It seems like insomnia is a modern epidemic. Whether you deal with insomnia or you are chronically sleep-deprived, it’s likely that poor sleep is affecting your performance.
Sleep deprivation feels terrible. You will have noticed that if you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, you feel sluggish, heavy, and slow, as though you’re trying to walk through syrup. You’re clumsy and confused, you drop things, and nothing seems to go right.
As well as making you feel bad, a chronic lack of sleep can have physical effects on your brain. Sleep deprivation impairs your ability to process and store memories and can even increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Two proteins associated with Alzheimer's, beta amyloid, and the tau protein, increase with chronic poor sleep. There is some evidence in laboratory tests on mice that sleep helps to clear these proteins from the brain.
The good news is that there are things you can do to improve your sleep health to keep your brain in tip-top shape.
1. Find Out Your Own Best Sleep Levels
Everyone has their own individual sleep needs. Famously, British politicians Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher needed very little sleep, but only getting four or five hours a night is not recommended for most people. Whether you need seven hours or ten, find out what is enough sleep for you.
Enough sleep means waking up without needing an alarm, feeling rested and energetic, and not needing coffee to get you through the day.
2. Improve your Sleep Hygiene
Studies have shown that the hour or two before bedtime has a powerful effect on the quality of your sleep. Schedule in some proper downtime, and stop using blue light-emitting devices like smartphones, computers, tablets, and television an hour or so before you plan to go to bed. Read a book, take a relaxing bath, or listen to calming music—or all three—instead.
3. Don’t Lie There Trying to Sleep
If you can’t sleep after ten minutes, get out of bed and do something else. Lying in bed, getting stressed because you can’t sleep is a recipe for poor sleep and insomnia. You’re also likely to start brooding, mulling over problems or running over the events of the day.
Get up do something relaxing like reading or meditating until you feel sleepy. It’s okay to do this more than once, even multiple times. You’re trying to train your brain to think of bed as a sleeping place, not a thinking place.
Improving your sleep will help you to feel calmer, be more productive, and may lower your risk of Alzheimer’s later in life.