Sleep – Our Ultimate Cleaning Agent

What’s the worst consequence of not getting enough sleep?

In the 1970s, I listened to our UWO Psychology professor lecture about the effects of not sleeping enough. He explained how sleep deprivation leads to dream deprivation.  Studies leaned toward the possibility that insufficient dreaming could lead to depression.

Ours was an evening class so we’d all migrate to the cafeteria for a quick break; the prof included.  After hearing about the importance of dreaming, when the prof chose a chair across from me, I dared to express the conclusion that haunted me, “So, since we can become depressed when we don’t experience our quota of dreams, can we assume that dreams are the bowel movements of the mind?”

He tried to hide choking on his coffee.  He sat grinning as he surveyed the laughter at our table.  He finally said, “Well, that certainly is one way of looking at it.”

Coppin' a snooze on top of the freshly laundered bath towels.

Coppin’ a snooze on top of the freshly laundered bath towels.

Over the years, when someone mentioned they were on sleeping pills, I’d casually ask what kind of sleep and dreams they now experienced.

Invariably, they’d say they don’t remember having dreams.  Perhaps sleep shifted to a non-dream state.  Perhaps dreaming had been curtailed.  Perhaps the person simply wasn’t able to remember dreams.  Whatever the reason, I’d think of the hilarity in the cafeteria with our professor and silently wonder again about those necessary nightly cleansing jobs.

Then, today, I was gobsmacked by a TED talk.  A whole new light shines on the understanding of the nightly housecleaning so diligently undertaken by our brains while we sleep – a possible clue to the dreaded Alzheimer’s Disease.

I’m off to send this post to that professor,  “Watch this video, Sir!  It may not be dreams, but there IS a mental bowel movement happening!”

Thank you, Dr. Jeff Lliff!

14 thoughts on “Sleep – Our Ultimate Cleaning Agent

  1. Hi Amy, this is a very interesting perspective of sleep! I never thought dreams are so essential…sometimes I feel my sleep is more peaceful when it is deprived of dreams. Dreams are rarely pleasant, even if they are, we don’t remember them. I can always recollect nightmares and often wonder whether they are more powerful!!

    If I see a dreadful movie or read a book that I don’t like, my dreams are always connected with them but they always avoid the happiest moments and memories! Isn’t it strange? Once I had a book about interpretation of dreams, it was very interesting to read about some peculiar dreams…like getting lost near a water body or being not able to reach the examination hall and many more!

    • My dreams are so often looking for places. I get lost even though I’ve paid attention to landmarks as I GO. On the way back? They’ve disappeared. The other night I ended up going to France with three pilot friends and, once there, I remembered I hadn’t packed or grabbed my passport. Before the French authorities discovered me, I found a friend who know how to get me onto a plane home. I woke up on the way home…

      Fortunately I’ve had very few nightmares. As a child when a scary dream half-awakened me, in a semi-sleep state I learned to change whatever was scary into something kind and loving. If something was chasing me, I’d change the race into a fun game…or I’d “realize” they wanted to give me something I had always wanted.

      I was amazed one time to see a documentary about this very ability. We all can do it Balroop…give it a try.

  2. It’s funny that the lack of sleep sets up such a vicious circle Amy. We have Lack of sleep = lack of dreams = depression and then depression leading to sleeping that there”s less dreaming, or at least less remembered dreaming. I confess it’s rare for me to remember whether I’ve dreamed at night, and if I have, I don’t remember the content. Maybe the depression then comes from the fact that the mind hasn’t been able to have it’s nightly clear out through dreams rather than the fact that there was less sleep. Quality over quantity?
    Good post and I loved your analogy to th prof.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • I doubt that it matters at all whether we remember the dream…the wonderful work is being done just by being asleep according to the video. So I don’t know what’s come of the theory we were studying. I tried the site of The Cochrane Library (results from all sorts of medical tests), but could find no test results about dreaming or lack thereof. I’m wondering if this new study is saying it had nothing at all to do with dreams…it’s that proven chemical clean-up that the brain is doing during sleep.

    • A friend who went through a period of very little sleep due to a medical issue said he felt at times quite convinced he would die of lack of sleep. However, he got through it and is ever so grateful to have it well behind him. I’m horrid if I go too long without a proper sleep. Off you go, Renee – have one for me!

    • Yah, Kim, that gorgeous ball of fluff-love is what interrupts my dreams – in/out/in/out. Cat doors don’t work unless I want to share my house with mice, rats, snakes, rabbits and squirrels. Now that I don’t have to get up to go to work, I’ve learned my natural quota of sleep & dream time is seven hours. I disproved my belief I could live on 5!

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