Why counting sheep is good for your brain

Pillow with text

Photo © Ng | Dreamstime Stock Photos. Used by permission.

Well it seems I snoozed through World Sleep Day on March 13th. However, as the World Congress on Sleep Medicine is currently going on in Seoul, Korea, it’s not too late to talk about something many of us don’t get enough of: sleep. (Not that it’s ever too late to talk about sleep!)

These days the second most common answer I get when asking people how they are doing is, “I’m tired.” (The most common answer is, “Busy!) It seems that sleep deprivation is a big problem.

In 2013 the National Sleep Foundation in the United States conducted their International Bedroom Poll to explore sleep habits in six countries (US, Canada, Japan, Germany, UK, and Mexico). It found that generally less than one half of people are sleeping well every night.

Poor quality sleep impacts every area of our lives. It also affects our brain’s ability to do some vital clean-up work.

An interesting study by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center revealed that it is primarily during sleep that cerebral spinal fluid flushes harmful toxins from our brain. These toxins are the by-product of neural activity during waking hours and are associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

For years I suffered with sleep deprivation. I was usually getting enough hours of sleep (i.e. 7-8 per night), but the quality of my sleep was poor. It really began in earnest after the birth of my son, who didn’t sleep through the night until after age two. Those two years of constantly interrupted sleep was more than enough time to establish a poor sleep pattern that was extremely difficult to change. But the good news is that it’s possible!

Having healthy sleep habits is often referred to as having good “sleep hygiene”. It involves everything from what you eat before bed, the amount of light in your bedroom, room temperature, the use of electronics and so much more.

Here are some tips that help me get a good night’s sleep:

Limit caffeine intake. It’s a stimulant that blocks sleep-inducing chemicals in your brain and increases adrenaline production. (Easy to understand why a morning coffee is so popular!) However, it takes about six hours for just half of the caffeine in your body to be eliminated. So, if you are ingesting caffeine after lunchtime, it’s going to impact your sleep. And don’t forget that caffeine comes in many forms, including coffee, tea, chocolate, colas, cocoa and some medications.

Sleep in the dark. Use heavy curtains or blinds on your windows, eliminate the night light and turn the glowing green display of your clock-radio away so you can’t see it from bed. (I’ve found this last tip to be particularly helpful, as it helped me stop obsessing about how much sleep time I was losing in the middle of the night.) Once you wake up though, throw open your blinds or curtains to get a dose of morning light and help you get going.

Don’t eat too late. While there are some foods that appear to be sleep inducing (turkey comes to mind), our body works hard to digest food. Try to eat dinner at about the same time each day. Eat no later than two to three hours before bed to give your body time to digest.

Be consistent with your bedtime and wake-up time. This helps regulate your body clock. It may be tempting to sleep in for hours on weekends and vacation, but going to bed and waking up at about the same time each day makes it easier to maintain a healthy sleep schedule.

Check out the National Sleep Foundation website for some other good tips on establishing good sleep habits.

Sweet dreams!

Liz signature

About Liz Leake

I'm a communicator and writer living in Mississauga.
This entry was posted in Capacity, Learning and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Why counting sheep is good for your brain

  1. dpsa01 says:

    Great tips here, Liz. Sleep in the dark is key for me! It has to be pitch black. Best sleep I had in my life was on a cruise where our room was inside cabin – no light at all comes through.


  2. These are great tips, Liz. And I totally agree with the point about sleeping in the dark. It is so tempting to pull out my iPad or phone and try to check one last email or read through messages. Thanks for sharing!


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