In Rest, I talk about how sleep turns out to be a form of what I call “active rest:” rest in which the body is actually doing things behind the scenes. One of the most important things it does is fire up glial cells, which you can think of as a kind of scaffolding and support system for the brain, to clear out the various toxins that build up in the brain during its normal activity. (You can think of these proteins as a kind of waste, just like the rest of the waste your body produces.)
A few years ago, neuroscientist Maiken Nedergaard observed this system at work in the brains of mice. Now, writing in Science News, Laura Bell reports on new research on human subjects indicating that “The brain may clean out Alzheimer’s plaques during sleep.” (Also, Bell’s article is a terrific overview of the history of this research, and its major lines of investigation.)
University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Barbara Bendlin has been working on the “Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention, a study of more than 1,500 people who were ages 40 to 65 when they signed up” in 2001. So by now the Registry has 17 years of data, gathered from surveys, doctor’s exams, cognitive tests, even cerebral spinal fluid taps. (I love longitudinal studies like these: they reveal things that no other kind of research can.)
What Bedlin is finding is more evidence of a connection between sleep deprivation and the buildup of amyloid-beta protein fragments, which have been theorized to be one mechanism behind Alzheimer’s:
Bendlin and her colleagues identified 98 people from the registry who recorded their sleep quality and had brain scans. Those who slept badly — measured by such things as being tired during the day — tended to have more A-beta plaques visible on brain imaging….
In a different subgroup of 101 people willing to have a spinal tap, poor sleep was associated with biological markers of Alzheimer’s in the spinal fluid…. The markers included some related to A-beta plaques, as well as inflammation and the protein tau, which appears in higher levels in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.
Now, it’s important to note that the casual arrow between poor sleep and Alzheimer’s isn’t yet clear: scientists aren’t yet willing to say with certainty whether bad sleep increases your odds of developing the disease, or whether the mechanisms that are responsible for Alzheimer’s also disrupt your sleep. As Bell puts it, Bell notes that
most studies have a chicken-and-egg problem. Alzheimer’s is known to cause difficulty sleeping. If Alzheimer’s both affects sleep and is affected by it, which comes first?
But even though “the direction and the strength of the cause-and-effect arrow remain unclear,” she continues,
approximately one-third of U.S. adults are considered sleep deprived (getting less than seven hours of sleep a night) and Alzheimer’s is expected to strike almost 14 million U.S. adults by 2050 (5.7 million have the disease today).
Either way, it’s yet another argument for taking sleep seriously, and getting enough of it.
I was one of those college students who treated sleep with a kind of casual contempt. The combination of being an adolescent, being free from the strictures of family life and able to set my own schedule, and drinking in the casual contempt that many students (especially engineering students, which I was as a freshman) have for sleep, meant that I had terrible sleep habits.
Whatever you may think can get in the way of a successful college experience, chances are you won’t think of one of the most important factors: how long and how well you sleep. And not just on weekends, but every day, Monday through Sunday.
Studies have shown that sleep quantity and sleep quality equal or outrank such popular campus concerns as alcohol and drug use in predicting student grades and a student’s chances of graduating….
College students who fail to adopt more wholesome sleep habits are more likely to find themselves unable to handle their chosen course load and less likely to reach their academic potential, according to a national study of more than 55,000 college students.
It’s common, occurs whether you’ve eaten lunch or not, and is caused by a natural dip in alertness from about 1 to 3pm. So, if you find yourself fighting off sleep in the middle of the day and you’re somewhere where you can have a nap, then do it.
Taking the time for a brief nap will relieve the sleepiness almost immediately and improve alertness for several hours after waking. And there are many other benefits too.
Before they tried to sleep, half of the participants spent five minutes “writing about everything you have to remember to do tomorrow and over the next few days”. The others spent the same time writing about any activities they’d completed that day and over the previous few days.
The key finding is that the participants in the to-do list condition fell asleep more quickly. They took about 15 minutes to fall asleep, on average, compared with 25 minutes for those in the “jobs already done” condition. Moreover, among those in the to-do list group, the more thorough and specific their list, the more quickly they fell asleep, which would seem to support a kind of off-loading explanation. Another interpretation is that busier people, who had more to write about, tended to fall asleep more quickly. But this is undermined by the fact that among the jobs-done group, those who wrote in more detail tended to take longer to fall asleep.
And when I’m deep in writing, I will spend a couple minutes before bed making a list of the things to write about the next morning. I’ve never tried to figure out if there’s a correlation between list-making and how well I sleep, but when I’m writing I rarely have trouble falling asleep. So maybe that’s an unintended benefit.
Anyway, while this is an early study, it suggests yet another reason to make brief lists before bed: not only will to help you solve problems faster (and even make progress while you sleep), it’ll help you sleep better. Continue reading
I keep farmer’s hours, getting up at 5:30 to squeeze in a workout and feed my horse. While I love having a few ping-free hours before the content mill that is journalism churns to life, 0-dark-30 wakeup times result in drowsy afternoons. Around 2 p.m., after my sandwich has been devoured, I often find myself glassy-eyed and refreshing Twitter ad nauseam. Worse, by the end of the workday, I tend to be overtaken by sloth and skip out on the gym or cut my interval session short….
A nap seemed like it might be the solution to my post-lunch lethargy and workout wussiness. And since I work from home, there was nothing stopping me. I waste a good 30 minutes a day (probably more if we’re being honest) rabbit hole-ing through the Internet, so why not repurpose those squandered minutes into a few gasps of actual rest?
The article is especially good if you’re on of those people who is convinced that they can’t nap, or that you don’t have time for it.
The excerpt opens with a visit to the Churchill War Rooms, which my wife and I made during a trip to London in 2015. I’d heard that the War Rooms were cool, but as I recall we went there more or less on a whim (or at least it wasn’t a super-high priority); but it turned out to be a pretty revelatory visit.
The exhibits describe the ups and downs of his political career; his indefatigable energy defending Britain and the empire; his eloquence and skill as a writer; his daily life during the war; and his mix of political opportunism, realpolitik, and idealism. But one aspect of his working life gets only a brief mention, at the end of the tour: his habit of taking daily naps.
Churchill himself regarded his midday naps as essential for maintaining his mental balance, renewing his energy, and reviving his spirits. He had gotten into the habit of napping during World War I, when he was First Lord of the Admiralty, and even during the Blitz, Churchill would retire to his private room in the War Rooms after lunch, undress, and sleep for an hour or two. Unless German bombs were falling, he would then head to 10 Downing Street for a bath, change into fresh clothes, and return to work. Churchill’s valet, Frank Sawyers, later recalled, “It was one of the inflexible rules of Mr. Churchill’s daily routine that he should not miss this rest.”
It was also the visit that got me to pay some attention to Churchill’s love of painting. There are a couple panels devoted to his painting, but they were enough to make me track down his book Painting as a Pastime.
That, in turn, made its way into my discussion of “deep play” in the book.
I just wish I’d taken more pictures of the War Rooms while I was there, but given that you see everything from behind big plexiglas sheets, most of the space wouldn’t have photographed very well anyway. Instead, here’s another picture of Big Ben.
Mr. Healing, a “healing” cafe franchise, has opened 47 branches in just two years. Three more are set to open by early May.
“The customers vary from people who come alone to couples, friends, families, travellers — simply anyone who needs a break in their life,” said Park Hye-sun, manager of Mr. Healing in Myeong-dong, central Seoul.
The coffee store devotes half of its 115-square-meter space to a healing room. Customers who purchase beverages can nestle in big massage chairs and relax for up to 50 minutes.
CGV, Korea’s biggest cinema chain, has also jumped on the bandwagon. In March, the chain began offering a siesta service. During lunchtime, customers can lay on a fully reclining chair in its premium theaters listening to the sounds of nature, with a cup of tea and blanket.
Since today is National Napping Day, I thought I would highlight this recent article by Christopher Lindholst in Corporate Wellness Magazine:
As companies review and adjust their budgets for the year currently underway, there’s a line item many may be overlooking: naps. Sleeping on the job was an activity companies frowned on in the past; it could even be a firing offense. But, as scientific evidence showing how beneficial short rest periods are for productivity and learning becomes more widely known company leaders are rethinking their sleep policies.
Today, many world-renowned enterprises — including Google, Mercedes Financial and AXA have onsite napping pods. They know that short rest periods during the workday can sharpens employees’ minds, help prevent chronic disease and enhance learning retention. Napping facilities also help employees beat the “afternoon crash” so many office workers experience.
The fact that high-tech companies and other industry leaders are budgeting for naps gives the workplace short-rest concept a distinctly modern cast. But, the fact is, napping has always been a secret weapon of high-achieving leaders, including Winston Churchill, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, all of whom made a daily nap part of their workday regimen, according to Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less.
Research shows that a recharging nap can also enhance creativity as well as sharpen leadership skills. And Pang notes that many famously creative people scheduled short rest periods into their daily routine, including writers J.R.R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Jonathan Franzen, Thomas Mann and Stephen King. Once derided as the habit of slackers, naps are actually a favorite tactic of workaholics.