What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.
Okay, I have to apologize because I've been sleeping on this blog. I hate to make excuses, but I've been content and busy with a new job, fully immersing myself in SoCal living (I mean, I even bought a long board and a sun umbrella), marathon training and getting my Zzzzz's. Without further ado, welcome to installment 5/6 in my brain health series! This series is inspired by 'The Alzheimer's Solution' by Drs. Dean and Ayesha Sherazi. In my first post, I explained that lifestyle choices can prevent up to 90% of Alzheimer's cases. For the 10% of cases that can't be prevented due to very strong genetic risk (such as in those that carry the APOE4 gene), lifestyle changes can delay presentation or progression of the disease by up to 15 years. There are 5 main lifestyle tenets for optimizing brain health that I am covering over the course of this blog series. They include nutrition, exercise, stress management, sleep and regularly engaging in complex cognitive activities. The focus of this post is slumber and its impact on brain health.·
Do you awake feeling rested and restored in the morning? How do you feel throughout the day in terms of energy and mental clarity?
Restorative sleep is crucial for cognitive and overall health. We often think of our bodies and brains as being inactive during sleep, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Our brains are active in a very different kind of energetic state that promotes removal of toxins, oxidative by-products and amyloid. It's also busy consolidating memories and thoughts, in other words short-term memories are converted into long-term memories, unneeded memories are eliminated, thought processes are organized and new connections are built. A shortage of quality sleep impairs your focus, processing speed, short-term memory and disrupts your circadian rhythm.
If that wasn't important enough, restorative sleep has other bennies too:
- Better mood
- Better immunity
- An average of 11% less on health care spending.
- Less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol
- Weight regulation
- Improved libido
And now for a brief synopsis of the sleep cycle that you'll be more likely to remember after some solid shut-eye. Sleep is characterized by 2 different cycles: NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement)
NREM is divided into 3 phases:
- N1: Light sleep, which lasts between 1-7 minutes. It’s a transitional stage in which a person can be easily awoken with soft noise.
- N2: Lasts 10-25 minutes. Heart rate and body temp fall and memory consolidation begins.
- N3: Deepest stage during which we experience slow wave sleep and are less responsive to external environment. Norepinephrine, serotonin, acetylcholine and histamine all decrease while growth hormone peaks. Memories from the previous day are processed, transmitted from cell to cell and ultimately converted into long-term memories. Amyloid (the plaque link to Alzheimer's) is cleared during this stage.
REM lasts between 20-40 minutes. Most dreams, especially the really vivid and memorable ones, occur in this stage. Our muscles are paralyzed and the brain’s reticular activating system (which controls our level of consciousness) is inhibited. This stage allows the brain to organize information and restructure itself by integrating memories into a larger neural network.
The entire sleep cycle lasts about 90 min and we pass through an average of 4-6 cycles per night. Though there are a small number of people who pass through sleep cycles more rapidly and therefore function very well on only 6 hours of sleep, most people need at least 7 hours per night. Seven to eight seems to be the sweet spot though. In several studies those who averaged 6 or 9 hours of sleep per night scored lower on cognitive tests than those who got 7-8. Why is more sleep not necessarily better? Well, too much sleep means less time to keep your mind active and engaged during the day (more on this in post 6), but also excess sleep is usually indicative of a underlying health disorder or sleep deprivation earlier in the week.
But what if I WANT to sleep and I CAN'T
A lot of us overlook some important things that may keep us tossing and turning like:
- Not enough exposure to daylight. When we’re exposed to daylight, the pineal gland, goes to work producing melatonin (a hormone that makes us feel sleepy). When the sun goes down, the pineal gland actively secretes melatonin and releases it into the blood at around 9pm. Roughly 12 hours later, at around 9am, melatonin levels fall rapidly and we become more alert. Rise and shine.
- Inactivity or exercising too closely to bedtime
- Too much caffeine after 2 pm
- Eating/drinking too closely to bedtime (especially chocolate, sugary, high-fat and spicy foods, citrus juices and excess alcohol)
- Screens (like the one you're reading this or swiping through Tinder on).
- Less than ideal bedroom environment (too light, too noisy, too warm)
Ok, so what can I DO to get a solid 8?
Well for starters, avoid doing the things listed immediately above. The following recommendations are not part of the Alzheimer's solution, but rather are my own suggestions.
- Take a warm bath to relax your bod
- Meditate or practice deep breathing/relaxation exercises before you hit the sheets. I love the sleep section on the app Insight Timer.
- Have sex. As Ariana Huffington says, 'an orgasm is nature's ambien'. O-yeah.
- Use relaxing essential oils, like Lavender, in a diffuser or on your pillow
- Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time everyday. Your circadian rhythm is into structure.
- Give CBD a try. It's legal in all 50 states and is a proven insomnia buster.
Time to get horizontal. Good night, sleeping beauty.