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Sleep and brain repair

06-12-2013

Sleep and brain repair

Every time we read more research on sleep, the same message keeps being reinforced over and over again: sleep plays a fundamental role in our physical and mental well being. The more we learn about sleep the more we have come to realise that it is far more than a simple ‘recharge’ cycle for the body, it is essential for a huge range of complex processes that underlie your physiological status. The latest piece of research that has sparked this thought comes out of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and has found that sleep is a vital component in brain repair and regeneration.

We like to keep up on sleep research, sleep is our business after all. Following the latest findings leads you to an overwhelming conclusion. It is one that we have been heading towards for a long time and one that each new piece of research online reinforces: sleep is important for a huge range of physical and psychological functions. Almost every single study of late has only strengthened this understanding of sleep’s role in our overall well being.

In a new study done by the University of Wisconsin,  researchers found that sleep played an important role in boosting the reproduction of the cells involved in brain repair. Yes, sleep helps your brain repair and regenerate. Specifically, the researchers found that sleep increases the reproduction of a type of cell that myelin - the material that insulates the nerves in the brain and central nervous system- is composed of. Myelin is responsible for allowing the electrical impulses to travel from cell to cell, similar to  how insulation works on an electrical wire.

Demylination, or the degradation of the myelin in your body, has a range of worrying symptoms including blurriness in the central visual field that affects only one eye, may be accompanied by pain upon eye movement, double vision, loss of vision/hearing, odd sensation in legs, arms, chest, or face, such as tingling or numbness, weakness of arms or legs, cognitive disruption, including speech impairment and memory loss, heat sensitivity, loss of dexterity, difficulty coordinating movement or balance disorder, difficulty controlling bowel movements or urination and fatigue.

Past studies had observed that different genes get switched on and off as we sleep but until now the consequences of this process were largely unknown. What the researchers found was that one outcome was that sleep helped encourage the production of oligodendrocytes. Oligodendrocytes are cells that are responsible for helping to make myelin. The study found that for mice that slept the genes that triggered oligodendrocytes were turned on, while for mice that didn’t sleep the genes were not turned on.

Again, it seems that the more we are finding out about sleep the more important we are discovering it is to our overall well being. In the past it was seen simply as a means of recharging the batteries but now research such as this is showing that it is essential in a huge range of different physiological areas.  
 


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