More Sleep!

NDSU Microbiology
by NDSU Microbiology

Sleep leads to a healthy immune system and clear mind

Guest Blogger: Tyler Anderson, Undergraduate in Microbiology

Early mornings and I have never really gotten along. We try not to meet often, unless it’s mandatory. Unfortunately for me, these mandatory early mornings happen to be Monday through Friday and even certain weekends. Yes, I know the sunrise may be a beautiful site to see in the early morning, but the early cold weather compared to my warm comfy bed makes it an easy decision as to what I’d like to continue doing.

In the microbiology world there are reasons to why we sleep. Two reasons I find important are that sleep greatly helps to maintain a healthy immune system and clears the brain of built up toxins. I find these reasons good excuses to continue with my sleeping habits.

Getting enough sleep is crucial for the immune system to fight off foreign invaders. The chances of getting sick or catching colds is much higher due to a lack of sleep. Scientists have shown that when the body is sleep deprived, levels of infection-fighting antibodies and cells drop. In addition, when sleeping, our body produces cytokines, which are non-antibody proteins that promote sleep but that also help fight off infection or inflammation. Sleep deprivation can lead to lower numbers of these cytokines being produced, which means our bodies may find it harder to fight off disease. For example, the decrease in production of cytokines can lead to a decrease in the production or stimulation of various kinds of T-cells and/or the release of other infection-fighting entities that are important in an immune response to a pathogen.

But sleep does more than just keep our immune system functioning at full strength. One recent study explains how sleep literally clears the brain. Scientists have shown that while sleeping, the cellular structure of the brain changes. When sleeping, the space between brain cells increases, allowing the brain to flush out toxins. These toxins are built up during the waking hours.

Scientists performed this experiment by injecting dye into the CSF of mice and watching it flow to their brains. They compared the rate of flow from when the mice were awake and functioning to when they were unconscious and sleeping. The dye barely flowed when the mice were awake; however, the dye flowed quickly when the mice were unconscious. To ensure their results, scientists inserted electrodes in the brains and found the space inside the brains increased by 60 percent.

Sometimes during a long day of studying and homework, I get to a stand-still. My mind seems to no longer want to take in more information and has found better things to think about. It’s as if these toxins have built up so much that my head just can’t take anymore. I sit at my desk with a blank stare and a hurting, overfilled brain. Due to frustration or lack of will to continue in my work, I sometimes call it quits for school work. Now I understand that my overfilled head of information needs to be cleared before it can take in anymore information. With the new information from this study, I can now say I’m simply taking a break to clear my head.

I can’t imagine what life would be like without this clearing of the head. I need to take frequent breaks from homework or studying throughout the day to rest my brain. A good portion of these said "breaks" happen to be naps. I now look at these naps as just quickly clearing my head to make room for more information. Sometimes I think I may take naps a little too
frequently. I even tend to fall asleep during exciting movies or TV shows. I’m not exactly sure why my brain feels it needs to clear itself during these interesting times, but it finds the need to.

There are many reasons the body needs sleep to remain healthy. These are just two of the reasons it is a good idea to get a full night of sleep. I found the study of the brain toxins interesting because it shows that we feel what is literally happening in our heads. Not only does it feel like our minds have been cleared after a night of sleeping, but our brains have also literally been cleared of toxins. Maintaining a healthy immune system is also very important when fighting off infections and inflammations. With the appropriate amount of sleep, the immune system will produce the necessary
components to remain healthy. These reasons as to why I need my sleep will help me not feel so guilty the next time I decide to remain in my bed on those cold mornings, or even take a little snooze before class or during a movie.

This entry is part of the fall MICR 354 scientific writing students' blog series.

Interleukin Image: Pleiotrope.

Brain Image: Betsian.