Consistently bad sleep is dangerous to our health, work, and wellbeing: is sleep deprivation eating your brain? Cynthis Marinakos shares three ways to get a good night’s sleep.
You can feel it can’t you?
When you’ve had countless sleepless nights and your brain’s not working, your words don’t come out right.
You quickly get annoyed with your clients.
You struggle to come up with your usual good ideas.
You feel slow, negative, depressed and grumpy.
And we all know as a solo business owner, a huge dose of self-motivation (and caffeine) keeps us going doesn’t it? Well, it turns out there’s good reason for all of it: sleep deprivation is eating our brains. And it’s more common than you realise.
How sleep deprivation affects our brains
To get a better understanding of how sleep deprivation affects our brains, let’s delve into how our brains actually work.
A sleep study run by Michele Bellesi from Marche Polytechnic University in Italy describes this simply. To keep our brains in order, it needs to do housekeeping.
With two types of cells: astrocyte cells and microglial cells. Astrocytes get rid of unneeded synapses in our brains to ‘remodel’ it. Microglial cells clean damaged cells and debris.
The team found astrocytes were more active in mice who had lost 8 hours of sleep, than mice who were well-rested:
“We show for the first time that portions of synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss.” – Michele Bellesi (in New Scientist: The brain starts to eat itself after chronic sleep deprivation)
They found astrocyte remodelling of our brains isn’t the problem: we could all do with a rewire now and then. But what the team found worrying was microglial cell activity. Because increased activity of microglial cells has been linked to Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders, such as dementia.
Their study is supported by Australian sleep research that found sleep disturbance affected the health, well-being and recovery of brain injury patients.
So how can we get a really good night’s sleep? Here are 3 ways…
1. Calm sleeping environment
The Sleep Health Foundation advises us that good sleep habits include a comfortable, peaceful, non-stimulating environment:
- Dark, quiet room at a comfortable temperature
- Switch off devices at least 1.5 hours before bed
- Comfortable bedding
2. Sleep evening routine
There’s so much great advice about morning routines. Yet your evening routine can make or break your morning routine, because how you sleep affects how you wake.
Every person’s routine is different. Obama uses nights for ‘me time’. Bill Gates washes dishes. Charles Dickens slept with his head pointed north. Roger Federer aims for 9-10 hours of sleep.
It’s tempting to copy the evening routines of famous people. Yet like morning routines, we need to explore and tailor a routine to suit our personal preferences, schedules, and personalities.
Good sleep hygiene
As a guide, sleep research gives us the basics of good sleep hygiene (yeah, it’s really a thing):
- Sleep at the same time each night
- Enjoy a relaxing activity
- Go to the toilet
- Switch off all screens at least 1.5 hours before bed
- Avoid caffeine at least 2 hours before bed
- Avoid snacks late in the evening
What does your evening routine look like?
Mine starts with a meal at around 6pm. Close to 9.30pm, I put my phone on airplane mode. Read a book. Light up candles in the room and bathroom. Shower by candlelight and jazz. Wander in to give my munchkin a kiss.
Then I stretch and meditate. By 10.30pm, my head hits the pillow (or is supposed to). I cross my fingers our little one doesn’t wake us before 5am.
When all goes to plan, I get the most refreshing, deep, delicious sleep. I feel like Wonder Woman the next morning. When my routine is delayed because I get distracted browsing eBay or get caught up on social media, my day is always a struggle.
3. Exercise & nutrition
It’s been found moderate exercise can improve our sleep. It can also help us feel more alert during the day.
Brad Cardinal, Professor of exercise science at Oregon State University encourages us to aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, based on his US sleep study:
“Increasingly, the scientific evidence is encouraging as regular physical activity may serve as a non-pharmaceutical alternative to improve sleep.”
His study is supported by several studies that found exercise can improve sleep for people with chronic insomnia.
How do you sleep when you exercise during the day?
I sleep better when I exercise – but only if I’m not rockclimbing (or indulging in chocolate) until 10pm!
My husband and I have noticed my 5- year-old sleeps more soundly when she’s been active. So we ‘tire her out’ as much as possible.
And what should you eat for a good sleep?
Perhaps the question is: what shouldn’t you eat?
For good sleep hygiene, the National Sleep Foundation recommends we stay away from:
- heavy or rich foods
- citrus fruits
- spicy dishes
- fatty or fried meals
- carbonated drinks
These can cause indigestion and heartburn for some people.
If you’re having a cuppa or glass of wine in the evening, moderation and a gap of at least 2 hours before bed is the way to go.
When I struggle to stick to a light dinner (I love indulging at – and after dinner!), I feel heavy all night and in the morning. I’ve also noticed a glass of red is fine. But if I have 2 or more, I don’t sleep well.
So tonight, be aware of what you eat (and drink) in the evening – and how you feel when you get into bed. Stress less. Breathe more.
And have a good night!
How well do you sleep? Take this 30-second World Sleep Survey to find out.