Recently, I asked the ladies in my Take Charge of Your Food Journey group how they nourish and optimize their brains.
I offered these 9 things to do to protect your brain, decrease your waistline, and move you closer to check things off on your bucket list.
exercise at least 30 minutes every day
avoid environmental exposure
don’t smoke and limited alcohol intake
nurture your gut microbiome
eat a brain-healthy diet
if needed, add smart supplementation.
When you inhabit healthy lifestyle habits and eat foods that serve you instead of inhibiting your life force, you embrace the 80% of your aging process that is in your control.
Let’s take sleep, which seems to be on everyone’s radar since most say they are not getting enough.
We go to bed gazing at our phones and wake to an alarm blaring Beethoven. More modern-day life is full of noise and distractions that interfere with our natural sleep patterns such as overstimulation from artificial lighting, shift work, jetlag, and caffeine.
And what exactly does natural sleep mean? Like a baby? Too many babies use smartphones and iPads as pacifiers and have the same tired brains as we do. Culturally speaking, sleep is underappreciated. As a group globally, we humans are chronically sleep-deprived.
Sleep deprivation impacts cognition, mood, memory, and learning. Long term lack of sleep leads to chronic disease including depression, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, which are all risk factors for developing dementia.
A good night’s sleep every night should be a priority, not a luxury.
What’s your sleep scenario?
Do you easily fall asleep but wake up 20 minutes later or even a few hours later feeling wired? Then you find you have a hard time going back to sleep?
Maybe you can’t fall asleep when you get into bed. You feel tired, but your mind is going too fast. Many nights you toss and turn into the wee hours of the morning. Thinking, planning, reviewing a few themes of your day over and over.
Before I list the 5 actions that can soothe your night and help you move towards a refreshing night’s sleep, you might want to click here for an overview of the five stages of sleep and a quick dive into your circadian rhythms.
RETRAIN YOUR BRAIN THAT YOUR BED IS A PLACE TO SLEEP
Your bed is a place to sleep. Of course, there are other things you can do in bed, but I’ll leave that up to you and your bed partner.
What you don’t want to do in bed is lie awake, staring at the ceiling tossing and turning and thinking and thinking. That sends the message to your brain that your bed is a place to be awake and think.
You need to get out of your bed and move into another room. Curl up on a couch or a comfy chair, throw a blanket over your tired body, and dim the lights. Don’t turn on the television or get on your phone or a computer.
If you like, you can read underneath a dim light. (A bound book, not a reader with a screen.) Listen to music. (Probably not Drake or heavy metal.) A lullaby is more likely to relax you. Your brain will calm down from your overthinking when struggling to fall asleep or your restless tossing and turning.
Eventually, you will get sleepy and be able to return to bed and fall into slumber.
You can add to this quiet time, deep breathing techniques. Here are a few for you to try: or some simple stretches.
Try this one. It may take many nights making this routine… but this is a simple action to take.
One hour before going to bed — Turn off ALL devices. Most likely, you’ve already heard this!
Here’s what’s happening when you are on your devices: the screen light (even the nighttime screen) inhibits the release of melatonin.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that turns on around 9 pm and thrives on darkness. If you are staring at your screens, your brain is getting all amped up. Your brain tells your body that it is NOT time to sleep.
This is one of the biggest reasons why you aren’t falling asleep quickly OR falling asleep and then waking back up. Your brain is on fire from looking at a computer or phone screen.
Start with 30 minutes a night. Get comfortable with that amount of time, then increase to an hour. You’ll be amazed at what quality things you can do at night without being online or working on your computer.
This one is a significant shift.
3 MORE ACTIONS
to consider tackling for restful shut-eye.
Easy with the cocktails. Alcohol knows how to block your REM sleep. That’s your restorative sleep state, and it is essential to go through the REM cycle every night in your sleep. If you do drink, then definitely do so earlier in the evening.
Break up with your barista. Have your caffeine early in the day and cut it off your cup of joe by early afternoon. If you drink caffeine all day long or have a fix at night, you for sure are not getting into a deep sleep state. You may think you’re sleeping, but you never fully enter REM sleep. Think of all those vivid dreams you are missing out on.
And then there’s a Brain Wash. Yep, you need to turn your BrainWash in the same way you might run the dishwasher before you head to bed.
It’s essential for your brain to wash away harmful waste proteins. These build up between brain cells during our waking hours. Quality sleep allows for a BrainWash to happen nightly. It’s this BrainWash that prevents your brain from developing dementia-related diseases.
Just say No! A prescriptive aid is a broad set of chemicals known as sedative-hypnotics. But sedation does not make for sound sleep. Being sedated doesn’t give you the natural therapeutic benefits that sleep can provide.
An over-the-counter aid like melatonin is known as the hormone of darkness. Its purpose is to help regulate the timing of sleep. Contrary to what the marketing tells us, it doesn’t actually help you sleep well.
Take action to reboot your brain and sleep like a well-cared for baby again.
Out of the 5 possibilities of what changes you could make to help you sleep better, which ones might you try?