One of the best ways to improve your memory and cognitive function is by getting a good night's sleep.REM sleep is critical for your memory because that's when you move information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory.Dr. Michael Breus is a sleep expert who's appeared on The Dr. Oz Show 40+ times and the author of The Power of When. If you haven't listened to our first episode with him, you can do so here.
The Brain’s 2 Sleep Systems
Sleep drive is your desire to sleep.
- Sleep drives works like hunger and occurs over time.
- When your cell eats glucose, adenosine comes out the back end. Adenosine travels to the brain to a specific adenosine receptor site. The more adenosine you have in your brain, the sleepier you get. The molecular structure of adenosine and coffee are off by one molecule. Drinking coffee blocks adenosine from reaching its receptor site, which is why you don’t get sleepy.
Sleep rhythm is the natural time you go to sleep.
- Our bodies naturally tend to get sleepy around 10PM – 11PM.
Balancing sleep drive and rhythm is critically important for good sleep.
- If you’ve ever been exhausted and gone to bed early but couldn’t sleep, you had lots of drive and not enough rhythm.
- If you’ve ever fallen asleep on the couch around 7PM then woke up and went to bed at your normal bedtime, you had too much rhythm and not enough drive.
The Stages of Sleep
- Stages 1 & 2 of sleep make up about 50 – 55% of sleep, but scientists are unclear on what they do.
- Stages 3 & 4 of sleep are called delta sleep and are physically restorative. This occurs during the first third of the night. This is when you filter out any information you don’t need.
- REM sleep occurs during the last third of the night.
- During this stage, your brain moves information from your short- to long-term memory.
- Your brain also creates an organizational substructure in your head that attaches new information to information you already know. This process improves recall.
- Scientists believe that dreaming is part of this process.
- If you think you don’t dream, it’s likely you’re not sleeping enough. Try adding extra sleep at the end of your night to get more REM sleep.
5 Kwik Steps to A Good Night’s Sleep
Step 1: Wake up at the same time every day.
- Consistency is crucial to a good night’s sleep.
- Wake up at the same time no matter what time you went to sleep.
- Sticking to one sleep schedule improves your memory, sleep, and focus.
Step 2: Stop drinking caffeine by 2PM.
- Caffeine is a stimulant that has a half-life of between 6 to 8 hours.
- Stopping caffeine by 2PM gives your body enough time to eliminate the caffeine before bed.
- If you can drink caffeine an hour before bed and sleep well, you’re probably extremely sleep-deprived or spending nights stuck in Stages 1 and 2 of sleep.
- If you are constantly losing your keys, walking into a room and forgetting why you’re there, or forgetting your grocery list, you are likely sleep-deprived.
Step 3: Stop drinking alcohol 3 hours before bedtime.
- The average human body takes 1 hour to digest 1 alcoholic beverage.
- 2 glasses of wine at dinner will increase sleep by about 10 – 12 minutes.
- Your third drink has major effects on Stages 3 and 4 of sleep. One reason you get hangovers is because alcohol affects your ability to get physically restorative sleep.
Step 4: Stop exercising about 4 hours before bedtime.
- There is no better way to improve your sleep quality than exercise, but exercise can be too energy-boosting for some people.
- If you are a dolphin, it’s especially important to exercise in the morning.
- Make sure your exercise is improving, not disrupting, your sleep.
Step 5: Give the sun a high-five every morning.
- Get 5 – 15 minutes of sunlight exposure every morning.
- One reason people get ‘morning fog’ is because your brain is still producing melatonin.
- Melanopsin cells in your eyes are very reactive to light. When you see sunlight, they signal your brain’s pineal gland to stop melatonin production. This is why the military raises all the window shades at first light.
- Consider getting a light box if you suffer from depression, especially in the winter.
- Many people get the ‘winter blues’ because they’re not getting enough sunlight.
- Light boxes are used at the International Space Station because they see the sun rise and fall every 90 minutes.
- Depression is bad for your brain and affects your focus and memory.