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Better Sleep Council spokeswoman Lissa Coffey shares three reasons why sleep is essential for brain health.
We all know that sleep is essential for good health. But did you know just how important sleep is for the health of the brain? Even though we may be fast asleep, the brain is still working for us, still functioning and doing its job to keep us healthy.
Here are just three (of the many!) ways that sleep helps us keep our brains in tip-top shape.
Sleep gives our brains the chance to rest and reset.
The brain is always active, with neurons constantly firing. When we are awake, we constantly have jobs for the brain to do; it’s always busy working for us. Then, when we go to sleep, the brain has a chance to catch up and to clear out and recycle toxins through a drainage system called the “glymphatic system.” This is vital because scientists say that a build-up of waste products in the brain is linked to various brain disorders.
Sleep improves our learning capability and capacity by helping the brain to create and consolidate memories.
The learning process is made up of the 3 Rs: Reception, Retention, and Recall. Getting a good night’s sleep before we learn something helps the brain to be more receptive; sleep prepares the brain for learning. Good sleep before we learn also helps the brain to retain short-term memory, so we learn more quickly. Then after we have learned something, it is important to get a good night’s sleep so that we improve our long-term memory and our recall. Sleep helps the memories to “stick” so that we can retrieve them when we need them.
Sleep helps us make connections and regulate emotions.
During sleep, our brain can make unexpected connections that might now have been seen in the waking state. How many times have you woken up with that “aha” moment or been able to solve a problem that has eluded you during the day? Sleep gives the brain a chance to process all the various stimuli that we are exposed to during the day, bringing some order to it all. It helps us make sense of things and pick out what is relevant in any given situation.
Sleep is also a great tool for helping us to process emotions. It gives us a different perspective on things. So the tip to “sleep on it” before making a big decision is definitely good advice! On the other hand, the phrase “Never go to bed angry” is not good advice. Rather than stay up all night fighting and wearing yourselves out, call a time-out and get some sleep. Chances are that you’ll wake up with a new outlook, and the anger will have subsided. Relationship saved!
There are two great ways to ensure that you get a good night’s sleep.
The first is to have a sleep routine. Get to bed at the same time each night. Turn off all technology one hour before bedtime. Computer screens keep the brain active, so it’s hard to wind down when you go straight from the screen to bed. Instead, use this time to read a relaxing book, listen to some music, do some gentle yoga poses, or take a nice bath. You need that transition time between activity and sleep.
The second way to get a good night’s sleep is to create for yourself a sleep sanctuary. A mattress is the foundation of a good night’s sleep. Make sure you have the best mattress that you can afford, and check often for signs of wear and tear. If your mattress is older than 5-7 years old, it’s probably time for a new one. Make sure your room is cool, dark, and comfortable. Keep clutter out of the bedroom, and make sure that your bedroom doesn’t look like an office. Your bedroom should be used for sleep and sex only!