Sleep and the brain

I recently came across an article written in Swedish by Margareta Eldh and Jan-Erik Broman. Although not directly related to recovery from and prevention of Musician’s Focal Dystonia, there are many interesting points which are relevant, as sleep deprivation seems to be a factor in many cases of Musician’s Focal Dystonia that I see.

The following article is translated from Swedish, and abbreviated, where appropriate.

sleep musicians focal dystonia

Get a good night’s sleep – and get respect

Research shows that a good night’s sleep doesn’t only help you feel rested and alert, it also affects your appearance and how other people perceive and interact with you.

Make sure you get your beauty sleep. It’s useful for so much more than making you more attractive. If you wake up properly rested, others wil perceive you as more alert and healthier, and in turn you will be treated better.

“There is a connection between sleep and how people are perceived”, says Tina Sundelin, researcher at the Institute of Psychology at The University of Stockholm. In addition, a lack of sleep affects how people perceive us. It also affects our appearance negatively.

“You become pale and pasty, get more fine lines and wrinkles, eyes become swollen and bloodshot, and you get dark rings under your eyes. This affects how others perceive and respond to you”, says Tina.

Sleep doesn’t only affect your appearance. Lack of sleep also has an effect on your emotional life and your relationships. When suffering from sleep deprivation, your ability to read and perceive others emotions, as well as your own ability to demonstrate how you feel, is diminished.

New Swedish research has shown that the amounts of two proteins present in the nerve cells in the brain increased by 20% after sleep depravation. These same proteins are traditionally linked with brain damage. Researchers suggest that sleep deprivation has similar effects to concussion.

“If you do not sleep enough, you become more emotional – both positively, and negatively. You become more easily irritated, but can also laugh more easily”, says Tina Sundelin.

Most people don’t sleep enough, and you can never catch up on lost sleep

The amount of sleep we need varies from person to person. “Between seven and nine hours can be considered a normal night’s sleep. We can survive on less but only every now and then. A sign that you are getting the sleep you need is that you feel alert during the day, and are not fighting fatique”, says Jan-Erik Broman, researcher at the sleep clininc at the Academic Hospital.

“The more you use your brain during the day, the more it needs to recover at night, and the more sleep you need”, explains Ji, Horne at the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University in the UK.

A common cause for sleep deprivation for many of us is that we quite simply go to bed too late. “Many people don’t have time to sleep in today’s around-the-clock society.” Sleep deprivation is, according to Jan-Erik Broman, a more serious threat to health than alcohol. “Most people don’t sleep enough, and you can never catch up on lost sleep.”

A nap during the day can make you – and the people around you – feel calmer

The body needs sleep to replenish energy stores and recover. You could say that it repairs itself while we sleep. We build up a store of energy in the central nervous system that we use up during the day. If we don’t sleep properly, the brain functions less well. “Sleep is a pre-requisite for the brain to function properly, and for a healthy immune system”, says Jan-Erik Broman.

Prolonged sleep deprivation leads to ill health. Recent research shows that too little, or poor quality sleep, can cause high blood fat levels, heart disease, diabetes, depression and chronic fatique syndrome. “Sleep deprivation wears you out and the immune system doesn’t recharge. You can get colds and flu more easily and suffer more infections. Moods are affected, you have a hard time concentrating, become down and irritable. You also become a danger on the roads”, says Jan-Erik Broman.

Sleep, sleep, and health affect each other. A sign that stress is a cause of poor sleep is that you have a hard time falling asleep, laying there thinking through problems, or waking up with thoughts of work at 4am. Once thoughts start, they can be hard to stop. “It’s best not become panic stricken, as the viscious circle of getting worked up, instead of relaxing, can begin”, says Jan-Erik Broman.

A nap during the day can make you – and the people around you – feel calmer, and stress hormones to drop. “Taking a nap of 20 – 30 minutes can make you more alert and efficient. If you sleep for a longer period of time, the nap can have the opposite effect, as your night’s sleep can become disturbed.”

“If sleep is a problem for an extended period of time, it can be more difficult to break the cycle”, says Jan-Erik Broman. Treatment with CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) has shown to be effective in helping people with sleep issues. There are many self-help books, online treatment programs, and courses that your GP can recommend.

Three things are very important in order to get a good night’s sleep: 1) regular bed times 2) a cool, quiet, and dark bedroom 3) avoidance of substances that disturb sleep, such as alcohol.

Becoming bored before sleeping can also be helpful. The bes thing is not to do anything at all, or to relax with a book.

“We should do the same as children here – read a story so that you become tired. The secret is to do nothing and let your thoughts go”, says Jan-Erik Broman.

Sleep deprivation gives you:

  • Mood swings
  • Problems with memory
  • Weakened immune system
  • Poor concentration
  • Increased risk of being overweight
  • Increased risk of diabetes
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Poor ability to deal with stress
  • Decreased creativity
  • Dark rings under the eyes
  • Paler skin
  • More fine lines and wrinkles
  • Swollen and red eyes
  • Droopy eyelids

10 tips for better quality sleep

  1. Have fixed routines. Go to sleep at the same time every night.
  2. Take a hot bath. You will become more relaxed and sleepy when the body has recovered.
  3. It works on children. Read a book before you go to sleep.
  4. Avoid all light sources that activate the body, such as the computer, mobile phone, TV, lamps.
  5. Workout regularly.
  6. But, don’t workout too late at night. You’ll activate yourself, instead of calm yourself down.
  7. Eat several hours before you go to sleep. Trying to sleep hungry, or full isn’t recommended.
  8. Be careful with alcohol, sugars, coffee and tobacco.
  9. Wind down an hour before bed time. Let the bed be a work-free zone.
  10. Relax with yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and breathing exercises. This makes stress hormones drop.


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