Why is sleep important?
Sleep underpins almost every aspect of our health including our diet and energy levels. As a result, poor sleep can greatly impact both our physical and mental health¹. From its impact on the immune system², to disrupting blood sugar levels (a risk factor for insulin resistance and diabetes)³, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease⁴, and even triggering the onset or relapse of psychiatric conditions⁵, the effects of poor sleep can be far-reaching.
Evidence also suggests that sleep can reduce the risk or severity of cognitive decline in the ageing process⁶, and there is a link between sleep and dementia. Sleep is one of the many risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Longitudinal studies have found an association between AD and disrupted sleep during adult life7, while emerging research suggests that the way in which sleep disruption and AD interact can influence the cause of the condition and also exacerbate it6.
Getting better sleep
One of the worst habits for your brain is failing to get adequate sleep. So, it’s time to take control and try to adopt good sleep habits which can in turn help make sleep a more consistent part of your routine.
Avoid stimulants before bed
Most of us know that too much caffeine can play havoc with our sleep. But did you know that alcohol can also have a stimulating effect, causing us to wake up more often in the night? Alcohol can also interfere with REM sleep (our dream sleep)8: REM sleep plays a crucial role in learning and emotional processing9, and even small amounts of alcohol can impair our cognitive performance the next day.
Keep regular sleep hours
Aim to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on the weekend. A regular sleep-wake cycle helps regulate our internal body clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which in turn regulates our circadian rhythm.
Try to avoid napping during the day as it can affect the quality of your sleep at night. If napping is a must, keep it to no more than 20 minutes and avoid napping after 3pm. The best time to nap is between 12 to 3pm.
Reserve the bedroom for sleep and sex
Part of creating good sleep habits, according to the approach taken in cognitive behavioural therapy, is to use stimulus control techniques to help you associate your bed specifically with sleep8. Avoid scrolling through your phone or watching TV in the bedroom, as this can break the association between your bed and sleep. It’s important to reduce any cognitive processing before bed and to lower our heart rate to help get a good night’s rest.
Changing your sleep habits requires time and effort but it’s entirely possible, and it’s something that could bring numerous benefits to your brain health. So, this week, why not try adopting one of the above techniques, and introduce more over time. Gradually you may just find yourself sleeping better—and your cognitive health may benefit too in the process.