Sleep – how much and the quality of it – has a profound and lifelong impact on the brain. When we get enough sleep and that sleep is deeply restful, the brain does beneficial housecleaning that sweeps away the toxins and waste products that accumulate in the spaces between brain cells during our waking hours.
Many of these toxins, including the beta amyloid proteins associated with Alzheimer’s Disease, if not removed, are directly responsible for neurological damage and decline, resulting in eventual cognitive impairment and dementia.
Sadly, in the the 24/7 world we find ourselves living in, routinely having good and enough sleep is harder and harder to accomplish.
However, each of us has more control over this than we may realize and it’s up to us as individuals to make every choice we are able to facilitate healthy sleep to enable our brains to the critical work each night that could be the key to whether we eventually experience cognitive decline and dementia as we age and the accumulation of neurological toxins does irreparable damage.
The first way is that we need to disconnect from technology at a certain time – early rather than later – each and every evening (and we need to commit to disconnecting completely for one 24-hour period each week).
The world will positively not end without you on the front lines of social media while you take this healthy step for your brain.
With the explosion of personal technology devices – ubiquitous availability and affordable prices – the majority of us have developed a very unhealthy relationship with them, always having them on, by our sides, and using them day and night.
As a result, our brains are being rewired to never wind down – it’s anticipating that next text or social media comment or like – and to never completely turn off.
Therefore, our sleep is not as deep nor is it as uninterrupted and long as what we actually need for good neurological health.
The long-term damage from this has yet to manifest itself, but every night that we continue to choose to stay connected and not give our brain what it needs to be healthy is another night that toxins are continuing to accumulate between our brain cells.
However, if you find you’re increasingly more forgetful, more foggy, more scattered, and more frazzled, you are very likely not getting enough sleep and not getting the quality of sleep your brain requires for it to clean up and function well.
The second way is to establish a sleep routine where we generally go to bed at the same time and wake at the same time and sleep an optimal number of hours (each of us is wired a little differently in what this number is, so it’s not hard and fast, but the routine part is something we have control over).
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recently enlisted scientists from around the world to investigate the known effects of sleep on cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, cognitive failure, and human performance and found that most adults who get seven to nine hours of sleep generally during the same time every night have the best overall health and function the best on a daily basis.
When we get fewer than seven hours of sleep, we’re impaired (to degrees that varies among individuals). When we get fewer than five hours of sleep, we are so much more impaired that we have the same car crash risk as someone who is drunk and driving (this risk is four times higher than that of people who’ve had seven hours of sleep).
When our sleep persistently falls below six hours per 24, we are exponentially upping our risk of developing serious systemic, including neurological, health problems.
Even with six hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, our cognitive abilities take a nose dive. We are markedly slower in our thinking, our reasoning, our responses, our reactions and our ability to learn. Accidents of all sorts and severity are much more probable when we haven’t gotten enough sleep.
A final way to improve our sleep is to stop trying to short-circuit it. The most common way we all do this is through stimulants, with caffeine in the form of coffee or tea leading the way.
We, I assume, have all, at some point in our lives, pulled those all-nighters – work and/or taking care of our loved ones – when caffeine was the only choice we had to try to function the next day.
However, if this is what we’re doing routinely instead of getting sleep when we are able and the kind and time of sleep we need, we are doing great harm to ourselves and to our brains.
While the body can seemingly function indefinitely on stimulants, there is a lot of damage – and self-delusion – going on behind the scenes. Most notably, the cardiovascular system is being overworked and weakened and the brain is not able to clear itself of toxins.
Longterm short-circuiting of sleep through the use of stimulants, therefore, will lead to cardiovascular disease and cognitive impairment/dementia and will ultimately be fatal, perhaps drastically shortening our lives from the number of days that were allotted to us by our Creator.
We all have much more control over the quantity and quality of our sleep than we often allow ourselves to admit.
However, it’s up to each of to take responsibility for that and learn to exercise the self-discipline and self-control that ensures that we are getting enough sleep and the quality of sleep that will give us the best opportunity for optimal physical and neurological health, not only now, but in the years to come.
If you’re not persuaded yet, take some time to answer this question.
If you don’t take care of yourself now and make the wise choices to ensure good physical and neurological health, what will happen to you when your body and your mind fails in the future because of that?