Sleep is vital for the health and functioning of the brain, but what happens when we don’t get enough of it? A new study has revealed that less sleep can lead to cognitive impairment and neuronal death, increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases.
Sleep loss is associated with cognitive dysfunction
The study, published in the Journal of Proteome Research of the American Chemical Society, used an insomniac mouse model to investigate the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain. The researchers found that less sleep reduced the level of a protective protein called pleiotrophin (PTN), which is involved in neural regeneration, bone development, inflammation, cancer metastasis, and tissue repair.
With less PTN, the cells of the hippocampus, the memory and learning center of the brain, started dying. The hippocampus is crucial for forming and recalling memories, as well as regulating emotions. PTN is also implicated in Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, suggesting that sleep loss could accelerate the progression of these conditions.
How much sleep do we need for optimal brain function?
Sleep plays a crucial role in memory and learning, as well as other cognitive processes. Lack of sleep disrupts the ability of a person to focus efficiently and to recall information2. It also affects mood, motivation, judgment, and creativity.
But how much sleep do we need to avoid these negative consequences? According to the National Sleep Foundation, the recommended amount of sleep for adults is 7 to 9 hours per night, although some people may need more or less depending on their individual needs. However, many people do not get enough sleep due to various factors such as stress, lifestyle, work, or health issues.
Some people may try to catch up on their “pending” sleep during the weekend, hoping that it will compensate for the loss of sleeping hours. But this is not the case. A study published in 2020 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that under-sleepers and over-sleepers were mentally two years older than those who had 7 to 8 hours of sleep per day. The study observed the sleep habits of a group of women in 1986 and 2000; they were interviewed three times over a later six-year period and their memory and thinking skills were analyzed.
Tips to improve your sleep quality and quantity
The key to a healthy mind lies in how you sleep. Here are some tips to help you sleep better:
- Fix a routine: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This will help your body clock adjust to a consistent sleep pattern.
- Get enough exercise: Physical activity can improve your physical and mental health, as well as your sleep quality. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, preferably in the morning or afternoon.
- Avoid caffeine or alcohol before bed: These substances can interfere with your sleep cycle and make it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep. Avoid consuming them at least 4 hours before bedtime.
- Create a peaceful environment: Make sure your bedroom is comfortable, dark, quiet, and cool. You can use curtains, blinds, earplugs, fans, or air conditioners to block out any noise or light that may disturb your sleep.
- Have a relaxing bedtime routine: Do something that helps you unwind before bed, such as reading a book, listening to music, meditating, or taking a warm bath. Avoid using screens or devices that emit blue light, such as TVs, computers, or smartphones, as they can stimulate your brain and keep you awake.
- Avoid napping during the day: While a short nap can boost your energy and alertness, napping too long or too late can disrupt your night-time sleep. If you feel sleepy during the day, try to limit your naps to 20 minutes or less, and avoid napping after 3 pm.
By following these tips, you can improve your sleep quality and quantity, which will benefit your brain health and overall well-being.