June 19

“Murdering Sleep” is Hard on the Brain

Macbeth, in Act 2, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s great play, thinks he hears a voice cry out, “Sleep no more!  Macbeth does murder sleep”.  But Macbeth has done more than kill sleep—he’s just murdered King Duncan while he slept as a guest in Macbeth’s castle.  Macbeth rambles on a bit more, lamenting his loss of ‘innocent sleep’. Unfortunately for Macbeth (not to mention Duncan) innocent sleep is lost to him forever.

According to a new study recently published in the journal, Science, this lack of sleep was also bad for Macbeth’s brain, because sleep helps your memory in a very significant way.  Sleep researchers have known for a long time that sleep is necessary to memory and learning.  But only in this most recent study were scientists able to show that it is in the deep sleep or “slow-wave” cycle, that new neural connections are formed.  Unlike the ‘rapid eye movement’ part of sleep that processes dreams, the deep sleep phase replays activity—especially new activity—from earlier in the day, forming and strengthening new memories.  So Macbeth’s memory—if he had lived to old age—would have suffered from his lack of deep sleep.

But that’s not all:  another recent study showed that the brain uses sleep to wash toxins away from the area between neural connections—a kind of house-cleaning operation that may have a neuro-protective effect.  Some researchers suggest that a breakdown in this waste removal system that is active during sleep, could be one of the mechanisms contributing to neural diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  The resulting damaged connections may result in short-circuited communication between neurons, and ultimately, to memory loss.

We are well advised to pay more attention to our sleep patterns, and do what we can to prepare the way for a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, instead of “murdering sleep” like Macbeth, with our stressful, night-owl habits.  OWL WITH COFFEE

Shakespeare never knew  just how perceptive he was, when he had Macbeth refer to sleep as restorative, and lament the loss of healing, innocent

“Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care, The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath, Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”  

It is, indeed.

Here are a few simple tips for better sleep from Dr. Nathaniel Watson, a board-certified neurologist and sleep specialist and a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine:

1. Keep a Regular Sleep Routine

You can help sleep along by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, as well as by sticking to your pre-bed routine so that your body knows that sleep is coming.

2. Prepare a Sleep-Friendly Environment

Cool, dark, and quiet are essential. Turn out the lights or use light-blocking curtains or shades. If you live in a noisy environment, white noise machines or earplugs may block out some of the sounds.

3. Avoid Caffeine After 2:00 p.m.

If you must drink caffeine, avoid it after two in the afternoon, because it can increase your chances of insomnia later that night.

4. Don’t Exercise Right Before Bed

Regular exercise can help you sleep more soundly, but for some people, it can be disruptive if it’s done right before going to bed.

5. Skip the Pre-Bed Cocktail

Alcohol may make you drowsy, but it can disturb your sleep later as the alcohol wears off.

6. Create a Tech-Free Zone

Cell phones, computers, and tablets can all disrupt sleep because their ever-glowing lights—especially those in the blue wavelengths—can throw off your circadian rhythm by mimicking daylight.

(Find more sleep help at Healthline.com)

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