The Importance of Sleep

Got to love a good cliché. How about, ‘I'm busier than an ant at a family reunion picnic" or "I'm busier than a moth in a sweater closet?”

While sleeping, your brain is hard at work performing some very critical functions necessary to keep it operating at optimal levels. For example, during sleep, your brain cleans itself by eliminating cellular debris and toxins that build up during the day, consolidates learning and memory, and prepares for the next day.  The cerebrospinal fluid in your brain plays a big role as it flows in and out of your brain during sleep. The removal of toxins and organizing of your thoughts and lessons of the day are also important to your immune system, appetite control, and neurotransmitter production. Some neurologists joke about this cleaning as “brainwashing,” for better physical and mental health! 

However, more than 50 million Americans suffer from some type of sleep disorder, and even more have periodic or occasional insomnia. If you have pre-existing mental health conditions or physical health problems, you are more likely to experience low quality or interrupted sleep. 

The most common psychological conditions which affect the quality of sleep are depression and anxiety, affecting 75% and 50% of us, respectively. Both result in feeling stressed, irritable, and can affect your judgment and concentration. Physical conditions, such as apnea, chronic pain, dementia, and thyroid imbalances, can overlap with sleep issues, either as the cause or the result.  Whether psychological or physical, all conditions are worthy of your time to investigate their impact on the quality of your sleep, and may warrant consultation with your primary care practitioner.   

Below are some self-help strategies caregivers have shared with us when they have experienced sleeplessness.   

  • Do your best to make your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
  • Address emotional problems prior to going to sleep.  Some caregivers write in a journal just before sleep to get concerns out of their mind and onto paper.
  • Set a regular sleep schedule and stick to it, even on weekends.
  • Read a book, but not on an e-reader or tablet, since the light keeps your brain alert. Same goes for not watching TV just before sleep.
  • Play soothing nature sounds, wind chimes, a fan, or soft music.
  • Some caregivers enjoy an evening drink of warm, unsweetened almond milk, with a teaspoon of vanilla, and maybe even a few drops of stevia.
  • Other caregivers have lavender near their bed to help them relax and more easily fall sleep. 

Brain keeping person awake
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