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Ever heard the term “you can sleep when you’re dead”? Science has now proven that it is mortally unwise advice. The CDC states that more than one-third of American adults are not getting the recommended 7-9 hours of zzzz’s per night. But what’s at stake besides dark bags under our eyes? Turns out…A lot.
Sleep is a non-negotiable biological necessity, not a luxury for the weak. Sleep is a complex and dynamic process that affects nearly every system in our body. Research has demonstrated that sleep is the time that the brain reorganizes and recharges itself, and possibly even more importantly, removes toxic waste byproducts that have accumulated throughout the day.
A network called the glymphatic system, which is more like a plumbing system for the brain acts to flush out the cellular “trash” while we sleep. The brain works as a one-way street; it’s either clearing cellular waste (during sleep) or processing sensory information (during wake). It cannot do both at the same time. Giving the glymphatic system adequate time to work is so vital for your long term health because it has been proven that beta-amyloid, one of the “waste” proteins that accumulates during waking periods, might be a primary player in many neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia.
So how do we get better at sleep so our glymphatic system can get to work?? Here are clinically proven tips to get you started.
1. Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine and avoid them at least 4 hours before going to sleep. Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants, and consuming them too close to sleep may make it difficult to fall asleep and may also cause you to sleep more lightly. Alcohol, on the other hand, might help you fall asleep initially, but it disrupts your sleep later on. Alcohol intake too close to bed has been associated with more frequent awakenings, night sweats, nightmares, headaches, and is much less restful overall.
2. Limit electronic screens 2 hours before bed. The blue light that is emitted from the screens can delay the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, increase alertness, and upset the body’s internal clock making sleep nothing but a dream.
3. Practice meditation before sleep. Meditation is a deep relaxation technique that has been shown to increase sleep time, improve sleep quality, and make it easier to fall (and stay) asleep. There are guided meditations apps that can be found right on your phone to get you started.
4. Increase the intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with sleep problems in children and adults, and low levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may improve the length and quality of sleep by improving melatonin levels and that higher blood levels of DHA are significantly associated with better sleep, less bedtime resistance, and total sleep disturbance. Maternal consumption of DHA during pregnancy is linked to healthy sleep patterns in newborns as well, bonus!
Get those zzzz’s so your brain can clean house.