Sara Mednick, PhD, Shares a New Perspective of Sleep Health

Sleep expert Dr. Sara Mednick says one of the major goals to improve sleep health isn't simply for health benefits, but because it's essential to repair the daily buildup of toxins that accumulate during each wake period.

Sleep health is integral to an individual's well-being, whether they're in prime health, or living with a chronic condition. A multitude of research has investigated how sleep relates to virtually every aspect of health and medicine.

In this interview with HCPLive, sleep expert Sara Mednick, PhD, shared inisght from her research that led to her authoring a new book The Power of the Downstate, where she dives deeper into the mechanisms at play that are so beneficial, and how they extend beyond sleep.

"There's the upstate, and the second part of the rhythm is the downstate. That's the time where we need to go back into our caves and quiet down, think through our thoughts," she said. "A mini hibernation is what happens when you go to sleep, and that mini hibernation is the safest, and the only time where certain processes can happen."

Sara Mednick, PhD, is a professor of cognitive science in the School of Social Sciences at University of California, Irvine (UCI) where she runs the Sleep and Cognition Lab. In the 7-bedroom sleep lab, Mednick and her team study mechanisms of the brain that vary during sleep to further understand how cognition, health and longevity is supported by this state.

"What you see is that both the central nervous system and the autonomic nervous system—the second you go to sleep, everything shuts down," she explained. "You go from a high revved-up state, where your body temperature's high, your blood is rushing through your body at a very fast pace, and your thinking neurons are firing very actively all over the brain. And the second you get to sleep, your temperature drops, your metabolism drops, your brain activity starts to slow down."

According to Mednick, one of the major goals to improve sleep health isn't simply for health benefits, but because it's essential to repair the daily buildup of toxins that accumulate during each wake period.

"It's actually the biggest physiological change you have across every day—going from waking to sleep," she continued. "And that conservation of energy that happens when you're going from waking to sleep allows you to get into this regenerative state, which is what happens in that deep form of slow wave sleep."