How to build a healthy brain – Part 2: Sleep
In my last post I discussed some very interesting and promising evidence supporting the significant ‘brain boosts’ that come from regular exercise and activity. This evidence supports the idea that brain health markers improve when performing semi-regular (one or two sessions per week), intense workouts; and that resistance training is emerging as the preferred method for such training. There also seems to be a lot of benefits to moderate intensity activities like hiking, skating, skiing, etc. as well; and may well be worth working both into your lifestyle for optimal impact on brain function.
How does sleep affect brain health?
It makes sense to assume that if you don’t get enough “ZZZ’s” that your attention and memory will be compromised. In addition to a fuzzy memory and attention span, when we don’t get enough high quality sleep we feel moody, it becomes harder to concentrate on tasks, we cannot store or recall information as well or as quickly and our decision making suffers.
In fact, I’m sure you’ve experienced some or all of these symptoms at some point in your life first hand after a poor nights sleep. Please take 10 minutes of your day and watch this fascinating talk by Jeff Iliff, neuroscientist at Oregon health and science university, as he discusses a fascinating new (2014) discovery on the necessity of sleep in keeping our brains healthy. Enjoy!
Summary from Jeff’s talk:
- when you sleep it ‘clears your mind’ / when you don’t, it leaves your mind (literally) ‘murky’
- the brain uses up to 1/4 of the body’s energy at only 2% of it’s mass
- Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) cleans out waste products from our brains daily activity
- poor sleep habits could contribute to Alzheimer’s
Tips to create healthy sleep habits
I recently listened to a podcast interviewing sleep expert, Dan Pardi. He performs research with the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Department at Stanford and the Departments of Neurology and Endocrinology at Leiden University in the Netherlands. I have abstracted some key points to improve sleep habits from his interview and summarized them below:
- Get at least a half hour of outdoor light (‘blue light’) exposure every day
- Try to have a little activity everyday.
- This doesn’t necessarily mean a tough workout, even a brisk walk (preferably outdoors) will do.
- Avoid alcohol 2 – 4 hours before bed (it may help you get to sleep, but deep sleep will be compromised)
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon if you are sensitive to it (you will know because it will be hard to fall asleep)
- Have a hot bath before bed
- Sleep in a cool environment
- Avoid ‘blue light’ a couple hours before bed.
- Blue light is what we are exposed to in the sun (and electronics like TV, computers, tablets and phones, etc). As it stimulates serotonin secretion, the hormone that wakes us up in the morning.
- Try eliminating all light sources in the bedroom (LED alarm clocks, ‘leaky’ blinds, etc)
- Aim for consistency with sleep and wake cycles when possible (same time to sleep, same time to wake)
- 7-8.5 hours are still recommended for full rest
- Try meditation or gentle movement / stretching before bed
Regular, high quality sleep is crucial for optimal brain performance and cognition. Not to mention may actually be a key in preventing Alzheimers disease. Try incorporating on new habit each week and test what works best for you.
I really hope that you found this helpful. Our mission is to help Nova Scotians lead a healthier, happier life with easy, sustainable approaches to their lives.
Clean your brain, go to sleep 🙂
Thank you for taking the time to read this. The next part to this series will discuss how nutrition affects brain health.