Sleep and brain health
Getting enough zzz’s is critical to keep your mind junk free and alert. Here’s why—and how you can help your customers rest well
BY LISSA COFFEY
Editor’s note: Savvy mattress retailers want to do everything they can to help their customers sleep better, including offering them sound advice and tips. Feel free to share this great guidance from Better Sleep Council spokeswoman Lissa Coffey with your shoppers (with credit given, of course). The BSC is the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association.
We all know that sleep is essential for good health. But do you know how important sleep is for the health of our brains? Even though we may be fast asleep, the brain still is working for us, still functioning, doing its job to keep us healthy. Here are three of the many ways sleep helps us keep the brain in tip-top shape:
Housecleaning: The brain never stops firing neurons. When we are awake, we constantly have jobs for the brain to do; it’s always busy working for us. Then, when we go to sleep, the brain has a chance to catch up, to clear out and recycle toxins through a drainage system called the glymphatic system. This is vital because scientists say that a buildup of waste products in the brain is linked to various cognitive disorders. (See related story on page 10.)
Recalling: Sleep improves our learning capability and capacity by helping the brain to create and consolidate memories. The learning process is made up of the three Rs—
reception, retention and recall. Getting a good night’s sleep before we learn something helps the brain be more receptive; sleep prepares the brain for learning. Restorative sleep before we learn also helps the brain retain short-term memory, so we learn more quickly. Then, after we have learned something, it’s important to get a good night’s sleep so we improve our long-term memory and recall. Sleep helps the memories “stick” so we can retrieve them when we need them.
Gaining perspective: Sleep helps boost our creativity. During the sleep state, our brain can make unexpected connections we may not have realized when were awake. How many times have you awakened with an “a-ha” moment or been able to solve a problem that had eluded you during the day? Sleep gives the brain a chance to process all the various stimuli that we are exposed to during the day, bringing some order to it. It helps us make sense of things and choose what is relevant in any given situation.
Sleep also is a wonderful tool for helping us process emotions. It gives us a different perspective on things. So, the notion of “sleeping on it” before making a big decision definitely is good advice. On the other hand, when someone says, “Never go to bed angry,” that is not good advice. Rather than stay up all night fighting and wearing yourselves out, call a timeout and get some sleep. Chances are that you’ll wake up with a new outlook, and the anger will have subsided—relationship saved.
Good sleep habits
Here are two great ways to make sure you get a good night’s sleep.
Develop a sleep routine. Go to bed at the same time each night. Turn off all technology an hour before bedtime. Computer screens keep the brain active, so it’s hard to wind down when you go straight from the screen to bed. Instead, use this time to read a relaxing book, listen to some music, do some gentle yoga poses or take a nice bath. You need that transition time between activity and sleep.
Create a sleep sanctuary. A mattress is the foundation of a good night’s sleep. Make sure you have the best mattress you can afford, and check often for signs of wear and tear. If your mattress is more than five to seven years old, it’s probably time for a new one. Make sure your room is cool, dark and comfortable. Keep clutter out of the bedroom, and make sure that your bedroom doesn’t look like an office. Your bedroom should be used only for sleep and sex. (Find out how to create a sleep sanctuary.)
Lissa Coffey is a relationship expert, author and broadcast journalist. She writes for eight websites, including CoffeyTalk.com, Whats-YourDosha.com and the Better Sleep Council’s site, BetterSleep.org. A BSC spokeswoman, she stars in several videos that offer sleep and mattress-shopping tips for consumers.