Sleep: Mother Nature's Best Healer And Memory Coach

Why sleep is paramount for improving memory and how you can optimise your sleep routine. 

Did you have a good night’s sleep last night? Because in today’s lesson, I am going to teach you why sleep is paramount for improving memory and how you can optimise your sleep routine. 

But first, let's start by dispelling some myths. 

  • Five hours of sleep per night is enough 
  • Alcohol helps you to sleep 
  • Your body gets used to getting less sleep. 

The above claims are all simply myths. Sleep still holds many mysteries, and only through research will we debunk some of these myths and prove the value of sleep on your mental and physical well being. 

It’s a well-known fact that people simply don’t get enough sleep. Not sleeping is often worn as a badge of honour by high performers who claim to be working all day and night to get through their projects. But in reality, this adds up to a natural health crisis. Poor sleep is linked to many diseases, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, dementia and Alzheimers, shortening your life expectancy. 

Industry research all points towards a solid night's sleep being essential for a long and healthy life. It found that numerous functions in the brain are restored by and depend upon sleep. Of the many advantages of sleep, memory is awe-inspiring. Sleep is a memory aid both before learning to prepare the brain for making new memories and cementing those memories longer-term. Sleep helps to protect newly acquired information by the consolidation process - when data from the day is relocated from the short-term storage area of the hippocampus to long-term storage in the brain. 

So what happens when we sleep? Melatonin, which peaks during dark hours, is the body’s sleep-promotor, kick-starting the physiological changes that prepare the body for sleep. When we fall asleep, there are various stages our bodies and minds progress through: 

  1. Light sleep (stages 1 and 2): These first sleep stages are considered induction and transition stages from which an individual can quickly wake. 
  2. Deep sleep (stages 3 and 4): Also known as slow-wave sleep (SWS) or delta sleep, this is the stage from which it is most difficult to be woken. SWS is crucial for the process of memory consolidation, converting all interactions during the day into long-term memories. Synapses are also augmented, priming them for later activation (learning).
  3. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep: This stage is where most of our dreaming takes place. Research and evidence show that dreaming may play an essential role in processing emotional memories and distress desensitisation. 

If an individual struggles to fall into a deep sleep, then their ability to retain information and memories is reduced, becoming a dangerous cycle. 

Ultimately the quality and quantity of the sleep we get impacts our health and wellbeing. The journey to a more resilient brain and improved memory starts in bed. Try these top tips for switching off and getting a good night’s sleep. 

Routine 

Create a regular bedtime routine that you can stick to throughout the weekdays and weekends—considering whether you are a morning lark or night owl to fit your routine and activities around this. If you can maintain a similar sleep pattern, your body and brain will find it easier to drift off during the night. 

Environment

Ensuring your room is cool (around 20 degrees) when you are sleeping is recommended. Don’t let your feet get cold, as this can cause blood to be redirected to the trunk, keeping your body temperature elevated, which could interfere with sleep. Try to block out as much light as possible and reduce any noise disruptions if possible. Keeping a tidy room is also a great way to sleep more soundly - for some people, the clutter of a room increases stress and keeping the bedroom neat and tidy induces a sense of calm. 

Stimulation control

If you can, try to switch off 30 minutes - 1 hour before you go to sleep. This could include writing to-do lists for the next day to organise your thoughts and clear your mind of distractions, relaxation exercises such as yoga stretches, meditation, reading a book or listening to an audiobook, for example. It’s essential not to use light-emitting devices at least an hour before bed. Some applications can help with this, such as F.lux, a desktop free application that makes your computer screen look like the room you're in all the time. When the sun sets, it makes your computer look like your indoor lights and is similar to night mode when you select your wake-up time. 

Resolving sleep issues and restoring your natural sleep patterns should be your primary focus. Have a go at putting some of these practices into action and see how you feel. 

Recommended reading

Why we sleep by Matthew Walker



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