Archive for July 1st, 2017

It wouldn’t be healthy, or efficient, to remember every event or experience in its full factual and emotional context.  But separating the emotional aspects of a memory — the anger over an argument with your spouse, the frustration at the guy who cut you off in traffic, the dejection you felt after getting a curt email reply from your boss — from its objective parts allows you to recall the experience without reliving it.  “We sleep to remember and we sleep to forget,” says Walker, the UC Berkeley sleep scientist, of this coping mechanism.  “I call it overnight therapy.”
This type of processing takes time.  It likely happens only during deep, quality sleep, and only over consistent nights of such sleep.  That may explain why people who cut their sleep short or experience interrupted sleep may not fully disentangle the emotional baggage from their memories.
In those cases the memory, in its emotionally taxing entirety, continues to resurface every time the brain tries to sleep, in a vain effort to be properly processed.  The brain tries to store the memory in a neutral way, but without deep sleep, there just isn’t enough time for that triage.
Walker believes these aborted efforts may drive conditions like PTSD, which is well understood to be common among combat veterans but which may be more common among the general population than therapists and researchers previously thought.
“The more nights you sleep, the more soothing the influence of sleep on that memory,” he says.  “Sleep continues to work on those emotional memories and flatten them out after about a week.  Now there’s great evidence that PTSD is a disorder in which that process fails.”
There’s also strong support for the idea that insufficient sleep may be a trigger for, and not just a symptom of, a number of mental illnesses, including depression, bipolar disorder and even schizophrenia.  Depriving people with bipolar disorder of sleep, for example, can launch a manic episode, while some people with depression report worsening symptoms when they aren’t sleeping well.
Fully understanding the role sleep plays in mental illness is a rich area of future research.  Already many doctors think consistent, high-quality sleep can have a direct bearing on the health of those with mental illness.  “Anyone who suffers from moderate or significant mental-health concerns needs to be aware that sleep may be one of the most important things they can do,” says Walker.
Stress, scientists also know, is one of the more potent accelerators of aging, and a body that’s not sleeping enough looks similar to one that’s stressed out — it’s highly reactive to perceived threats, even when those threats don’t pose any real risk.  Biologically speaking, there’s virtually no difference in the way a body reacts to a startling noise in the middle of the night, a rabid raccoon or a stressful work deadline:  in all cases, fight-or-flight mode is triggered, blood pressure spikes, breathing gets shallow, and the heart starts to race.  That’s what happens to a body on no sleep too.
Those stress reactions can be useful, of course:  they help you respond more readily to an actual physical threat.  But that’s not usually what’s going on.  And staying in an alert mode can trigger a number of unhealthy conditions, the most damaging of which is inflammation.
Inflammation is the body’s natural defense system against injury or invading microbes like bacteria and viruses.  It’s why your toe turns red and throbs when you stub it or when it’s infected:  white blood cells rush to the area in order to protect it for the short time it’s needed to help you get better.  But inflammation can also become chronic, and that’s when the real trouble starts.
Chronic inflammation, doctors now know, is a leading driver of many diseases, including some cancers, cognitive decline, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes — even chronic pain.  And one of the main drivers of chronic inflammation is, of course, not sleeping enough.
Quoted by:  Alice Park
In her article:  “The Sleep Cure
Appearing in:  Time Magazine
Dtd:  Feb 27 – Mar 9, 2017
On This Day In:
2016 Useful Gift
2015 Who’s The Boss?
2014 What Counts In The Future
2013 Improper Sequence?
2012 Two Gems
2011 A True Test

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