In this article you will learn:
- How the brain engages in a deep “brain wash” during sleep
- The affect this has on how well rested you feel when you wake up
- 3 tips to help you optimize this brain wash and feel more recharged from sleep
Everyone knows how important sleep is, 1 crappy sleep is a friendly reminder of that. But is all sleep created equal? Why can some people only sleep 6 hours and feel great, while others sleep 9 and wake up feeling like shit?
What your brain is doing during sleep
While you are asleep, the body may be resting, but your brain is actually in overdrive trying to repair wear & tear from the previous day and prepping for the next day. This brain wash is carried out by the glymphatic system. A kind of intra brain detox system that performs overnight maintenance. In 2012, scientists identified the glymphatic system, which sends cerebral spinal fluid through the brain and essentially flushes out all the waste we accumulate.
This includes “cellular garbage” in the form of dead and dying cells. This is extremely important- cellular debris can begin to aggregate, attack our DNA, and subsequently lead to disease. Consider that over 80% of people with certain sleep disorders go on to develop neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease. We cannot say if this is causation or simply correlation, but clearly there is something to be said here.
Throw in the fact that sleep is necessary to strengthen connections between neurons (to form new memories) but also to ‘prune’ away old and useless connections (to prevent “clutter”)! This is why lack of sleep leads to forgetfulness.
And, of course, poor sleep leads to weight gain, primarily due to its effect on the hormone insulin. All of these factors and more are at play in determining how well rested you feel when you wake up.
3 Tips to improve sleep
- Avoid blue light exposure atleast 1 hour before bed!
I think intuitively most people know this, but who actually does it? Sometimes it takes knowing WHY before you can actually make a change.
This refers to phones, laptops, TVs, lights/lamps, any other artificial light. I know what you’re saying, “I always look at my phone before bed and I have no trouble getting to sleep.” Okay fine, but what you may not know is the artificial light prevents us from getting into the deepest stages of sleep.
Ever notice how good you sleep at the cottage or camping? It’s not because “the sun wore you out”, it’s because there isn’t artificial light in your face all day that impairs your sleep.
Light from phones or laptops impairs the secretion of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone released by our pineal gland at night and makes us feel tired, and triggers processes in our brain that take place during sleep. Exposure to artifical light shortens melatonin duration by 90 minutes and reduces overall melatonin release by 50%, both of which significantly impair sleep.
- Do not spike insulin before bed
Insulin spikes are triggered when we consume high sugar/carbohydrate meals. In other words, junk food, which happens to be commonly consumed late at night.
This reduces the secretion of human growth hormone (HGH) from the hypothalamus of our brain for 2 hours or more. HGH is responsible for cell repair, muscle growth, even neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells). To provide energy for your overnight “brain wash”, stick to protein and healthy fats, even a little bit of raw honey (because it goes straight to the liver).
- Magnesium supplementation
Magnesium is a cofactor in over 300 important biological reactions throughout our body. It is particularly important for growth and regeneration because nerve cells (in your brain) and muscle cells actually require this nutrient in order to grow, repair, and maintain their function. It also helps to calm your body and brain, so it’s great before bed. Most people are deficient in magnesium so it needs to be supplemented. Magnesium CALM is an excellent option, and has been shown to be effective in alleviating insomnia.