The healing power of sleep for your brain
When it comes to brain health, there’s nothing as powerful as sleep. It’s absolutely vital for detoxifying and cleansing every cell in the body. Brain cells are no exception to this.
Have you ever found it hard to focus after a bad night’s sleep? If yes, you’ll know exactly how closely linked sleep and brain health can be, and looking at the bigger picture, chronic lack of sleep can lead to cognitive decline.
How can you support your brain through better sleep?
Melatonin is the hormone responsible for a restful sleep, but as we get older we produce less of it, hence why we may find it harder to sleep well as the years go by.
Why are melatonin and serotonin so significant for good sleep?
Melatonin is a hormone that our brain produces in response to darkness. It helps with the timing of our circadian rhythms (24-hour internal clock) and with sleep.
Several things can affect the production of melatonin, including artificial light which inhibits the production and levels of our serotonin.
Serotonin – the precursor to melatonin – is a neurotransmitter found mostly in the digestive system (although it’s also found in blood platelets and throughout the central nervous system).
It’s referred to as the happy brain chemical and is made from the foods we eat. The lower our serotonin levels are, the more inclined we can be to experience mood disorders, such as anxiety or depression. The key to achieving a healthy level of serotonin is through a balanced diet.
Melatonin also has a significant role to play in neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s as it is an antioxidant that helps to optimise the healthy functioning of our nerves and brain tissue.
In a nutshell, a good night’s sleep is dependent upon healthy melatonin production, which relies on sufficient levels of serotonin.
Healthy sleep habits for a healthy brain
So, how can we aim for what feels like that impossible dream of 8-hours sleep a night? Here are some of my top tips and sleep strategies to help you achieve a happier, healthier lifestyle:
First things first, creating a sleep ritual of little things you do every night before bed can help you to get your system physically and psychologically prepared for sleep and guide your body into a deep, and healing relaxation mode.
It may take some weeks to bed in, but trying the following tips in a coordinated way will help you work towards resetting your biological rhythms:
- Ensure you get exposure to natural light in the daytime. When you wake, open the curtains to let in the daylight and try taking a walk after lunch.
- Avoid screens and fluorescent lighting before bedtime. These emit blue light which suppresses melatonin production. Try using the ‘night shift’ setting on your phone in the evening to help reduce blue light exposure. Or even better, turn it off a couple of hours before bed!
- Fight after dinner drowsiness, otherwise you will find yourself waking through the night. Instead, consider having an earlier meal (at least 3 hours before bed) and a walk or a gentle yoga class before bed.
- Avoid late night snacking as this can play havoc with blood sugars and cause night-time waking. Instead, have a cup of chamomile tea which acts as a mild sedative to get you feeling sleepy.
- Take a bath or shower in the evening. The drop in body temperature helps stimulate the release of melatonin – our sleep hormone. Epsom salts or magnesium salts in a bath can aid muscle relaxation too.
- Fatty, spicy or rich, heavy foods are best avoided in the evening, as is eating in the 3 hours before bedtime. Food suppresses melatonin and means that your body is having to work hard to digest food at exactly the time it should be getting ready for sleep.
- Try to avoid alcohol. It may help you get to sleep but it does cause interruptions in sleep and poor-quality sleep.
- Ideally no caffeine after midday – some people can take up to 12 hours to metabolise caffeine! That mid-afternoon caffeine pick-me-up can still be lingering in your system long into the night. Make sure this includes any medication that contains caffeine, for example, headache tablets.
- Naps can be beneficial by improving alertness and cognitive function but if you suffer from insomnia, having a nap of over 20 minutes can lead to poor sleep, particularly if it is taken late in the day. If you find that daytime napping disturbs your sleep, try to avoid it.
- Set a regular bedtime routine – go to bed at the same time each night. Choose a time when you generally feel tired each night, so you are ready to sleep. Start to bring that time forward by 15 minutes every week until you are getting to bed before 10-11 pm. Try not to break the routine unless it’s absolutely unavoidable.
When you are getting enough sleep, you should wake naturally without an alarm.
This quote most definitely sums it up!
‘The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep’, as goes the quotation by E. Joseph Cossman
If you would like tailored lifestyle advice to help you live a happier, healthier life, please get in touch to arrange a free 15-minute initial consultation with Ify.
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