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3 ways that sleep improves brain health

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“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” Shakespeare

Photo by Julie Johnson on Unsplash

So unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about this thing all living organisms do called sleeping. And you’re likely aware that it’s pretty important to health, whether you’re a fish, a mammal, or a human.

When we sleep, the brain is able to turn its attention inward. It’s able to take an extended break from external stimulus and concentrate on internal processes. It’s easy to think that the period of sleep is unproductive, because we’re not taking external action, but your mind/body is taking A LOT of internal action.

Clearing out damaged protein

This is a biggie. Damaged protein is what leads to plaques building up in the cells of the brain which leads to dysfunction and cell death. Beta amaloid plaque can lead to Alzheimer’s. Lewy bodies can lead to Parkinson’s. Huntington protein leads to Huntington’s disease. 

The brain is so busy during our waking hours processing our external world that it has no time to shuttle these brain damaging proteins out of the brain through its lymphatic system. Sleep must occur for the trash to be taken out.

Repairing brain damage

If you watched the short video above, the last line in the video likely caught your attention:

“Wakefulness is essentially low level brain damage.”

Yikes! That’s a sobering thought. But look at it this way. Anytime something is used, it degrades a little bit. Whether this is inside your body or the blender on your counter, if something has a mechanical component (your are a machine my friend) regular use naturally breaks it down.

This applies to your brain. But if you’re alive, you’re using your brain. No getting around that. Fortunately sleep provides the downtime your brain needs to make some repairs to the damage.


Storing memory

Why is it so important that we store memory? 

It’s obvious from a survival perspective. Without stored memory you wouldn’t have learned how to function efficiently in this world. You wouldn’t remember what a threat was. You wouldn’t remember skills that create a better life experience. You wouldn’t remember faces so that you can connect once again with the people you meet.

But from an adult perspective, I think there’s another important aspect to memory. If we start to loose that ability to store memories, we can get pretty dang anxious about it. And from that space we can start to live in a story that there’s something wrong, that we must be developing dementia, that life is starting to go downhill.

The problem with this? Our brain likes to turn our stories into reality. Even if something is not factually true, within the realm of our thoughts, you bet your bootie we can make it “true.” And it’s not uncommon for thoughts that we think are true to become fact in our environment in time.

If you are struggling with sleep, I’d recommend Matthew Walker’s book “Why We Sleep.”

Here are a few sleep tips:

  • Meditate daily for stress management
  • Exercise daily
  • If you exercise in the evening keep it gentle
  • No screen time 90 minutes before bed
  • No violent media before bed
  • No food at least 90 minutes before bed
  • Read by low wattage light to get sleepy
  • Listen to a sleep story (find in meditation app)

Finally, if you worry a lot about sleep and how lack of it is affecting your health, exploring how you THINK about it can actually turn the tide and allow you to change habitual behavior. As a coach I can assist you in that.