Why Getting “Brainwashed” Is A Good Thing
If you’re like most people, you probably think your brain shuts off at night while you’re sleeping. Wrong! While you’re snoozing, your brain is actually hard at work performing some very critical functions necessary to keep it operating at optimal levels.
Emerging research shows that during sleep, your brain cleans or washes itself by eliminating cellular debris and toxins that build up during the day (basically taking out the neural trash). This trash includes the beta-amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Your brain is so busy managing your life during the daylight hours that this cleaning system is pretty much turned off. One theory about why people with dementia sleep so much is that their brains are trying to clear out the accumulating plaques/gunk.
During sleep, the brain also consolidates learning and memory, and it prepares for the following day. The brain processes that occur during sleep are also important for the health of your immune system, appetite control, and neurotransmitter production. And sleep is also linked to mental health.
Sleepless in America
Getting adequate sleep is vital for your brain, but an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans have some form of sleep disorder. Nearly one-third of us suffer from short-term bouts of insomnia, the most common sleep problem. Chronic insomnia affects approximately 1 in 10 people, and the rates are even higher among people with psychiatric disorders. In fact, over 50% of the time, insomnia is tied to stress, anxiety, or depression.
How Sleep Impacts Mental Well-being
Sleep and brain health/mental health issues are tightly linked. Research shows that about 75% of people with depression also have insomnia. A 2016 study shows that from 69% to 99% of people with bipolar disorder experience insomnia or feel a reduced need for sleep during manic episodes. Over half of the people with anxiety have trouble sleeping, and children with ADHD are more likely to experience sleep disorders than kids without the condition, according to research in Sleep.
The relationship between sleep and brain health/mental health issues goes both ways. In general, a night of staring at the ceiling can make you wake up feeling angry, irritable, sad, or stressed the next day; lower your ability to concentrate, and impair your judgment. Over time, sleep problems can lead to a higher risk of depression, ADHD, panic attacks, brain fog, memory problems, and dementia.
How important is just one hour of sleep? A study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence found that teenagers who on average get one hour less sleep at night are 38% more likely to feel sad and hopeless, 42% more likely to consider suicide, 58% more likely to attempt suicide, and 23% more likely to engage in substance abuse.
7 Common Sleep Stealers
1. A bedroom that is too warm, bright, or noisy. The ideal temperature is personal, but it should be on the cool side. Consider blackout shades if you live in a city, where light pollution is sometimes hard to avoid. Try earplugs if you live in a noisy neighborhood or sleep with someone who snores.
2. Gadgets by the bed. Put your phone, tablet, digital watch, and more in another spot, or at least turn off the volume. Turn your digital clock toward the wall so you aren’t distracted by glowing numbers.
3. Medications. Many drugs, including asthma and cough meds, antihistamines, anticonvulsants, and stimulants (such as Adderall or Concerta, prescribed for ADHD), as well as others, disturb sleep.
4. Naps. Taking a nap because you feel sleepy during the day interferes with your nighttime sleep cycle.
5. Alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana. Although these compounds initially induce sleepiness for some people, they have the reverse effect as they wear off, which is why you may wake up several hours after you go to sleep.
6. Hormonal issues. Changes in hormones related to pregnancy, PMS, perimenopause, or menopause can disrupt your sleep.
7. Stressful situations. Death, marital conflict, work deadlines, moving, or an upcoming exam can keep you awake at night.
7 Easy Sleep Helpers
1. Set up your bedroom for sleep. Keep it cool, dark, and quiet.
2. Address emotional problems before going to sleep. Send a positive text or email or set an intention to deal with the issue tomorrow. If you forgive the other person first, you may just end the argument. If you’re a worrier, devote a before-bed time period (about 10-15 minutes) to journal or pray about your nagging concerns, then stop.
3. Try sound therapy. It can induce a very peaceful mood. Consider soothing nature sounds, wind chimes, a fan, or soft music. Slow classical music, or any music that has a slow rhythm of 60 to 80 beats per minute, can help with sleep.
4. Drink a cup of warm, unsweetened almond milk. Add a teaspoon of vanilla (the real stuff, not imitation) and a few drops of stevia. The combination may increase serotonin in your brain and help you sleep.
5. Refrain from checking the clock if you wake up in the night. If you know what time it is, it can make you anxious.
6. Try hypnosis. Medical hypnosis is a safe and effective tool to promote better sleep.
7. Get evaluated for a sleep disorder. A complete evaluation can help you pinpoint what’s causing your sleep problems and can give you a blueprint to getting more restful sleep.
At Amen Clinics, we take an integrated brain-body approach to evaluating sleep disorders, including brain SPECT imaging, lab tests, and lifestyle assessments. If you want to join the thousands of people who have already enhanced their brain health and overcome sleep issues, at Amen Clinics, speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.