The importance of sleep
Sleep is the most undervalued pillar of our health and wellbeing. Regardless of the age, good quality sleep not only adds to everyday vitality and lifespan but also significantly improve mental capacities and enhance creativity. Whether it’s about a schoolchild, a teenager, or an adult, everybody should start prioritizing sleep and be particularly aware of short and long-term risks of sleep deprivation. In this article, you’ll find some science-based tips to help improve the quality of sleep and, therefore, also health and brain functioning.
Why sleep is such a huge deal?
There’s a newly discovered system in our brain called glymphatic system. This system literally washes out the brain with cerebrospinal fluid, cleansing the brain of the proteins (often harmful) that accumulate throughout the day. This process of cleaning the brain, absolutely essential for its regeneration, happens only during the night as when we sleep, our neurons shrink by 60% allowing this cerebrospinal fluid to be washed through the brain. Sleep really is quite a big thing, as you see.
Go to bed early
As a child, I would often hear from my parents that one hour of sleep before midnight counts as two hours after midnight and that I would not grow tall if staying late often. Back then, I saw their preaching as nothing more than a popular belief, or even myth, yet today I understand it is backed by very solid science. It turns out that 75% of human growth hormone production happens while we sleep, and the biggest burst of this hormone typically comes between 10 p.m. and midnight. Human growth hormone plays a key role not only in our physical growth (crucial for kids and teenagers) but also in the growth and repair of all our body and brain cells. This hormone is one of the secrets behind longevity so if we want to extend kids’ lifespan (and ours as well) we need to make sure all family members will understand how staying up late is harmful to us in a long run.
Spend more time outside
Our daily rhythm is set by light. By getting outside in the morning, not only we are wake up fully but we are also helping ourselves to sleep better at night. It’s really fundamental for us as human beings to be exposed to natural light. In order for our circadian rhythm to function properly, we need a differential between the maximum light exposure and the minimum light exposure. In scientific terms, we need to be exposed to the whole range of lux (that’s a name for a unit of light). When we sleep in a fully dark bedroom there’s zero lux exposure, while on a walk (depending on the weather and sun exposure) we can get anything between 10,000-30,000 lux. The key is to get outside, even if it’s cloudy. Spending all day inside, even if it’s a brightly lit room, gets us only 500 lux on average – that’s far too little to ensure appropriate differentiation and good quality sleep at night.
No late eating
Groundbreaking studies show that a three-hour window between the last meal and going to bed helps in the brain’s resting and regeneration and prevents it from inflammation. It is thanks to the cellular waste management system and the process called autophagy; in laypersons’ terms, it is the process of cleaning up all metabolic leftovers. In order for this system to work properly, our body can’t be busy digesting the food. When the body works intensively to digest a hearty dinner there’s no time for resting. Yet when the body is in a fasting mode (the last meal of the day has already been digested), not only the brain rest better but it is also cleaned up with the plaque that, when accumulated, can cause serious neurological disorders in adult life (such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease). Making early dinners a part of your daily schedule is definitely a great long-term investment in a healthy brain and longevity.
Last but not least, the final hour before going to bed should be a zero-tech and zero-device time. The blue light emitted by devices reduces the melatonin production level and it’s the melatonin that informs the body it needs to get sleep. Spend last 60-90 minutes before going to bed disconnected from the phone, computer, and TV. Commit this time to your loved ones exclusively and your family will gain way more than just better quality sleep.
Written by: Dr Anna Kaminska