The importance of a good night's sleep

11 June 2014

A lot of our clients suffer from loss of sleep as part of what happens after a serious accident or trauma. Hopefully the work we do claiming compensation to help our clients recover financial losses will at least mean they won’t lie awake worrying about how they are going to pay the bills.

However, I was interested to read about some recent research by scientists in China and the US. They have worked out what goes on when we sleep and why it is so important.

It is well known that sleep plays an important role in memory and learning. But what actually happens inside the brain has been a source of considerable debate.

A new reason for sleep was discovered last year when experiments showed the brain used sleep to wash away waste toxins built up during a hard day's thinking.

This latest scientific approach used advanced microscopy to witness new connections between brain cells - synapses - forming during sleep.

If we ignore the importance of sleep, it can lead to serious health problems, including: cancer, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, infections and obesity.

Enough sleep in children and teenagers has long been regarded as crucial If students want to remember something for long periods they need these new connections. It is probably better to study and have good sleep rather than keep studying.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Raphaelle Winsky-Sommerer, from the University of Surrey, told the BBC: "This is very impressive, carefully crafted and using a combination of exquisite techniques to identify the underlying mechanisms of memory. They provide the cellular mechanism of how sleep contributes to dealing with experiences during the day. Basically it tells you sleep promotes new synaptic connections, so preserve your sleep."

Many of my clients with an acquired brain injury suffer from real problems with their sleep and can become exhausted. Fatigue is a big issue after brain injury. Post traumatic stress disorder and acute pain will also keep people awake after a serious accident. There is hope, however, with treatments available to assist, although good ‘sleep hygiene’ is the best place to start:

This is known as good sleep hygiene and includes:

  • establish fixed times for going to bed and waking up (try to avoid sleeping in after a poor night's sleep)
  • try to relax before going to bed
  • maintain a comfortable sleeping environment (not too hot, cold, noisy or bright)
  • avoid napping during the day
  • avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol late at night
  • avoid exercise within four hours of bedtime (although exercise in the middle of the day is beneficial)
  • avoid eating a heavy meal late at night

If you have any queries or wish to discuss specific circumstances, please do not hesitate to contact one of our team who will be happy to assist.