To answer the question straight away, it’s your brain. But let me explain what I mean.
The concept of sleep has fascinated scientists since the dawn of time. Why do we need to spend a third of our life sleeping? Fine, we all need down time, but a third of your life?
It was once believed when we sleep that the brain simply turns off. Now we know the brain does some amazing things whilst we’re asleep.
Just like every muscle in your body, your brain accumulates waste throughout the day. Unlike the rest of your body, it lacks the ability to actively remove that waste whilst in use. Neuroscientist John Illif and his team showed some amazing processes that happen whilst we’re asleep. Illif showed that when asleep, the nerves in the brain shrink allowing our cerebrospinal fluid to flood our brain and remove the waste product from accumulated from a day full of thinking and activity.
Here’s a video showing Illif’s amazing research:
I hear you already. If sleep is so vital, why is it I just can’t get to sleep!
Sleep is a complexed combination of neurological and hormonal changes, it’s not as simple as many people make it out to be.
Many still believe the hormone melatonin is the key element responsible for our sleep, but this is far from the truth. When nightfall comes our main stress hormone, cortisol, drops and allows melatonin to rise. This has a sedative affect on our system and prepares us for sleep. But this alone doesn’t result in sleep.
Sleep results from a reduction in brain wave patterns. In more simpler terms, the brain slows down the firing rate of its nerves. This is achieved by reducing the arousal rate.
Within your brainstem is an area known as the Ascending Reticular Activating System (ARAS). This system is responsible for elevating alertness levels in the brain. If the area becomes over-stimulated our brain arousal rate becomes elevated and we fail to sleep. If the area becomes under-stimulated we don’t get enough arousal and we struggle to stay awake, a condition often referred to as narcolepsy.
There are many things that can increase the ARAS stimulation level. These include dysfunction of your jaw, problems with your bite pattern or teeth, excessive visual light (especially blue light), excessive levels of noise and stress.
High use of devices such as tablets, phones and computers are some of the things we commonly see wind up this area of the brain in many people.
Finding the source of ARAS stimulation can be tricky and often requires someone skilled and educated in the area to ascertain the source of dysfunction.
The reward of a good night sleep can be life changing and absolute bliss!