by Charles Weller January 29, 2014
It is a common scenario – you wake up feeling foggy in the head (“zombified”) or seem to be completely useless shortly after lunch. Although you may be be focusing on treating your body well, research indicates that you may also need to focus on getting a good night’s sleep to help support overall brain health and function throughout the day.
Recent studies show that regular, uninterrupted sleep is necessary – critical even – for your brain. Sleep allows your body time to rid itself of toxins and other harmful substances that are damaging to neurons. Moreover, sleep deprivation can be especially damaging. Specifically, research indicates that particular enzymes characteristic of cell damage associated with cognitive problems and memory loss are higher when your brain is deprived of sleep.
What does this mean? In essence, sleep loss or not getting adequate sleep, although not as equally harmful as a head injury, can be detrimental to brain health and proper function. A sound slumber can help you feel more energetic, keep your mood high, and allow you to be more productive. So if you want to stay sharp, on your “A” game, and have enough mental energy all day, here are some quick tips that can help make sure you are getting good sleep.
Of course it would be ideal to get a solid 8 hours of sleep every night. However, one thing that can help you achieve more consistent sleep is setting a sleep schedule. Try going to bed at the same time every night (or as close as possible), and wake at the same time in the morning. Even on weekends, this simple routine will keep your body’s inner clock regular, allowing your sleep to be better and more restful.
Vigorous exercise can be incredibly beneficial for a great sleep. For obvious reasons, you will be more tired and ready to sleep when it’s time to rest. However, it is important that you also make sure you allow enough time to cool down before rest. Research indicates that exercise elevates your body temperature for several hours post-workout – inhibiting sleep.
Although it is tempting to ward off that afternoon fogginess with a cup of coffee, tea or soda, caffeine stays in your system for about 8 hours. Caffeine is a stimulant, and can prevent your brain from hitting the deep stages of sleep during the night (you may find yourself tossing and turning even if you are sleeping). So if you are planning on getting to sleep before midnight, try limiting your caffeine intake after 3pm.
Nothing is better for making progress than tracking activity. Keeping a sleep diary is a great way to see how consistent your sleep habits are, as well as how you can improve. It is also helpful to keep a log of general activities, stresses, and food or drinks during the day, as well as mood and energy levels. Then you will be able to take a step back and see certain patterns and how you can change them if necessary.
It is not uncommon for you to be feel exhausted or worn out by the end of the day, particularly if it was overly stressful or filled with something out of your normal routine (parties, trips, social functions). Although it can be tempting to hop into bed or “crash” on the couch, you (and your body/brain) will benefit from even a short bit of unwinding time. A warm shower, a few minutes to catch up on some easy reading, or even something more structured like meditation are incredibly beneficial when it’s bedtime. Not only will you find yourself falling asleep much quicker and easier, but you will benefit from a deeper and more restful sleep come morning!