Some say we should get 8 hours, 9 hours, or maybe 10. Others say, “no, 7!” Everyone has an opinion on how much sleep we need. The bottom line is that these answers are all right (in different cases). The debate will rage on but there is likely no magic number for any person, at any age. As our needs vary based on our environment, our age, where we live, genetics, and more, we may never identify this elusive “magic number.” One thing we do know for sure is that not enough sleep will certainly have consequences on our brains and bodies, and in some cases those effects can be devastating!
Why Our Brains Need Sleep
Specific to brain function, lack of sleep has profound implications as many things occur in our brains when we sleep. What follows are just a sampling of the many processes that go on while we are getting our Z’s:
- Consolidation of memories and learned material.
- Repair of neurons and blood vessels.
- Glymphatic clearance – essentially garbage removal from the brain.
- Quieting of emotional and cognitive centers for better function when awake.
Poor Sleep Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia
A recent article by James McIntosh in Medical News Today, explores research into the link between loss of deep sleep, decreased oxygen levels while sleeping, and higher rates of dementia. This article, based on research published in the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology, discusses the evidence strongly linking those who had greater times in deep sleep and those with higher oxygen levels during sleep having significantly lower levels of dementia. What is not discussed is this particular research is the opposite impact of long sleep duration on mental health, which could have similar consequences. A late 2014 paper in the journal Neurology entitled Long Sleep Duration in Elders without Dementia Increases Risk of Dementia Mortality demonstrates strong evidence of this possibility, but this is a discussion for another day.
8 Sleep Hygiene Tips
“Sleep Hygiene” has been a hot topic in many health care arenas for some time now. Much like you would take care of your teeth or body, you need to arm yourself with sound advice to take care of your brain. This begins with sleep hygiene:
- Remove all electronic devices other than an alarm clock with adjustable lighting from your bedroom. Blue light devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops are particularly damaging to sleep quality.
- Do not eat or drink close to bedtime (roughly 2-4 hours), especially empty carbohydrates and caffeinated beverages.
- I you live in a noisy place (i.e. by train tracks, in a loud apartment building, etc.) use a white noise maker to filter out distractions.
- Do not go to bed with a full mind. Meditating, journaling, exercise, and other mind-clearing activities will allow for vastly improved sleep.
- Ensure you are sleeping on high quality beds and pillows. Some may even need hypoallergenic or organic substitutes if environmental sensitivities are an issue.
- DO NOT allow pets to sleep on your bed (unless it is a service animal). Your pets get plenty of sleep while you are gone for the day.
- If your spouse has sleep issues (e.g. snoring, restless legs, etc.), consider separate beds or even separate rooms in severe cases.
- Be routine with your sleep and respect sleep times. The work will be there tomorrow!
As always, consult a specialist if sleep disruption persists, but understand too that medications are only a short-term answer for the real problem, which needs to be accurately identified. We see in daily practice that those who don’t sleep have significant impairment in their ability to communicate, solve problems, drive, walk, and so much more. We now know too, with mounting literature, that prolonged sleeplessness can lead us to one of our greatest fears – a mind that doesn’t work right anymore. Get to bed before it’s too late!
About the Author:
Dr. Michael Trayford is a board certified Chiropractic Neurologist and founder of APEX Brain Centers. APEX Brain Centers use cutting edge techniques and technology to optimize brain function. Their program is safe, effective, research-backed and offers hope to people who are having neurological issues. Dr. Michael Trayford and his team offer help for people suffering from concussions, memory loss, Alzheimers and ADD Brain Training at APEX Brain Centers. Learn more about Brain Training at the APEX Brain Centers website.