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How Does Poor Sleep Affect The Brain?
April 5, 2019 donecountingsheep

How Does Poor Sleep Affect The Brain?

Posted in Sleep Better
A moody image of the brain

For The Brain, Sleep Is No Time To Rest

It would be impossible to talk about sleep without mentioning the brain.  Poor sleep absolutely does affect the brain because sleep is the time when the brain does a spot of essential housekeeping.  Simply put, without having to direct the body’s functions and activities during wakefulness, when the body is sleeping this is the time when the brain can switch its attention to several other important tasks (and these are only the ones we’re currently aware of).  These nocturnal housekeeping tasks are essentially about processing, filtering, removing and consolidating thoughts (and debris of those thoughts) we’ve had during the day.  If you think sleep is a passive ‘activity’, think again.

Would you be surprised to learn that when we sleep the brain consumes just as much energy as it does when we are awake, that’s about 10 watts of electricity? Doesn’t sound much?  Well, for comparison purposes, if a brain could be replicated as a computer with the same capacity it would take a 6 megawatt power station to power it up. To put that into context a 6megawatt power station is enough to generate energy for 3,900 homes.

The Nocturnal Brain Rinse-Cycle

Once asleep, we go through four stages of non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, with each stage lasting between 5-15 minutes.  It’s during this phase that in 2015 researchers discovered something quite astonishing. Whilst studying mice, they found that as soon as they went to sleep their brains shrunk to allow for cerebrospinal fluid through.  Up until that point, scientists didn’t know how the brain got rid of the reaction of thinking and doing things ie the toxic elements that lead to Alzheimer’s.  This nocturnal rinse cycle happens as soon as we go to sleep: the brain squeezes like a lemon, shrinks by 60% so that holes upon up and a flush of cerebral spinal fluid carries the debris out of the brain.  That is why, if you miss a night’s sleep, you feel like you’ve been drinking.

This could be the key to Alzheimer’s in that prevention is better than cure and ensuring we have that brain rinse cycle every night may be literally life-saving.  How can we tell when our brain’s been on the rinse cycle?  We rise refreshed regardless of how many hours spent asleep or how many times we’ve woken up during the night.

Four Additional Nocturnal Brain Housekeeping Duties

During Non-REM sleep stages, tissue repair happens, energy is restored and hormones are released such as growth hormone which is essential for growth and development, including muscle development.  After that we then slip into REM sleep when the brain is as active as it is when we are awake.  This is the time we consolidate our memories, when dreaming occurs (in the main) and where learning and mood-balancing takes place.  It’s also when we:

  1. Improve our decision-making abilities (hence the adage ‘sleep on it’)
  2. Consolidate and create memories
  3. Improve cognition and our ability to multitask
  4. Become more creative. Creativity needs sleep – no sleep means no ‘out of the box’ divergent thinking

In short, to answer the question how does poor sleep affect the brain?  It prevents the brain going on the nocturnal rinse cycle which allows for the plaque, which causes Alzheimer’s, to build up.  It affects our decision making abilities, our ability to multitask and to process our memories.  No surprises then, that Sophie ensured that three out of the eight natural ingredients in our bedtime beverage are brain boosting powerhouses.

Alzheimer’s-Disease-Fighting Cinnamon

Native to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), true cinnamon, Cinnamomum zeylanicum, has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal spice; so highly prized throughout history that this sweet and aromatic spice has anointed kings and been the cause of many an international fracas.

Derived from the bark of the Ceylon cinnamon tree, the earliest recording of this ancient flavouring dates back in Chinese writings to 2800 B.C.  Its botanical name, however, is derived from the Hebraic and Arabic term amomon, meaning fragrant spice plant.  The first century Roman philosopher, Pliny the Elder, wrote off 350 grams of cinnamon as being equal in value to over five kilograms of silver, about fifteen times the value of silver per weight.  Ancient Egyptians used cinnamon in their embalming process and Medieval physicians used it to treat coughing, hoarseness, and sore throats.  A luxury good in the Middle ages, cinnamon was valued amongst the nobility not only for its meat-preserving qualities (due to the phenols which inhibit the food-spoiling bacteria) but also for its pungent aroma which masked the stench of rotting meat (a fact of life before cold storage was invented).

Filled with phytochemicals (phyto=plant), research has shown that some cinnamon extracts (concentrated solutions) have anti-cancer, heart-protective, anti-microbial, anti-diabetes, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.  It’s also been found to have some incredibly brain-boosting properties and is helping in the fight against the leading cause of death in the 21st Century, Alzheimer’s.

Three brain-boosting facts about Cinnamon:

  1. Two compounds found in cinnamon – cinnamaldehyde and epicatechin – have been shown to prevent the development of the ‘tangles’ found in the brain cells that characterise Alzheimer’s. That is, according to Roshni George and Donald Graves, scientists at UC Santa Barbara who published the results of their study, “Interaction of Cinnamaldehyde and Epicatechin with Tau: Implications of Beneficial Effects in Modulating Alzheimer’s Disease Pathogenesis”, in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
  2. Cinnamon is also being used to address another brain-based disease too: Parkinson’s.  A mouse study found that cinnamon protected dopamine production systems and improved motor function in Parkinson’s disease.  Ingesting cinnamon has been shown to increase the levels of a certain neuroprotective compound called “sodium benzoate” in rodent brains.What’s interesting here is that it’s not the cinnamon that directly helps the brain; but when the cinnamaldehyde is metabolised by the liver, that neuroprotective sodium benzoate is created, which can then go through the “blood-brain barrier”  to enter the brain. Once there, the compound stimulates other neuroprotective compounds that help protect brain cells from Parkinson’s.
  3. Another study, again focused on rats, found that cinnamon improved cognition and reduced oxidation in the brain, thereby potentially delaying or reversing cognitive impairment.

Cognitive Enhancing Chamomile

Chamomile is one of the most ancient medicinal herbs used throughout time for many ailments such as hay fever, inflammation, muscle spasms, menstrual disorders, insomnia, ulcers, wounds, gastrointestinal disorders, rheumatic pain, and haemorrhoids. Sophie has a Greek friend who tells her that the locals say to drink plenty of chamomile if you want to stay young.

The word chamomile comes from the Ancient Greek word. Chamomaela, which means ‘ground apple’; it is thought this is in reference to the similarity of the smell of the chamomile flower to the apple blossom as noted in the writings of Pliny the Elder. However, references to the plant go much further back to ancient Egypt; encapsulated in hieroglyphics, chamomile was used as a cosmetic, an embalming oil as well as for medicinal purposes. In Ancient Rome, it was also used to flavour drinks like beer which was how Medieval monks used it too.

Its ability to enhance the flavour profile of foods and drinks aside, chamomile gained a reputation as being a cure-all herb: ancient Greek physicians, like Dioscorides, frequently mention the prescribing of chamomile for a variety of ailments, which would explain why it was one of the nine sacred herbs of the Lacnunga – an Anglo-Saxon herbal guide. A member of the daisy family, chamomile has even been recognised as having healing and soothing effects on other plants. This “plant’s physician” has been observed to prevent fungal and bacterial infections in the plants around them, repel many insect pests and help their flora friends to thrive. It’s a pretty powerful plant!

So what can this delicate, sweet smelling plant do for the brain? Well, recent research has found that drinking camomile tea could help to treat sufferers of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

So the fact that chamomile helps you sleep (another brain boosting benefit) is pretty awesome enough (and there is a difference here between chamomile and certain sleep drugs such as zopiclone for example, which knocks you out but prevents you from moving through the deep healing cycles of sleep). But how about the fact that, under the closer examination of scientific research, apigenin (a flavonoid found in high concentrations in chamomile) is emerging as a potentially PERFECT candidate for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Apigenin has been proven to protect against the pathological changes, including neuro-inflammation and the development of plaques, seen in this dreaded affliction.

In fact, based on the results from this research, apigenin may be a preventative therapy against a number of neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and depression and that’s because inflammation is being increasingly viewed as a major contributor in these diseases. Apigenin is able to exert these effects because it freely crosses the blood-brain barrier (this is quite a feat as the junction between the body and brain blood supply is necessarily tight, making medical treatment for the brain inherently difficult) to deliver an anti-inflammatory effect.

Chamomile’s brain-boosting benefits:

  1. Protective against neuroinflammation, excitotoxicity and cell death
  2. Cognitive enhancing
  3. Anti-amyloidogenic (inhibits the formation of amyloid plaques as found in Alzheimer’s disease)
  4. Stimulates neurogenesis (formation of new brain cells

Neuroprotective Collagen 

Collagen intake through the diet has reduced over the last several decades; the more wealthy and westernised societies have become, the more they have reduced their consumption of collagen-rich foods. Nose to tail eating, which was a more traditional and economical way of eating meat, included meat cooked on the bone (for example ham hock, oxtail, shin of beef, lamb shank, cheeks) and often included cooking the skin of the animal too. Most of the body’s collagen is found in connective tissue in the skin and around the bones, hence why cuts of meat containing bone are the highest in collagen. This style of eating has been replaced in favour of more convenient off-the-bone cuts of meat such as chicken breasts and minced beef, which naturally has much lower collagen content.

Aside from the nail-, skin- and hair-nourishing goodness of collagen, leaving this vital ingredient out of our diet means we’re missing out on some brain boosting benefits too.

Collagen contains two important amino acids, proline and glycine, that help heal the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, replenish beneficial bacteria and, in turn, benefit other parts of the body, like the brain.

One type of collagen (known as collagen IV) may prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. In one study, conducted by Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease, University of California, San Francisco and Stanford University, collagen VI was found to protect the brain against amyloid-beta proteins — believed to be one of the causes of Alzheimer’s. Amyloid-beta refers to the type of amino acid that clumps together, forming a plaque which is commonly found on Alzheimer’s patients’ brains.

What is exciting about this research is that while the functions of collagens in cartilage and muscle are well established, before this study it was unknown that collagen was made by neurons in the brain and that it can fulfil important neuroprotective functions.  By increasing your collagen intake, you can create a form of protection for your brain that combats the same amyloid-beta proteins that attack neurons and cause Alzheimer’s disease.

But here’s the thing, the body makes collagen using vitamin C and protein obtained through diet which means that proper dietary intake of protein and vitamin C are essential for collagen production.  As mentioned above that’s not happening.

Your collagen production declines naturally as you get older which can lead to wrinkles and sagging of the skin. In order to stimulate increased collagen fibre production, you may need to consider supplementation to meet your body’s needs.  It’s why we included a hefty dose in our beautiful bedtime drink.  Another reason to keep having our beauty sleep  SOS every night.

It never ceases to amaze me how answers to our body’s needs can be found in nature. Plants are pretty powerful!

Sleep well.


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