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21 Jan Importance of Sleep … 4 Steps to a Younger, Sharper Mind

By David Bardsley

Sleep…

We all know people who say they get by on five or six hours of sleep a night. They’re correct. That’s just what they are doing: getting by. But they’re not performing at their mental best. Adults, with rare exceptions, need seven to nine hours of sleep per day. Less than 1 percent of the population can function optimally on less. Just one night of disturbed sleep will produce a measurable decrease in your cognitive ability to perform mental activities, such as problem solving or learning new information, the next day.

One of the simplest tests to perform in psychology is to observe how your mental functions change with sleep deprivation.

For example, studies have shown that when military personal are given a cognitive test and then deprived of sleep for five consecutive nights and then retested, there is a sixty percent decrease in their scores.

Four steps to achieve a better quality and quantity of sleep:

1. Adjust room temperature. Turn down the thermostat. Studies show that there’s an optimum room temperature for sleeping. And it’s much cooler than you might think: 60 to 66 degrees F. Use an extra blanket but keep the room’s temperature low.

2. Set three alarms.

Wake-up alarm. The time you wish to get up and start your day (e.g., 6 a.m.).

Sleep alarm. Set this alarm eight hours before your sleep alarm (e.g., 10 p.m.). When this alarm goes off, you should be in bed or ready to immediately get into bed.

Preparatory alarm. This alarm is the most important. Set this 30 minutes before the sleep alarm (e.g. 9:30 p.m.). This alarm signals that it’s time to prepare for sleep. Begin your normal bedtime routine at this time: brush and floss your teeth, put on your pajamas, etc.

3. Be aware of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that’s produced in your brain naturally in response to darkness. It helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. Light decreases its production. This is why people often wear eye masks at night: to block out the light so the brain will produce more melatonin. As we age, our melatonin production often decreases.

At the sound of your preparatory alarm, turn off all your screens: television, computer, tablet, cell phone, etc. The bright light emitted from these screens will shut down the production of melatonin in the pineal gland of your brain.

4. Block out worrisome thoughts. These negative thoughts are what prevent us from falling asleep initially and keep us from falling back to sleep should we awake in the middle of the night. An effective way to block negative thoughts is to listen to an audiobook as you try to fall asleep.

The human brain can’t have two simultaneous thoughts. It’s impossible to have a happy and a sad thought at the same time. The audiobook gives your brain something to focus on so you don’t ruminate on negative thoughts. You can set the audiobook to play for a certain length of time (e.g., 10 minutes, 20 minutes, etc.) so it doesn’t continue to play all night.

Sleep well and notice the improvements in your clarity, energy, and mental ability the next day.

David Bardsley is the author of Smarter Next Year: The Revolutionary Science for a Smarter, Happier You.


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