Expert-Recommended Sleep Tips for Better Brain Health
In a world where constant demands and busy schedules encompass our days, ensuring we get a good night's sleep has become one of the most common challenges we face. Research underscores the significance of not only the quantity but also the quality of our sleep, with experts recommending a solid seven to eight hours each night.1 However, the disconcerting truth is that over a third of Americans fall short of meeting this crucial sleep threshold.2 Beyond the immediate fatigue and drowsiness associated with inadequate sleep, the consequences extend far deeper, contributing to heightened risks of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, mental health issues, and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's disease.3 In recognizing the pivotal role sleep plays in both our long-term well-being and day-to-day functionality, finding optimal sleep practices that can fit into our routines becomes imperative.
We've partnered with esteemed health experts specializing in women’s midlife and general health, longevity biohacking, and caregiver support/dementia professionals. With a shared commitment to lifelong brain health, they offer their expertise to enhance your sleep routine and habits to support your core brain practices.
Lauren and Renee, Founders of Biohacker Babes, Functional Health and Lifestyle Coaches
One of the biggest sleep complaints we see is trouble falling asleep. This is quite often due to too much stimulation, stress or blue light late at night. Many people think that sleep should just magically happen once we get into bed, but it's actually a process that can take 1-2 hours of preparation.
We recommend the following:
- Dimming your lights: after sunset, switching to amber/red hues for lighting, using more candles or salt lamps in place of modern light fixtures. We love adjustable light bulbs that switch to red at night!
- Wearing blue light blocking glasses: at least 2 hours before bed, especially if you need to be on devices like phone/computer, or watching TV - though we caution that potentially the EMF-exposure can be stimulating even when blocking the blue!
- Practice your favorite form of downregulation: anything that feels calming & nourishing to your nervous system, ie:
- cuddling with your pets or kiddos!
- taking a bath and/or practicing parasympathetic breathwork
- stretch and/or mobility work
- reading fiction
- listen to binaural [delta wave] beats
- Avoid eating after dark: and limit beverages that may encourage more trips to the bathroom. Your body should be resting while you sleep, not digesting.
- Get chilly! The body's internal core temperature needs to cool down to reach deep, restorative sleep
- try taking a warm shower or bath before bed, which has a paradoxical cooling effect
- wear wool socks to bed (same effect as above)
- or sleep with a cooling mattress or sheets
- Turn off all electronics 1 hour before bed and prioritize calming activities to shift the nervous system out of our conditioned sympathetic state into a parasympathetic rest (and ready for sleep!) mode.
Rev. Katie Norris, AMI Montessori for Aging and Dementia Practitioner, National Board-Certified Health Coach
In our clients with dementia, especially those who have a change in cognition and symptoms, we always check first for three things regarding sleep:
- Have they been evaluated for sleep apnea, and if they have it, are they using their CPAP?
- Are they sleeping long enough to go through all the sleep cycles needed for good cognitive function and brain health?
- Are they getting sunlight (real or from a lamp) soon after waking up.
We have had a few clients where they had a sudden increase in symptoms and started sundowning. The first thing we checked was sleep, and we found that hired care professionals had stopped using the CPAP with the client because the person with dementia was agitated about using it. Once we helped the caregivers assist the person with dementia to feel safe and comfortable using the CPAP, their symptoms resolved.
In order to have the best conditions possible, even in dementia, adults need 7-8 consecutive hours of sleep. This allows the brain to go through all cycles of sleep, including the ones that clear amyloid plaques and solidify memory and learning. To help people with dementia get full sleep, we make sure they are not drinking alcohol within four hours of going to sleep because alcohol is sedation, not actual sleep. We also keep a consistent sleep routine and schedule, and we get that morning sunlight soon after waking to help set the circadian rhythm so that the hormones of sleep and waking happen at the right times of day.
Deanna Pizitz, Founder of Well & Worthy, Certified Health Coach for Women in Menopause
My number one tip to optimize holiday sleep is to go alcohol-free. As a midlife woman, we already struggle with sleep, and alcohol will only make it more difficult.
Alcohol can significantly impact sleep quality in menopausal women. Here's how:
- Interrupts Sleep Cycle: Alcohol may help in falling asleep quickly, but it disrupts the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep, which is essential for memory consolidation and emotional processing. A disrupted REM cycle means less restorative sleep.
- Increases Hot Flashes: For menopausal women, alcohol can trigger or worsen hot flashes and night sweats, leading to disturbed sleep.
- Affects Hormonal Balance: Alcohol can interfere with the normal hormonal balance, exacerbating menopause symptoms that can negatively impact sleep, such as mood swings and anxiety.
- Impairs Breathing during Sleep: Alcohol relaxes the muscles in the throat, which can exacerbate sleep apnea, a condition more common in post-menopausal women.
Next, try to stay on a consistent schedule, even on the weekends. Waking up at the same time and going to bed at the same time. Our bodies thrive on routine.
A regular sleep schedule helps regulate the body's internal clock and significantly improves sleep quality. Here's why:
Enhances Circadian Rhythm: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps synchronize your body’s circadian rhythm (internal clock), leading to better sleep.
Reduces Stress and Anxiety: A consistent routine can reduce the stress and anxiety associated with irregular sleep patterns, which is particularly beneficial for menopausal women who may experience heightened levels of stress and mood disturbances.
Improves Sleep Efficiency: Regular sleep times train the brain and body to become efficient at managing sleep and wake cycles, leading to quicker sleep onset and more restful nights.
Adapts to Age-Related Changes: As women age, the structure of their sleep changes. A regular routine can help mitigate these changes by providing a stable framework for the body to adapt to.
Incorporating these tips into a menopause wellness plan can significantly enhance sleep quality. This, in turn, can positively impact overall health, mood, and well-being during this transitional phase. Individual experiences can vary, so it's essential to tailor these tips to suit personal needs and preferences.
Dr. Heather Moday, Founder of the Moday Center, Medical Professional in Conventional and Functional/Integrative Medicine
The most common sleep issues I hear these days are:
"I have problems with falling asleep, but I wake up at 2-3 in the morning with my mind racing and not being able to fall back asleep."
Several issues can be at play here. One is caffeine too late in the day. Caffeine blocks adenosine, the chemical that increases our sleep drive in the brain. Often we can fall asleep but caffeine can last in the body for many hours and often in the middle of the night caffeine may be high enough to cause us to wake.
I recommend anyone who is waking at night to keep all caffeinated to before noon and no more than 150 mg total a day - about the equivalent of 1.5 cups of coffee. Also, avoid all energy drinks that may contain other stimulants, and be mindful that chocolate can also contain caffeine.
Another beverage that also causes mid-sleep awakening is alcohol. Although initially a sedative, as it is metabolized, alcohol becomes a stimulant that wakes you. Alcohol can also cause your blood sugar to drop in the middle of the night signaling a stress response and the hormone cortisol to surge. This can wake you from sleep. Lastly, alcohol is a diuretic that may increase the urge to urinate at night.
I recommend if someone is chronically dealing with sleep issues remove alcohol together for a few weeks or a month to see how their sleep changes. They usually notice a huge difference.
In addition, if they do still want to imbibe, to make sure they drink lightly, one drink earlier in the evening with food at least 3-4 hours before sleep. If people are using alcohol to wind down, I tell them that it actually blocking their REM sleep and restorative deep sleep. I recommend other things to relax such as herbal tea, meditation, and magnesium.
For additional tips and helpful checklist to keep you on track with the above suggestions and more, download our free e-guide “The Ultimate Guide to Getting a Good Night of Sleep."
It's time to shift our perspective on sleep – recognizing it not as a luxury but as a vital cornerstone of our overall well-being, especially our brain health. When we fall short of the rejuvenating rest our bodies and brains crave, it's crucial to take proactive steps. Let these expert tips be your guide, whether you're just beginning your journey to sleep better or advancing to the next level.
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- Watson, Nathaniel F et al. “Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society.” Sleep vol. 38,6 843-4. 1 Jun. 2015, doi:10.5665/sleep.4716
- 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep | CDC Online Newsroom | CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved August 8, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html
- Sleep: What It Is, Why It’s Important, Stages, REM & NREM. (n.d.). Retrieved August 8, 2023, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/12148-sleep-basics