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UW researcher: Getting a good night's sleep is about more than regenerating a tired body

Courtesy UW Medicine

Scientists are learning more about how sleep, or the lack thereof, affects most facets of our life, from the way we feel to the way we perform.

Dr. Jeffrey Iliff from the University of Washington School of Medicine spoke to that last night at a UW-Gonzaga Next Generation Medicine lecture in Spokane.

Iliff says scientists are learning that sleep is more than just the thing you do at the end of the day to refresh your body.

“What is happening is the connection between the sleep that you get now or the sleep that you get in childhood or in midlife or later in life, how it connects to not just how I feel the next day or how I feel the next week, but how it affects cognitive aging or cognitive sustainability. That is something that’s come into prominence in the last few years, where people are starting to appreciate there may be pretty substantial long-term consequences to chronic sleep disruption,” he said.

Iliff’s research looks at whether the brain’s inability to clear away its waste products may be linked to the development of neurodegenerative diseases.

“The brain is incredibly metabolically active. The neurons in there are firing billions and trillions of times a second, so they’re producing a rather large amount of waste and yet, how the brain gets rid of that waste has remained a mystery for a long time,” he said.

Whether Iliff’s research will lead to discoveries about disrupted sleep and a link to Alzheimer’s or other neurodegenerative diseases isn’t clear. There has been some highly-touted research, but Iliff warns people to temper their expectations.

Iliff-research 2.mp3

“We don’t yet have a smoking gun proof that if we target this process, if we improve this process, we could actually prevent Alzheimer’s. The science just isn’t there yet,” he said. “But what it does tell us and what is actionable, it leads you to think that sleep, like exercise and like diet, is part of how you should be thinking about your long-term sustainability for your whole body, but for your brain particularly.”

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.