good night's sleep.

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that send signals between nerve cells, and they play a major role in regulating mood, cognition, and behavior. When we don't get enough sleep, it can cause these neurotransmitters to become unbalanced, which can lead to issues with your brain and mental health. They are the conduit, or chemical facilitators, for sleep and play an important role in communication between the brain and other parts of the body.  Therefore, it is possible that your body is ready for sleep, but your brain hasn’t gotten the message yet because of a disruption in that conduit system.

Genes are responsible for the efficient (or not) production of neurotransmitters in your body, which are essential for the proper functioning of the brain. Therefore, some people are more susceptible to developing certain disorders due to an imbalance of these key brain chemical levels – including insomnia, anxiety, or depression.

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for mood regulation, sleep, appetite, and pain sensation. It impacts all of these things because it helps to regulate the body's circadian rhythm. This rhythm controls when we feel awake or sleepy and also how hungry or full we feel. GABA is another neurotransmitter that is associated with sleep, muscle relaxation, and sedation. When levels of GABA are low, insomnia can result. There are other neurotransmitters that play a role in sleep and wakefulness. Acetylcholine, histamine, adrenaline, cortisol, and serotonin all help to shape how we sleep and how alert we are.

Conversely, sleep deprivation can lead to an imbalance in these neurotransmitters, creating a “snowball effect” for individuals who already have an imbalance due to their genetic makeup.

How much sleep do you need?

There is no one answer to how much sleep each individual needs, as it depends on a person's individual health and daily activities. The Sleep Foundation provides a range of hours for each age group, with the recommendations acknowledging that there may be some wiggle room on either side of the range for "acceptable" amount of sleep.

Getting enough sleep isn’t only about total hours of sleep; it’s also important to get good quality sleep on a regular schedule so you feel rested when you wake up.  Insomnia can include trouble falling asleep, getting up multiple times during the night, or waking up too early and being unable to fall back asleep.

How do you know if you are not getting enough sleep?

There are several key signs that you are not getting enough sleep: feeling tired during the day despite getting enough rest; having trouble concentrating; experiencing mood swings; being irritable; experiencing physical symptoms (such as headaches, dizziness, or flu symptoms). If you are experiencing any of these signs and you think you may be sleep deprived, call our offices to schedule a diagnostic consultation and get the bottom of why you struggle with sleep!

Angelo Sambunaris, M.D.

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