A number of people have asked me whether sleep has anything to do with brain fitness. The answer is, simply, yes. Many people feel as though they aren’t doing very much when they’re sleeping, and I suppose in a sense that’s true. We don’t remember what happened while we are sleeping, and so it doesn’t seem as though it was a very active time.
The truth is, though, that a great deal is happening during sleep. Scientists don’t understand everything that happens while we are sleeping, but we know a great deal about the consequences of not sleeping well.
When we don’t sleep well, we all know we don’t feel quite as sharp the next day. But there’s more. Research shows that when someone is deprived of sleep, they don’t perform as well on cognitive tests as they do when they are well rested. More, some levels of substances associated with inflammation are elevated as well. It looks as though poor sleep over time may have negative effects on your body and mind.
What can you do if you don’t sleep well? Adequate sleep hygiene is the first step. Make sure that you have a quiet place to sleep that is kept at a comfortable temperature. Keep distractions to a minimum. Avoid caffeine and alcohol near bed time. Some people can’t drink caffeinated beverages after noon, and some people have to quit drinking anything with caffeine at all. Smoking can disrupt sleep – nicotine can keep you awake, and some smokers wake up in the middle of night because their levels of nicotine go down during the night. Help your mind and body calm down at least an hour before going to sleep by stopping work or other mentally stimulating activities.
Probably one of the most important things you can do is to have a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. If you don’t sleep well on one night, don’t try to make up for it by sleeping late. Avoid naps during the day. Naps reduce the pressure to sleep at night, making it less likely that you’ll be able to sleep well. Exercising during the day, and getting exposure to sunlight during the morning may help you regulate the daily rhythms that help you to sleep.
If these things don’t work, see your doctor. A number of sleep problems may require special treatments. A qualified sleep doctor can help you sleep better, and sleeping better is a critical way for you to keep your brain fit.