A classy restaurant hums with activity amidst a hot neon city. This establishment covers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, handling all the associated rushes with gusto. Servers dance through tables and content patrons. The kitchen is a cacophony of sizzle, chop, and scrub. As the day progresses, a steady backlog of undone tasks begins to pile up, but no matter! We’ll have plenty of time to catch up before we close!
A final fed couple departs into the night, and the crew gets ready to tackle a massive backlog of dishes, garbage, empty boxes, sweeping, scrubbing, and stacking to prepare for the next day. After ten hurried minutes, the Manager comes in and tells everyone to leave immediately. He simply cannot pay the crew for any more hours and all this cleanup will just have to wait until tomorrow. Awkward glances are shot across the room, there’s no way we can do all of this tomorrow morning! We could barely keep up today!
Tomorrow dawns. the establishment is opened to a miasma of towering dishpiles, refuse, and disorganization. Servers frantically sweep the floor ahead of entering breakfast diners The cooks can barely keep up with the orders as fresh garbage and dishes are piled ontop of yesterday’s. Every order means a set of dirty dishes must be cleaned and dried before new food can even hit the plate. The night closes and the crew collapses in stressful heaves. In walks the Manager.
Oh, did I forget to tell you all? We’re staying open another 8 hours! Turn the ovens back on. Dread. Work begins again as waves of patrons flood through the doors. The kitchen is now beyond filthy, it’s becoming hazardous. Servers start slipping on the unmopped floors. A dishwasher cuts his hand on a chef’s knife hidden under a box. Someone finds a bandaid in their salad. Customers walk out without paying. The Manager walks out of his office and sees utter chaos.
When you forego your sleep, you are that Manager, and your brain is the resuraunt.
* * *
I’ve had a few conversations with a friend of mine about the purpose of sleep. Of course the subjective testimony of just about every human on the planet regarding a good night’s rest is that of utter rejuvenation. However, it’s curious that just about every creature goes through a period in which it is extremely vulnerable to predators. The biological necessity of sleep has been somewhat of a mystery for a long time.
With the advent of machines that allow the analysis of living brains, a discovery was made in the last decade. When you sleep, there is a mechanical cleaning process of the brain on cellular level. Gilleal cells create a pumping action and force cerebrospinal fluid though special passageways around the neurons, flushing out the waste products that result from neuronal activity. This neurogunk is then expunged into the general circulatory system for filtration with the rest of the blood. In waking hours, this function works at about 5% of the capacity seen when we are asleep.
The scholarly article is called ‘To Sleep, Perchance to Clean’. When I read it I was stunned, and amazed. Millennia of testimony of proper sleep promoting wisdom, clarity, and good health, all corroborated by a functional process akin to putting out the garbage every night. However, the reverse was even more striking. The persistent denial of sleep results in a literal buildup of ‘garbage in the brain’. I’m sure we’ve all felt the weighty effects of sleep deprivation, whether for exams, night-shifts, or that dopamine-twilight zone of frantic computer clicking: too tired to stay up but too tired to brush your teeth and go to bed.
This new scientific insight has given me more respect for the process of sleep. The idea that the brain is literally cleaning itself fills me with gratitude, and a bit of awe. Of course, it’s so easy to call people to charge into bed with righteous indignation. The truth is that it’s much more difficult when you are in the experience of procrastinating and putting off bedtime. If anything, this new information has given me a real visual approximation of what I am doing to myself when I stay up for no real reason.
My advice: treat bedtime like a boardroom meeting. Treat bedtime like a hot date. A crucial appointment you cannot miss.