Sleep: A Miracle Worker and Brain Strengthener
Do you want more energy? Lose weight faster? Clear skin? There is a common answer to so many health related problems—sleep! Our body and brain need sleep to rest and renew to keep us healthy. And it seems that everywhere you turn, you find another health article that lists “getting more sleep” as one cure to whatever ails you.
Take A Nap
Why is sleep such a miracle worker? Researchers have found that sleep affects the ability of our brain to change and grow. The plasticity of the brain is facilitated by our time in dreamland. Our brains are able to encode memories and learning while our bodies rest. Studies have shown that REM sleep provides the hippocampus with the ability to turn short-term memories from the day into long-term ones. REM sleep each night is reinforcing the things learned and experienced each day.
A recent article on Psychologytoday.com touches on this fact and that if you are trying to learn a skill, taking a nap is an integral part in that learning processes. They point to several studies where participants were taught a tapping pattern which improved with practice. It improved further with mentally practicing the skill, but even more improvement came after the participants slept on it.
For many of Americans and our kids, sleep is hard to come by. In this busy go-go-go world, too many of us are not getting the rest needed to be healthy. The National Sleep Foundation has some great guidelines for children and adults:
- Newborns (0-2 months)—12-18 hours
- Infants (3-11 months)—14-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-3 years)—12-14 hours
- Pre-schoolers (3-5 years)—11-13 hours
- School Age (5-10 years)—10-11 hours
- Teen (10-17 years)—8.5-9.5 hours
- Adults—7-9 hours
It is vital as our brains grow, at all ages, that we give them the sleep that will make them strong and keep our bodies healthy. Sleep is a luxury that many people place after all other priorities, but in doing so we are costing ourselves quality of life.
Making Sleeping Easier
To help you achieve these recommendations, here are some ways to help your body and brain be ready to relax and get the hours of sleep necessary for good health.
- Set a schedule: Make bedtime the same every night and wake up the same time every morning, allowing for the appropriate number of hours of sleep in between.
- Reduce any light in your room; even the neon of the clock or your phone can keep you from falling deep asleep.
- Use your bedroom and bed for sleep only! No laptops, smartphones, or office papers.
- Remove the TVs from bedrooms and don’t fall asleep in front of the TV.
- Doing a moderate work out several hours before bed (not right before bed) can help release any extra energy.
- Avoid large meals right before bed.
Make it a Priority
Most of us would gladly get more sleep. We long for those days on vacation when we can sleep in longer than we normally get to. So why is it so hard to get enough of something we love to do? Make sleep a priority for your family. Your health, memory, and learning all depend on it!
“… Sufficient sleep is not a luxury—it is a necessity—and should be thought of as a vital sign of good health.”- Wayne H. Giles, MD, MS, Director, Division of Adult and Community Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.