SLEEP FOR BETTER BRAIN HEALTH
Sleep is essential for several reasons & we cannot survive without it.
Sleep. It’s such a paradox. For the sleepless, the desire for a full night’s unencumbered sleep can be as elusive as the world’s largest Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly, from Papua New Guinea, which has a wingspan of 30cm. For those with too much on their minds and an endless to-do list, sleep is seen as a nuisance, something taking up mental bandwidth, time that could be diverted to the more useful accomplishment of completing that big assignment or project. The truth is we all need sleep for better brain health, whether a giraffe relying on 2 hours of giraffe naps, a cat sleeping for 15 hours or a human, evolved to function at our best on 7-9 hours good quality, uninterrupted sleep. Sleep is our unspoken power, restoring energy, cognitive prowess and emotional stability. Without sleep there would be no dreams, no remembering or forgetting, no freshening up with a deep clean to get rid of all that amyloid build up and other unwanted metabolic waste. During sleep we go through a number of sleep cycles each lasting about 90 minutes, starting with light sleep, then deep sleep followed by REM before lightening up again. Deep sleep is restorative and REM is important for consolidating longterm memories. That’s why fragmented sleep feels less refreshing than a short uninterrupted sleep. The advent of technology, Netflix and changing work habits has led to
Up to one third of the population is sleep deprived & we’re paying a massive & cognitive cost.
voluntary sleep restriction or bedtime procrastination – we go to bed late and get up early, chasing time. Shift work, flexi-time and time poverty compound the problem. It’s estimated that up to one third of the population is sleep deprived and we’re paying a massive cognitive cost.
With over 100 recognised sleep disorders to choose from, it’s a marvel any of us sleep well. Typically sleep problems fall into three categories:
• an inability to fall asleep
• difficulty maintaining sleep
• waking too early, this sometimes is a warning sign of too much worry or depression.
There’s nothing more frustrating than falling exhausted into bed and your brain then deciding it is party time, determined to keep you awake thinking. Which hints at the clue as to why this happens. Our brain, just like our young children needs to prepare itself for sleep and our modern way of living, can get in the way.
Working too hard and focusing for too long leaves us mentally and physically exhausted. We’re not designed to operate this way. Far better to instill two or three brain breaks of 10-15 minutes into our day where we uncouple from that heavy lifting thinking of focus, decision making and problem solving to allow the mind a quick dip down the nearest rabbit hole for a little mind wander, to enjoy unfocused or reflective thought. However, this is not the time for updating your social media!
Technology excites the brain, increasing the rate of neuronal firing even with a yellow rather than blue backlight. Switching off from all technology at least 40 minutes before bed and keeping the bedroom for sleep and sex only, helps calm the mind to prepare for sleep.
Increasing daytime physical activity, regular aerobic exercise and relaxation techniques including breathing exercises, listening to music and meditation have
all been shown to enhance sleep and provide better brain health.
Avoid the sleep poisons of alcohol, caffeine and smoking. Two glasses of wine in the evening is enough to halve the amount of time spent in REM sleep required for consolidating memory. Caffeine competes with a naturally occurring compound called adenosine produced in increasing amounts across the day that prepares us for sleep by slowing down the rate of neuronal firing. With a half-life of 6 hours, that late cup of afternoon coffee is enough to interfere with normal sleep patterns unless you are one of the fortunate few who can metabolise caffeine at a faster rate.
Naps disparagingly previously called nanna naps have been rebranded as Power Naps. The 15-20-minute snooze has been revealed as the best way for everyone young and old to revive an overtired brain, boosting creativity, attention and alertness for several hours. Best of all you don’t even need to fall fully asleep, resting with your eyes closed works just as well. But do time your nap before 3 pm, to avoid disturbing your nocturnal slumber.
Poor sleep patterns can quickly become entrenched. So, if you’re not sleeping like a baby and daytime fatigue is getting you down, it’s time to chat to your medical practitioner. Many types of sleep problems can readily be resolved by adopting good sleep hygiene habits and implementing some lifestyle modifications and your brain will thank you for that. So, sleep for better brain health is vital.
Dr Jenny Brockis is a Medical Practitioner and specialises in the science of high performance thinking. Jenny’s approach to overcoming life’s challenges is based on practical neuroscience which enables people to understand their thoughts and actions leading to effective behavioural change. Jenny is the author of ‘Future Brain - the 12 Keys to Create Your High-Performance Brain’ and may be contacted via her website.