Sleep and the Effects on Your Brain

Want to be an energetic, healthy beast of a professional? Then look to your sleep performance. Sleep is vital to peak performance. I know you have heard more times than you can count how important sleep is. But have you ever really stopped to consider what optimized sleep or lack thereof can actually do to your brain? A really good night’s sleep will have you waking up in the morning on fire for the day, ready to take charge and conquer the world. Your productivity soars! But why? How? 

Sleep is one of the most important things we can do for brain health. Some of the biggest disasters in the world can be traced back to sleep deprivation. Exxon Valdez spill, Challenger disaster, 3-mile island disaster, etc. And it’s not just the quantity but quality of sleep that is important. Today, Americans are getting fewer hours of sleep a night than we did in the past and sadly enough, some people wear their lack of sleep like a badge of honor. They seem to think that by saying they work so hard they get by on only 4-hours of sleep a night is something to brag about. They believe that people will look to them with admiration. That cutting out sleep makes them more deserving of success. How preposterous! Although they may think they are getting by just fine, science has proven that they’re not and eventually, lack of quality sleep will override. 

Our bodies produce two main types of hormones that regulate our sleep. The first is Cortisol, our awake hormone, which is naturally occurring as the sun rises in the morning. The second, Melatonin, is the hormone that gets your body ready to sleep and repair itself. This hormone begins production as the sun sets. This is called the Circadian rhythm. 

Quality of sleep happens between the hours of 10:00 pm and 6:00 am. During the sleep hours of 10:00 pm and 2:00 am, the body wants to begin repairing its physical structures. Then between 2:00 am and 6:00 am, our body wants to enter REM sleep where it will accomplish most of its psychological repairs. But just going to bed by 10:00 pm every night does not mean you are going to get the optimum sleep needed. Broken sleep affects the body’s ability to repair itself. Waking several times during the night is going to strongly affect our brains. 

So what happens to our brains when we are not getting the quality and quantity of sleep necessary?

Imbalanced hormones. Sleep deprivation has a direct impact on healthy hormone secretion. Our hormone production is on a rhythm cycle. If we break that cycle our body gets confused. Hormones go off when they are not supposed to. This affects how you look, feel, and perform in your daily life. 

Toxicity in your brain. During sleep, the body detoxifies the brain. The Glymphatic System is the brain’s own waste disposal system and is responsible for getting rid of waste from the brain. A study by the University of Rochester Medical school reported that the Glymphatic System is 10 times more active during sleep. If you are not getting enough sleep, you are leaving all these toxins in your brain. These toxins not only affect your day-to-day function but increase your risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other diseases that affect the brain.

Decreased cognitive function. Short term memory, concentration, and focus all take a deep spiral when you are not getting your optimum sleep. You are less productive, unable to store new information and learn new things. You have a harder time creating memories. Even slight amounts of sleep deprivation can create a lack of focus and reaction time.

Poor decision making. You don’t need science to prove (although there is plenty to back this claim) that you don’t make good decisions when you are sleep deprived. Not only in your professional life but also in decisions with food, relationships and all aspects of your life.

The propensity for gaining weight. When your hormones are off schedule, your body becomes more insulin resistant causing spikes in your blood sugar. Your Human Growth Hormone (HGH), used for muscle production, keeping lean muscle and burning fat, is pumped out in greater volume when your sleeping. When you lack HGH your losing muscle.

Depression. Even slight sleep deprivation contributes to low mood and depression. Poor sleep is a huge disruptor of serotonin production. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for making us feel good. It is your anti-depressant. 

Diseases. When the brain is unable to repair and regenerate cellular levels it can increase our risk for diseases, and we can lack the ability to recover from any disease that is already there. 

So what can we do to ensure that we are getting the optimum sleep for brain health?

  1. Set a sleep and wake time. As close as you can, go to bed between 10:00 and 11:00 pm and wake between 6:00 and 7:00 am every night. Sure, there are always going to be those times when this is not possible, but as much as you possibly can, set a schedule. IF you are having trouble getting to sleep during this time, you need to train your brain to know that it is time to go to sleep. To help train your brain, get up at 6:00 am regardless of what time you went to bed. After a while, your body will become tired enough that it will look forward to sleep at the 10-11 pm timeframe. 
  2. Cut off your caffeine by 3:00 pm. Caffeine stays in your body 6 hours after consumption. Even if you can go to sleep, it is still disruptive to your sleep pattern.
  3. Get more sunlight in the daytime. Sunlight will help with the production of melatonin in the evening. Melatonin is regulated by light exposure. When the sun goes down your body knows to begin melatonin production. 
  4. Minimize light at night. Bright light in the evening tricks your brain into thinking that it is still daytime and therefore affects your production of melatonin. In the evening, use low lights in your home. 
  5. Minimize screen time. Your body cannot tell the difference between sunlight and the light on your tv, computer, phone, etc. Get rid of the blue light! Your body still thinks it is day and will pump out daytime hormones. An hour before it’s time to go sleep, turn off your screens.
  6. Get rid of electronics in your bedroom. Having electronics plugged in creates electromagnetic frequencies pumping out through the room while you are sleeping. These frequencies wreak havoc on your sleep. Laptops and phones need to charge outside of your bedroom. If you have a tv in your bedroom, unplug it at night. 
  7. Have a wind-down routine. An hour before bed, begin a routine of relaxing activity. Such activities could be writing in a gratitude journaling, yoga, stretching, meditation, taking a warm bath, or relaxing reading. If you do this on a regular schedule, you will train your brain to get ready for sleep.
  8. Eat protein or healthy fat. If you require a bedtime snack, avoid carbs and desserts. This will create a spike in your sugar which will disrupt your sleeping pattern. Eating a healthy snack containing fat and protein will level out your blood sugar. 
  9. Magnesium Supplements. Magnesium helps you deal with stress and is quickly depleted. A good magnesium supplement taken before bedtime can assist in quality sleep. 
  10. Blackout your room. No nightlight! Light will confuse your body into thinking it is day time and interrupts the production of hormones.
  11. Limit alcohol in the evening. Alcohol as a good sleep medication is a myth! Yes, it can make you sleepy, but then when you rebound from the effects, it wakes you up and interrupts your sleep pattern.

Now that you know the ill effects of a poor sleep life, I challenge you to create a program using the above techniques and try it for 30 days. I promise you’ll begin to see a rise, not only in your production but in your energy and happiness as well. Happy Sleeping!!