The exciting research in sleep science nowadays comes from labs studying the effects of sleep on the brain and what happens when you deprive your brain of restorative sleep. New research suggests that sleeping less than seven to eight hours a night risks memory loss, cognitive decline, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
If you regularly struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep, improving sleep habits can restore a restful night’s sleep. Following are a few tips for improving sleep:
- Don’t eat a heavy meal or drink a lot of liquid close to bedtime.
- Reduce or eliminate stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine during the day and alcohol in the evening.
- Exercise regularly but early in the day, not within several hours of bedtime.
- Stick to a sleep schedule, going to bed and waking at the same time each day, including weekends. Avoid naps or limit them to 30 minutes; don’t nap after 3:00 PM.
- Keep your room cooler than during the day.
- Use a fan or noise machine to mask distracting sounds. Try room-darkening shades if morning light wakes you too early. Wind down for 30 minutes before going to bed. Do something relaxing, like reading or listening to quiet music (not watching a screen).
- If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, do something relaxing for 20 minutes, or until you feel sleepy.
- Sleeping on your side, particularly on your left side, may improve circulation while you sleep.
- Don’t use a computer, tablet or smart phone right before going to bed! The light from the screen stimulates the brain and makes it hard to fall asleep.
Sleep is important for overall health and especially for brain function. Now, as scientists uncover the mechanisms at work, the opportunity exists to make great strides in preventing and treating cognitive decline and degenerative disease.
Alex Dimitriu, MD, is double board certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and is the founder of the Menlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine Center in Menlo Park, CA. doctoralex.com