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The Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep

You really are harming your brain when you don’t get a good night’s sleep.

Most people think that when you sleep, your brain goes to sleep too.  “Not true” says Duke University brain researcher P. Murali Doriaswamy, MD.  He states there are several parts of the brain that are more active at night than during the daytime.  These parts help clear out and recycle all of your brain’s toxins.  In particular, one protein which is recycled during sleep is involved in developing certain amyloid plaques – thought to be a marker for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Extensive periods of sleep deprivation can injure neurons essential for alertness and cognition, and lead to irreversible brain damage and decreased brain volume.   It’s not clear whether the lack of sleep cause the brain to shrink or whether a smaller brain makes it harder to sleep.   Either way, a good night’s sleep helps to repair daily wear and tear on the brain.

Unfortunately short naps during the day aren’t the answer   Naps simply don’t provide the necessary restorative benefits as a full night’s sleep.   And people who think they’ve “adjusted” to sleeping only four or five hours per night are wrong.  Memory tests show they are not functioning optimally.

What can you do to ensure a good night’s sleep?

  • Establish a routine. Good to bed and get up at the same time every day – even on weekends.
  • Do the same things every night that trigger your brain that it’s time to wind down – a warm bath, listening to soothing music. Be wary of reading or watching television as these can over-stimulate the brain.
  • Don’t go to bed hungry or stuffed. Limits how much you drink before bed to minimize those middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom.
  • Avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol.
  • Create a room that’s ideal for sleeping – cool, dark and quiet.
  • Make sure your pillow and mattress are comfortable for you.
  • Avoid daytime naps. If you must nap, limit yourself to 10 – 30 minute naps.
  • Regular physical activity can promote better sleep. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime.  You might be too energized to fall asleep.
  • Sunlight affects the brain’s sleep-wake rhythms. So if you work night shift and must sleep during the day, make sure to completely block out sunlight in your room.

At times we all have sleepless nights or trouble falling asleep – our brain simply won’t “shut off.”.  When this happens consider healthy ways to manage stress.  Write down what’s on your mind and set it aside for tomorrow.  Set priorities and delegate tasks.  Identifying a adressing underlying causes can help you get the better sleep you need and deserve.