Do you ever have a hard time “unplugging” at night? Do you find it tough to shut off the television and stop scrolling through social media? We tend to be overstimulated all day long, that can be hard to relax when it’s time to wind down for bed. Our brains are going a mile a minute, and it can make falling (and staying) asleep a true challenge. For some people it happens occasionally, but for others it’s a constant struggle.
SOCIETY AND PERSONAL SITUATIONS IMPACT US
Many of us have grown up hearing “You snooze, you lose,” and “You can sleep when you’re dead.” Our society has the attitude that if you want to succeed or get ahead in life, you’ve got to hustle. And while there are most definitely fruits of hard work, pushing ourselves to exhaustion comes with consequences.
According to a recent poll, 40% of Americans are sleep deprived meaning they are getting less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep a night. Studies show that adults need between 7-9 hours a sleep for optimal brain health.
Some of you are probably wondering how can people get 7 hours of sleep, much less 9. Maybe you’re a single parent, you work a night shift, or you work two jobs to make ends meet. There just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day. I totally understand. When I was a single parent with little ones and in the throws of managing my pottery business (which included travel), I definitely suffered from lack of sleep. My schedule was 24-7 with very little downtime. There were times that I pulled all nighters to get ready for upcoming shows, and I felt the effects on my mind and body. The lack of sleep made me feel emotionally fragile. My small problems seemed like big problems. I was exhausted and consequently suffered from depression and anxiety for many years.
OUR BRAINS NEED SLEEP
Arianna Huffington wrote the book, The Sleep Evolution. It’s a must read, and a book you’ll want to share with friends and family. Arianna details the science, history, and culture of the role that sleep plays in our lives. I’d like to share some of the highlights here, and key in on her wisdom around brain health.
As some of us may have heard, scientists are starting to unravel the connection between sleep and memory. A recent study from the University of California, Berkeley, found that there is a circular relationship between poor sleep and poor memory, based on the protein beta-amyloid (believed to be the cause of Alzheimer’s). “The more beta-amyloid you have in certain parts of your brain, the less deep sleep you get and, consequently, the worse your memory,” said lead author, neuroscientist Matthew Walker. “Additionally, the less deep sleep you have, the less effective you are. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Sleep plays a deeper role in brain maintenance. While we sleep the brain is able to get rid of toxins, including proteins that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Even so, sleep deprivation has a strong connection with mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. When you find depression, and you dig deeper, studies show that 80-90 percent of the time you find a lack of sleep.
SEARCH FOR ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS
Sleep deprivation is a rising issue for millions of Americans. And unfortunately more often than not, people share their concerns with their medical professionals and end up leaving their appointments with a prescription for a sleep aid.
Try committing to alternative options before turning straight to Ambien or Lunesta. There are many side effects of these drugs including daytime sleepiness, not being able to think clearly, acting out of character, feeling confused or upset, and walking, eating, driving or engaging in other activities while asleep. Other abnormal behaviors are aggressiveness, agitation, hallucinations and confusion. In depressed patients, the depression is worsened and there is an increased risk of suicide.
The FDA admits that these drugs are not fully researched. Studies show that Xanax and Restoril (which are also used for sleep disorders) increase the risk of Alzheimer’s by 32 percent after being used for just three to six months and by 84 percent after six months of use. These statistics are hard to comprehend, and sadly so few people know the risks associated. Some will ask to be weened off once they learn this information, and other will choose to ignore it in exchange for the short-term benefits.
SMALL CHANGES CAN MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE
- Eliminate ALL stimulants after 2:00 p.m.
- Wind down at night an hour before bedtime by turning off all electronics and reading a book instead of watching television. It’s not just the blue light emitted from these devices, but the content is a potential problem as well.
- Lower the temperature in your home below 75 degrees while sleeping.
- Exercise daily. It could be as simple as an evening brisk walk after dinner.
- Avoid sugary and/or spicy foods before bedtime. Yes, that means ice cream…I’m sorry! Also, there’s been scientific evidence of avoiding salty foods and scary movies.
- If you’re staying up late worrying about your never-completed to-do lists, then try the “mind dump” by making a list of everything you need to get done before you enter your bedroom for bedtime.
- Initiate popular breathing techniques such as Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 method.
- Prop up a few pillows and meditate.
- Start a gratitude list focusing on the blessings in our lives.
If you’re having sleep issues, then I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of Arianna Huffington’s book, The Sleep Revolution. I never thought I’d be reading a self-help book on sleep, but I did! Sleep is not something to take lightly, so do yourself a huge favor and prioritize your rest and inevitably your brain health.