It’s so tempting to push through the fatigue to make progress—sweet, uninterrupted progress—on our inboxes. However, new research suggests that when we stay awake and cut back on our sleep, we prevent a vital brain function from doing its critical work.
They’re called glial (GLEE’-uhl) cells. Together, they become like a dishwasher, clearing out toxins and gunk from brains every night. But only during sleep (source).
Scientists even theorize that sleep disruption may be one of the reasons protein builds up on the brain, damaging it, and causing neurological diseases like dementia. Yikes.
Yet the emails call to us from those little glowing screens. The work piles up. Even if we choose to leave those things for tomorrow and go to bed at a sensible time, the kids wake up wanting water, or a boogeyman protector, or a bathroom buddy.
I totally get it. That’s my life.
So should we be worried? Possibly.
Some may take comfort in the fact that this research was done on mice and not humans. We don’t know with any certainty if human glial cells do the same dishwashing in human brains.
Until then, here’s what we know for sure.
- Science has proven that when we stay up for 18 hours, we become impaired. It’s the same as having a blood-alcohol content of .05. Where I’m from, having that much alcohol in your system would get you in trouble with the law if you were behind the wheel. When we stay up for 24 hours, it doubles. It’s like we have a blood-alcohol level of .10 (source).
- Using computers, mobile devices, and televisions before bed could confuse our bodies and keep us awake longer. It turns out the blue light sends a signal to our brains making us think it’s morning time (source).
- Naps are amazing. Studies show that brief naps improve our brain performance. In short, we’re smarter after a nap (source).
So what’s the take-away here? Go to bed at a time that ensures we get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep that experts say we need to perform at our best. Nap when we feel groggy. If we can’t nap, get as much sleep as we can. And when the ping of our devices beckons, keep them turn off and away from our eyes.