How to Master the Power of Sleep?
We’ve all stayed up too late: binging our favorite show or cramming for tomorrow’s test. Yet, we know the next day we’ll feel groggy and tired. What many of us don’t realize is the severe impacts bad sleep habits can have on our brains. Inside our heads, between our neurons, sleep deprivation leads to negative emotions, difficulty concentrating or remembering, and can even cause several degenerative brain diseases. Nor is this damage always reversible. Sleep is more potent than we thought. It soothes the mind and fixes the brain. But with many of us failing to get a solid eight hours, how do we master sleep?
The Power of Sleep
During sleep, your brain sets to work consolidating memories. All the packages of information your mind picks up over the day are filed away at night. Unwanted information is discarded. Connections between information are made, improving understanding and creativity.
In a Nurses’ Health Study, older women’s sleep duration was evaluated between 1986 and 2000. By the end, women who slept five hours or fewer per night were mentally two years older than those who got the standard seven-to-eight hours. Their cognition had slowed, as they struggled to keep up with their well-rested counterparts. Furthermore, a study of 138 people, in which participants were split into two groups, one awake all-night, the other getting a regular night’s sleep, found a 30% increase in errors. Reaction times are also known to slow down. Imagine driving a car, only for a child to jump into the road; Or picture the young doctor working a twelve-hour shift, prescribing drugs to your grandma.
The benefits of sleep doesn’t stop there. Toxic chemicals that build-up while we are wide awake, are flushed out the system at night. This is because our brains shrink during sleep, allowing the brain’s sewer system to open up. However, if we don’t sleep, these toxic chemicals can have damaging effects.
In a study in mice, researchers found that waste removal occurred 10 times faster when sleeping. Worryingly, some of these chemicals are associated with dementia. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan both famously slept very little. The Iron Lady got by with only four hours a night. While some people can survive on barely any sleep, it should be highlighted, both died of Alzheimer’s Disease, although Reagan was a notable napper.
If you’re still skeptical, consider the terrifying condition of fatal insomnia. For such patients, around middle-age, sleep disappears. Lethargy and confusion begin to set in. They become forgetful. Eventually, they see hallucinations, as weight is shed from their body. Finally, dementia occurs, until sadly and inevitably, they die. The condition is inherited; however, it’s a somber lesson for the rest of us: get some sleep!
Relearning How to Sleep
Keeping our brains in peak condition is essential for everyday functioning. It’s the difference between passing a test and failing, getting the promotion or slacking off. Yet, we can’t seem to shut off our screens and nod off. A worrying 35% of US adults don’t get the recommended 7 hours of sleep a night. So, what can we do to improve our sleep and get more of it?
1. Cut the caffeine: Caffeine is known to kickstart the brain. However, the reverse is true at night. Caffeine blocks the natural hormone adenosine, which builds up through the day creating ‘sleep pressure’. Without this sleep pressure, our brains stay wide awake. Therefore, avoid drinking caffeine after 2 pm, as studies have shown effects on sleep up to 6 hours after consumption.
2. Dim the screens: As we evolved, we associated blue light with the day. It’s hardwired into our physiology. However, with the advent of modern screens, we are drenched in blue light at night, preventing sleep. If you can, put down your phone an hour before bed, or get an app to change the light from blue to orange.
3. Keep your bed for sleep: Avoid reading or watching television in bed. Instead, try to keep it as a place purely for sleep. Doing so will train your brain to associate bed with sleep. This is known as ‘sleep hygiene’. In children sleep hygiene has significant benefits, improving sleep by almost 20% in youngsters with ADHD and insomnia. But adults can benefit too.
4. Drop the temperature: Our bodies naturally require a colder room to sleep. However, it will also improve the quality and depth of sleep. Aim for 60 to 68F degrees. A study examining data from 765,000 respondents discovered abnormal sleep patterns were most prominent in the summer months. So, crack open a window.
5. Lay off the booze: Alcohol depresses your central nervous system. That might sound like a good thing for sleep. No doubt, you’ll pass out. But by depressing the brain, alcohol prevents all those vital functions of sleep. A review of 27 studies found alcohol did not improve sleep quality, with a pronounced effect on REM sleep — involved with dreaming. Alcoholics are known to have hallucinations when they sober up. This is because the brain is trying to catch up on REM sleep, and it bleeds through into reality. So, cut out alcohol before bed. Give yourself at least an hour or two.
So, sleep is vital to our functioning. It helps our memories lodge in our brains, improving our understanding. Plus, without sleep, harmful chemicals build up with potentially disastrous effects. However, employing a few simple tips, such as dropping the temperature or avoiding blue light can improve the quality of our sleep. Try to get 7 to 8 hours per night for maximum benefits. But, while you’re still wide awake, don’t forget to download our app to learn about boosting the brain. Just remember to put away your phone when it’s time for bed!