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Proper sleep has long-term effects on health

By on January 1, 2016
The-Rest-of-Your-Life

There’s no doubt that a trucker needs to be awake and alert on the road at all times, but there are other reasons for a driver to get the right amount of rest. New sleep research indicates that the amount and quality of sleep can have a significant impact on a person’s health over time.

Sleep gives the body an opportunity to replenish, restore and revitalize. Without it, the immune system’s ability to fight off illness diminishes. But there’s more going on during those periods of rest. Throughout the waking hours, the brain builds up neurotoxins, which can be harmful if they are not released. Previously, scientists believed the brain cleansed itself by removing toxins through a slow and organized process throughout the day. However, they now think these toxins are discarded more like flushing a toilet, while you’re sleeping, rather than in a slow daytime trickle.

Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, codirector of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine (University of Rochester Medical Center School of Medicine and Dentistry) named this brain cleansing process “the glymphatic system,” similar to the lymph system, which filters toxic waste products out of the body.

Nedergaard’s research was followed up by a 2013 study that looked at a specific neurotoxin, beta-amyloid, which has been found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. These researchers saw that cerebrospinal fluid flushes out neurotoxins during sleep. According to Tara Swart, a senior lecturer at MIT specializing in sleep and the brain, “The whole process takes six to eight hours.”

Grab a nap

Lack of proper sleep can interrupt that cleansing process, increasing the risk of developing illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Neurotoxin researchers discovered that the deeper the sleep — with fewer distractions (such as radio, TV or interruptions) and the longer a person remains in full REM sleep, the better the toxin flush. One researcher said, “The more beta-amyloid you have in certain parts of your brain, the less deep sleep you get and, consequently, the worse your memory. Additionally, the less deep sleep you have, the less effective you are at clearing out this bad protein.” In other words, these destructive toxins accumulate over time and become more and more difficult to flush — so trying to “catch up” on a few weeks of too little sleep in one lazy weekend won’t work.

But truckers all know there are times when both catching enough shut-eye and meeting deadlines are in conflict. Swart suggests naps as the solution.

“Taking 20 minutes of a power nap is comparable to plugging in your phone battery,” she says. “For 30 minutes of downtime, your brain will experience improved learning and memory. For those fortunate enough to snag 60 to 90 minutes of rest, new connections can form which can unleash creativity in the brain.”

Regular restful sleep means a better memory not only today, but when it will mean the most to a driver — retired from the road, but reminiscing about days and miles gone by.

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