A recent article by Leeni Peltonen on Tekniikan Maailma explains what lack of sleep does to the body. Since the article is in Finnish, I thought I’d write a summary of it in English. In the article, Peltonen explains that sleep is medicine to both the mind and body and has several health effects. Especially one study from 2013 had very interesting findings.
According to Peltonen, lack of sleep causes an infection of sorts in the body. This erodes cells and may cause many illnesses. The function of the brain suffers too, but sufficient sleep usually fixes this damage. The brain needs sleep in order to reorganize itself and store memories. Deep sleep is essential to the brain, because the metabolism of brain cells increases and metabolic waste that has built up in nerve cells is removed. Also, glial cells in the brain refuel during sleep while maintaining and supporting nerve cells.
Peltonen refers to a Danish study from 2013 that had a significant finding; apparently, lack of sleep can cause beta-amyloid formation in the brain. Beta-amyloid plaques found in the brain have been associated with Alzheimer’s, so the findings are likely to affect studies of memory related illnesses.
The writer also mentions a Finnish sleep study group, Sleep Team Helsinki. Led by Tarja Stenberg, who has studied sleep for years, the team studies the effects of sleep deprivation. Peltonen explains that the team is currently working on a large study about the effects of lack of sleep on the brain’s immune system.
Previous studies have shown that lack of sleep causes a low degree infection that activates the immune defense. Thus it seems like the body reacts to lack of sleep like it does to bacteria or virus attacks. According to Peltonen, this low- degree infection is suspected to be the cause of many diseases. These include, for example, type two diabetes, Alzheimer’s and depression.
Peltonen says that sleep medicine has deep roots here in Finland. He notes that technology has evolved a lot in the last couple of decades. Some matters that used to require hospital environment can be done at home now. A sleep mattress has evolved into a sensor, for example. Now sleep medicine is its own area of research – not just here in Finland, but internationally. Emfit is also mentioned in the article for its sensitive under mattress sensors.
Stress and Sleep
Peltonen explains that stress is one of the most common causes of sleep disturbances. When stress hormonesthe control the body, sleeping becomes hard. A fast pace life and 24/7 lifestyle are not good for sleep. Continuing activity of the sympathetic nervous system and being overly active are related to sleep problems. According to Peltonen, especially working people are facing an increase in sleep related problems.
Peltonen lists exercise, all kinds of relaxation and having breaks as ways to fight against stress. Even small changes could help, like not using electrical devices before going to bed. A stable daily rhythm, a calm mind and relaxation can also aid sleep.
Peltonen, L. 6/2017. Tekniikan Maailma. Unenpuute aiheuttaa kehossa tulehduksen – näin teknologia toimii unitutkimuksen apuna.