Get a Better Night's Sleep - Your Brain Will Thank You for It!
Many people believe that sleeping poorly is a normal part of the aging process. However, according to the National Institute on Aging, “Many healthy older adults report few or no sleep problems.” Although sleep patterns do change as we age, waking up tired every morning due to sleep difficulties is far from normal.
We’ve all felt the effects of a fitful night of sleep - being unfocused and forgetful. But did you know that continued sleep deprivation leads to lasting cognitive issues? That’s right!
According to neuroscientists in a 2013 University of California, Berkeley study, lack of sleep can cause permanent cognitive deterioration. They found that as the quality of sleep declined so did the ability to retain lasting memories.
Chronic and acute sleep deprivation has a negative impact on many cognitive processes. There is a loss of attention and alertness. Memory is adversely affected. Response times are slower. Reasoning skills are impaired. Even visual-motor skills are negatively impacted.
Sleep deficiencies affect some aspects of cognition more than others do. Innovative and creative mental processes are more negatively affected than planning and decision making processes.
Sleep Deprivation is Serious
Sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. According to Psychology Today, it affects core biological functions – physically and mentally … and can be more damaging than cutting off a finger. It even leads to death! You can't get much more serious than that!
Sleep is a basic need … as important as the air we breathe, or the food we eat. It is essential to good health, both mentally and physically.
Insufficient sleep makes us grumpy and irritable. It causes us to be accident-prone.
Sleep deprivation affects quality of life. At its worst, it can be life threatening. It played a major role in the accident of the Space Shuttle Challenger. It set the stage for the accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island nuclear plants. When you don’t get a good night’s sleep, a number of problems can develop. These include:
• Shorter attention spans
• Problems with memory
• Daytime sleepiness
• Nighttime falls
Studies have shown that adults who regularly get less than six hours of sleep per night are four times more likely to suffer a stroke.
How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep
Older individuals often have more trouble falling asleep. They sleep less deeply and wake up more often throughout the night. They may have more psychiatric or medical issues that affect their ability to sleep soundly.
But getting a good night’s sleep can be a problem for people of all ages. In the U.S., 40 million people suffer from chronic sleep disorders. Sixty-two percent endure sleep difficulties several nights a week. Thirty percent of all adults deal with insomnia at any given time.
With numbers like these, many people are searching for ways to improve their ability to get a good night’s sleep. What can you do?
Keep a Regular Sleep Schedule: We have all heard this repeatedly. Consistency is vitally important. Go to bed at the same time every night. Wake up at the same time every morning. It is better to take a short nap (30 minutes) during the day rather than sleeping in to make up for any sleep debt.
Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine and Atmosphere: Train your brain to relax and unwind to fall asleep easier and sleep more deeply.
• Eliminate or mask noise. You can buy a special sound machine to produce soothing sounds or white noise to mask the noises that intrude upon your sleep.
• A slightly cool bedroom (around 65° F or 18° C) creates a better sleeping environment.
• Make sure your bed is comfortable. You need enough room to stretch and turn comfortably. You may need to invest in a new bed or pillow if you often wake up with an aching back or sore neck.
• Eliminate all activities from your bed except sleeping and sex.
• Create relaxing bedtime rituals. Examples: take a warm bath or shower; read a book or magazine (no backlit devices such as computers or iPads); listen to soft soothing music; do easy stretching exercises.
• Practice relaxation techniques to clear your mind and wind down from your day. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation and visualization will prepare your body and mind for a good night’s sleep.
Consider your Eating Habits: It’s especially important the closer you get to bedtime.
• Eliminate caffeine from your diet. If not totally, then at least the last half of the day. It can affect sleep up to twelve hours after drinking it!
• Avoid big meals at night. Schedule dinnertime earlier in the evening.
• If you suffer from heartburn, avoid acidic and spicy foods in the evening.
• Don’t eat heavy, rich or fatty foods close to bedtime.
• Avoid drinking alcohol several hours prior to bedtime. Although it may help you fall asleep faster, it reduces your quality of sleep.
• Limit fluid consumption later in the day, especially after the evening meal. This cuts down on the frequent trips to the bathroom that disturbs sleep. Caffeinated drinks, which act as diuretics, are the worst!
• Quit smoking! Nicotine, which is a stimulant, keeps you awake. Nicotine withdrawal occurs as the night progresses making it hard to get a good night’s sleep.
• If you must eat just prior to going to bed, choose a light snack. Carbohydrates paired with tryptophan-containing foods may help you sleep better. Suggestions: half a turkey sandwich, a banana, granola with yogurt, or a small bowl of low-sugar whole-grain cereal.
Exercise Regularly: 20 to 30 minutes per day will do the trick. Do it all at once or break it up into smaller increments of time. It is beneficial either way. Strenuous exercise too close to bedtime, however, can stimulate the body, causing sleep problems. Gentle stretching or yoga right before retiring can promote restful sleep.
If All Else Fails, Seek Professional Help
If a good night’s sleep continues to elude you, it might be time for professional help. A professional will be able to determine if you have a sleep disorder. They will be able to provide you with referrals to other doctors or give you a prescription.
Listen to your brain and body when it cries out to you for a better night's sleep. It just might save your life!
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