Sleep Your Way to a Healthier Brain

By Maribeth Bevis

One of the biggest concerns of our aging population is cognitive decline. It seems these concerns are reasonable as Columbia University researchers have found that about 10% of US adults ages 65 and older have dementia. Additionally, another 22% suffer from mild cognitive impairment. But the good news is that we can take steps to help our brains stay healthy as we age. Getting a good night’s sleep tops the list of things we can do to help keep dementia and cognitive decline at bay.  

How a Good Night’s Sleep Impacts Brain Health 

Neuroscience has revealed that as our bodies are at rest, our brains remain busy. When we reach a deep sleep, our glymphatic system is activated and begins washing the toxins from our brain that have accumulated during our waking hours. Research suggests that our brain goes through several cleaning cycles as we remain in deep slumber.   

Sleep is also when our brain reorganizes information. Important short-term memories and moved to long term memories. Insignificant information is eliminated. Our amazing brains do quite a few housekeeping chores while we snooze!  

When sleep is disturbed, your brain health is negatively impacted, putting you at a higher risk of neurodegenerative disorders, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It’s no wonder that many individuals with Parkinson's disease are also diagnosed with sleeping disorders.   

But it’s not just your brain that is affected. Poor sleep can also put you at higher risk for heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, depression, and other chronic conditions. 

How Much Sleep Is Enough 

Research has revealed that adults 65 and over need 7 hours of natural sleep per night. But each person is different. If you are wondering if you got enough sleep, try paying attention to your body. Are you awake and attentive? Are your eyes puffy or red? Do you feel like you need more caffeine to get going?  

As we age, the amount of deep sleep that we get decreases due to different factors, like medications or incontinence. So, it’s important to cultivate healthy habits to improve sleep.  

It's also worth noting that no past or current sleeping medication on the market is capable of inducing natural sleep. These sleeping medications keep the brain from performing the necessary functions to keep our brains healthy. Sleep aids like this should be used sparingly and short term.   

Since sleeping medications are not advised, there are some guidelines we can follow to help induce natural sleep.   

RELATED CONTENT: 6 Reasons Why Seniors Don’t Sleep Well  

Daytime Habits to Promote Better Sleep 

Believe it or not, good sleep starts with good day time habits. Here are some habits to adopt to promote better sleep at night. 

  • Spending time outside in natural light helps our circadian rhythm. 35 minutes per day is the current suggestion.  
  • Adding exercise to our daily routines could help us sleep better.  
  • While afternoon naps are actually good for our brains; we should avoid napping more than 30 minutes during the day.  
  • Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening 
  • Avoid eating a few hours before bedtime 

Bedtime Routine to Encourage Sleep 

At night, you can also establish a routine to help your body recognize that it’s time to start winding down. Here are some habits you can include in your routine.  

  • Set an alarm about 30 minutes before your bedtime. This is our signal to begin our bedtime routine. 
  • Relax before bedtime by dimming the lights. This means no phone, laptop, tablets or TV. 
  • We need to calm our minds. Reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating, and journaling can be helpful. Some people find a warm bath helps calm their minds and relax. 
  • Make sure the bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool. 65 degrees Fahrenheit is the suggested temperature for optimal sleep.   

Repeating this routine each night, over time, our brains will recognize the signals that it is time for bed. We can train ourselves to go to sleep!  

Lasting changes happen over time. Trying to implement too many of the suggestions at once might be overwhelming. Choose a few at a time and see what changes are noticed. Build on successes. Gradually, it will be easy to slip into a sound sleep and have a healthier, happier brain! To learn more about improving brain health, review Ageless Grace resources. 

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Tags: Alzheimer's & Dementia, Sleep