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Dr. B> Well, hello again. Hi, I’m Dr. Biddle and I’ve got our new patient coordinator at Asheville Integrative Medicine here, Joy Lambert to help me out today, and we are going to be talking about sleep and insomnia today.
Joy > Yes, we are (stifling a yawn). I’m still trying to recover from this time change, so I’m really glad that we’re going talk about sleep today.
Dr. B> Oh, time changes. What a silly thing.
Joy> So I wanted to start out by asking you, because I want a better understanding, what exactly are our bodies are doing while we sleep?
Dr. B> There is not consensus on why we sleep, but I will say sleep must be extremely important because all animals do it and we’re extremely vulnerable during asleep. So we pay a big price to sleep. We’re unconscious and not on the lookout. We’re not being productive in other ways like feeding ourselves and protecting ourselves. So in order for a biological system to be willing to pay that cost, sleep must be essential.
Joy> It sounds like it. As an example, I understand some mammals who have ‘gone back into the water’, like dolphins, sleep with only one half of their brain at a time, and keep one eye open. So they’re doing something with half their brain and then to do something else with the other half of their brain later.
Dr. B> Uh huh. There are some leading theories. Number one of which is that we sleep in order to dump toxins. There’s good evidence that we have these pores on the cell membranes of our brain cells, of our neurons, that when we’re in certain stages of sleep, they enlarge up to 10 fold and we dump toxins from metabolic waste, basically from all the activity. You know, when you’re doing a desk job or playing chess or something like that, your brain can use up to like a fourth of the energy you’re using?
Our brains use can use a huge amount of energy and that of course creates metabolic waste that we have to get rid of. So that’s the leading theory. But most likely sleep does more than one thing. So the next theory that has a lot of evidence behind it is that we store and process memories. Using computers as analogy, we’re taking it from short term to long term.
So if you don’t sleep well, if you have frequently interrupted sleep, if you don’t stay in deep sleep long enough, you’re not going to remember tomorrow what happened today. So you can study all you want but you’re not going to turn that over from short term memory to long term memory. You’re not going to download. So it’s part of the processing function as part of the processing function. And the terms often used are connectivity and plasticity. These refer to physically what’s happening into our brain. And also, the thought processes. We can connect one thought to another and we have plasticity…..how to kind of bend and reorganize our thoughts together. And with lack of sleep there are certain bad things that happen…you lose the past…and the deeper brain can become rigid. That also shows up as emotional dysregulation.
Joy> So is that why sometimes people might say if you don’t get enough sleep, or you go too long without sleep, you could go crazy?
Dr. B> Yeah. In a way. And you know, even with just minor sleep disruptions, you get a temporary attention deficit. You can’t focus and emotions take over. I mean, we all know this, you’re emotionally dysregulated because of that. Now, REM sleep, the rapid eye movement stage of sleep is what happens when you’re dreaming – and that’s thought to be more about storing and processing these memories…so, you know, whatever happens to you through the day, you’re kind of massaging and processing that and figuring out how to come to terms with it on a subconscious level. You know, many great inventors and mathematicians and people who are on the edge human knowledge and are trying to figure out the next step….
… They’ll wake up with their answers to their problems because their brain is subconsciously chewing on it while they sleep. And artists! They’ll wake up with a guitar rift in their head and have to lean over and grab a recorder and catch it. And then there’s non-REM sleep, which we know we use to make new brain proteins. And that’s probably more dumping toxins also – the non-REM deep sleep. The different stages of sleep probably have different functions, but they’re both essential.
So it’s still a mystery of exactly what’s happening with sleep. There’s some leading theories, but we have to have sleep to stay healthy. Everybody needs it. People may need different amounts. For example, young people who are growing need more and older people need less. And this is a classic truth I see in my practice all the time. In their thirties and forties people generally like seven and a half hours sleep on the average.
And by the way, most people sleep in 90 minute increments. So an hour and a half. And I tell people not to worry if they wake up every 90 minutes or every three hours, don’t worry, just remind yourself that you’re lucky to be alive! You didn’t die in your sleep, you know, count, count your blessings and go back to sleep. It’s not a big problem. This whole concept that we should stay completely unconscious for eight hours straight makes people worry. And then that then causes insomnia cause they’re laying there worrying. So you know, don’t worry about waking up.
From my point of view, you can wake up every 90 minutes as long as you’re not awake for very long and you go right back to sleep. We’re supposed to have five segments of those 90 minutes, about seven and a half hours. But as people age, they’ll find they need less sleep, but then….(keep reading) start on page 3.