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Sleep Is Sanity

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Thanks to James Bishop's Optimism Software, I've become meticulous about my sleep hygiene this summer. I go to bed every night between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m., and I wake up (many times begrudgingly) at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. Eight hours I get. No more and no less. I sleep in my bed. Not in my daughter's if I can help it.

The result has been fascinating: despite all the craziness of this summer--with everyone's schedules changing daily and meeting new work challenges--I have stayed impressively stable. I say stable, because if you hadn't noticed, I usually have one good mega meltdown each summer. Click here for 2007's. Click here for 2008's. Granted I still have one month to go, but it's looking good!

Which makes me think that sleep is absolutely crucial to sanity. That even a variation of an hour can really mess you up.

In his post, "While You Sleep Your Brain Keeps Working," John Grohol highlights the research published in a recent "Scientific American" article called "How Snoozing Makes You Smarter." John succinctly summarizes the history of sleep research. He writes:

The upshot is that sleep is far, far more important than most of us realize and few of us appreciate. We miss it and think nothing of chopping off a few hours here or there. But the emerging research suggests that when we cut out sleep, we may be actually harming our formation of new memories for the recent past, and our ability to perform up to our usual standards. The researchers sum it up best:

As exciting findings such as these come in more and more rapidly, we are becoming sure of one thing: while we sleep, our brain is anything but inactive. It is now clear that sleep can consolidate memories by enhancing and stabilizing them and by finding patterns within studied material even when we do not know that patterns might be there. It is also obvious that skimping on sleep stymies these crucial cognitive processes: some aspects of memory consolidation only happen with more than six hours of sleep. Miss a night, and the day's memories might be compromised--an unsettling thought in our fast-paced, sleep-deprived society.

Group Beyond Blue co-chair Mel highlighted other sleep-sanity facts per Wikipedia on a discussion group she started called "Sleep Deprivation." She writes:

From Wikipedia....

A 2001 study at Chicago Medical Institute suggested that sleep deprivation may be linked to more serious diseases, such as heart disease and mental illnesses, such as psychosis and bipolar disorder.[13]

The link between sleep deprivation and psychosis (psychiatric disorders) was further documented in 2007 through a study at Harvard Medical School and the University of California at Berkeley. The study revealed, using MRI scans, that lack of sleep causes the brain to become incapable of putting an emotional event into the proper perspective and incapable of making a controlled, suitable response to the event.

A 2002 University of California animal study indicated that REM sleep was necessary for turning offneurotransmitters and allowing their receptors to "rest" and regain sensitivity which allows monoamines (norepinephrine, serotonin and histamine) to be effective at naturally produced levels. This leads to improved regulation of mood and increased learning ability. The study also found that REM sleep deprivation can alleviate clinical depression because it mimics selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI).

This is because the natural decrease in monoamines during REM is not allowed to occur, which causes the concentration of neurotransmitters in the brain, that are depleted in clinically depressed persons, to increase.

Sleep outside of the REM phase may allow enzymes to repair brain cell damage caused by free radicals. High metabolic activity while awake damages the enzymes themselves preventing efficient repair. This study observed the first evidence of brain damage in rats as a direct result of sleep deprivation.

This explains why the trip from the maternity ward to the psych ward was so short for me: after waking every three hours for four years in a row with my colicky son, I had, indeed, thrown my sanity out with the diapers. 

So if you're tempted to pull a late night to catch up on your work or see who sings her guts off of "American Idol" or who utters "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here," or change your status 100 times on Facebook, you might want to reconsider. Your brain is a little OCD. Not only does it require sleep, it wants a consistent ritual akin to the one you give your kids. Sorry, brain, ... time for beddy pie!

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Originally published on Beyond Blue at Beliefnet.com. To read more of Therese, visit her blog, Beyond Blue at Beliefnet.com, or subscribe here. You may also find her at www.thereseborchard.com.