Sleep is the time when our brain invokes its ‘automatic daily spring cleaning’. Like anyone who has performed spring cleaning or any form of cleaning or tidying up will know that you need to have a set process which you follow. For instance, you will need to sort out and group items along the lines of keep, recycle, junk etc. and then ‘bag’ them and take them where they need to be. Thereafter you will literally clean the house, dust, wipe, vacuum before you do any repairs or touch up with paintwork, etc. and then rearrange the contents.

In this series, I will be examining why it’s the quality and not the quantity of sleep we have is crucial to the health and well-being of our mental and physical body. This series comprises:

  • PART 1: Why Spring Cleaning the Mind is Necessary
  • PART 2: Spring Cleaning Sleep Cycle
  • PART 3: The Right Amount of Sleep
  • PART 4: How to achieve quality Sleep

PART 1: Why Spring Cleaning the Mind is Necessary

You also know that if you do not periodically clean and get rid of items you do not want then your house will clog up with all sorts making it difficult to find what you do want and places to put it. Think of the time when you put something you knew you would require at a later date but when you need it, cannot find it given the clutter. Or half way through your cleaning, you were disturbed and lost the plot of your cleaning plan, where you had put certain things …..and then restarting the whole exercise again……and if it happens again just how frustrating it makes you. In the end, you have spent a lot of valuable time and energy only to discover that you really have not made much progress and start feeling despondent.

Well, this is similar to what your brain experiences when its sleep is disrupted or non-existent. Your brain performs ‘spring cleaning’ daily whilst you sleep and it follows a defined process commonly referred to as the ‘sleep cycle’.

There are 5 stages of sleep, the first 4 stages are non-rapid eye movement (non-REM sleep) which are defined by the above 4 types of brain waves. Stage 5 is REM (rapid eye movement sleep (REM) sleep. During these non-REM and REM stages, the speed (waves) at which the ‘cleaning’ activity is performed varies. At the start of the process of cleaning your house, you are probably determined energised, motivated and are sorting things at speed. But as the task continues, you start becoming tired and slower, even though your motivation is there, you take your time doing the cleaning, energy and more focused.

The brain goes through similar levels of energy, starting at high energy and speed (frequency levels) slowing down as the task processes. The stages of these energy levels are:

  • Beta waves: High energy and frequency. Beta waves are registered when the subject is awake, alert, and actively processing information. For instance when you are thinking about your day’s activity/to-do list.
  • Gamma waves: Active Thinking/Evaluation phase. Gamma waves are where the mind is actively drawing and forming coherent and complex concepts utilising various parts of the brain, i.e. solving a complex puzzle.
  • Alpha waves: Registered in a waking but relaxed or meditative state
  • Theta waves: Registered during increased relaxation and a more restive, reflective of memory, emotions and feelings
  • Delta waves: Registered in deep sleep or coma.
  • Mhden (pronounced “miden”) Waves: These are observed when there are no brain waves present, a flat-line trace, which is a clinical sign of brain death.

In this part, I outlined the importance of performing a ‘spring clean’ to keep our places at tidy and the problems it causes if we do not. In Part 2, I explain how similar the brain is in the way it performs its daily clean to how we do our spring cleaning, and crucially, the impact of the process is disrupted.