Police Psychology: Sleep – What’s the Point?

Posted: August 16, 2017 in Police Stress
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Police Psychology:  Sleep – What’s the Point?

by Douglas Gentz, Ph.D.


Sleeping doesn’t make much sense from a, “survival of the fittest” perspective. How does it benefit an animal or a person to become completely inattentive to their environment – helpless to fight or flee – for six or seven hours out of every 24? Reason suggests that over millions of years those members of any population that slept the least (or not at all) would have been more likely to survive to an age old enough to reproduce and pass their genes to the next generation . . . So there must be a very good reason for the fact that all animals, including humans, have to sleep on a regular basis. The reason has been a mystery until the last few years.

All the cells in any animal’s body take in nutrients (glucose) and O2 to provide the energy the cell needs to work. As a result, every cell produces waste products that have to be moved out of the cell and eventually released from the body. The normal pathway for “emptying the cellular trash” starts with the waste products being carried away from the cell by lymphatic fluid, collecting in the lymph nodes, transferred to the blood stream, and then transported to the kidneys for filtration. Eventually, those toxins are “liquidated” from the body in urine.

It turns out that there are lymphatic vessels throughout the body except in the head. So, since there are no lymphatic vessels to carry lymphatic fluid throughout the head, how do the cells in the brain, which makes a lot of waste products, take out the trash?

That question remained unanswered until an explanation surfaced in some interesting research conducted by Dr. Maiken Nedergaard and her colleagues at the University of Rochester Medical Center in 2013 (National Institutes of Health, Research Matters, October 28, 2013, https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-sleep-clears-brain). Dr. Nedergaard found that cerebrospinal fluid saturates the brain, acting just like lymphatic fluid but only during sleep. The only time the brain flushes out all the toxins it produces is during sleep. Interestingly, one of the especially destructive toxins that needs to be flushed is the protein beta-amyloid which is famous for building up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

This fascinating finding is yet another compelling reason to prioritize and practice good sleep hygiene as major part of your commitment to personal wellness.


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