Dr. Hilden taking a breakEpisode Six of The Healthy Matters Podcast is no snoozer. I’m joined by sleep expert Dr. Ranji Varghese from the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center, located at Hennepin Healthcare. We uncovered so many interesting facts about the mysteries of sleep in this episode, including a few frightening ones that would keep me up at night – but thankfully he offered tips for insomnia as well.

He kindly answered some basic questions about why we sleep, how much sleep we need, and then we went a little deeper. Like what happens when people chronically do not get enough sleep?  The answer was nightmarish.

“Sleep deprivation can have a diminishing effect on our immune system: our brains will not function optimally, and bone and muscle repair will go haywire,” he said. “And in the past few years, we’ve discovered something called the glymphatic system, which is basically the sewer system for our brain.”

Since I missed the “glymphatic system” lesson in medical school, I asked him to explain, and you’ll have to hear for yourself why it’s even more important to get a good night’s sleep and why your brain’s future memory health may depend on it.

So what else is going on when we sleep? Dr. Varghese suggests that we may not be completely “offline” when we’re catching z’s.

“I look at it as not completely unconscious, but maybe just an altered state of consciousness, where there is some processing of information to make us again more optimized the next day,” he said. “There are two stages of sleep, non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and REM sleep. During REM sleep we have vivid memories and vivid dreams. They are emotional. What does that suggest? It means that the brain is actually processing information during this period. We’re consolidating memories when we’re sleeping.”

What about dreams?

“Everyone dreams,” explains Dr. Varghese. “They may not remember them, but when they’re going through REM sleep dreams tend to be the most vivid, technical and emotionally laden. We think the dreams may be this playground for our brains to practice out the things we learned in the previous day.”

A caller also asks about the benefits of dreaming, and why we sometimes dream of those who have died.

Sleepwalking, sleep eating, melatonin, insomnia, sleep apnea – we cover all of these topics with Dr. Varghese – and I deliver a personal parasomnia story as well. Relax, listen to this episode, and enjoy a new appreciation for your next night of sleep.