We’ll start off with some honesty here. I am a mom to two little boys, thick in the years of sleep deprivation. I haven’t slept well in over five years. In the last year, my uncle and my husband’s grandmother both died of Alzheimer’s disease. Since learning about the new research linking lack of sleep and Alzheimer’s, paranoia has been my best friend. I’ve convinced myself I must get more sleep. But this is where people lose me in articles or podcasts. They say they realize something and then they go and change everything. Suddenly they are sleeping 8-10 hours per nights because they heard it’s what’s best and now they’ve added it into their routine. But I’m not going to pretend that I am now getting amazing sleep; on the contrary, I am writing to you from the middle of it. I’m writing to you from the house of someone who hasn’t slept well in years, and so I get that it’s not always easy to get the sleep we need. That’s why I put together some suggestions on ways we can be getting more sleep. This way, you can pick one or two that seem doable to you, and you can implement those, tossing the impossible ones out for another day or another season.
Research has been coming out linking poor sleep to Alzheimer’s disease. A bad night’s sleep may increase the level of a protein in your brain that has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers believe that chronic poor sleep in middle age may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s later in life.
Okay, that’s the bad news. The good news? We can make small changes. Maybe not overnight and maybe not every night. But we can make some improvement to our sleep habits now that could really help us later on in life.
Here are five ways you can start to get a better night’s sleep:
- 4-7-8 breathing technique. This technique has been linked to better sleep, lower levels of stress, and lower blood pressure. Here’s what you do. Two times a day (maybe when you wake up and before you go to sleep), you take ONE MINUTE to work through a breathing exercise. You start by exhaling all of the air out of your lungs, then put the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth where your gums meet your two front teeth. Leave your tongue there throughout the whole exercise. Then you breathe in for the count of 4, hold your breath for the count of 7, and then exhale for the count of 8. Do this 4 times through. If it feels too long for you, just speed up your counting by a little bit.
- Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day. This is really hard for those of us who like sleeping in when they can. But sleeping in or waking up at all different hours really messes with your internal clock. The best way to get yourself on a good sleeping rhythm is to pick a time that works best for you and go to bed at that same time every night and then wake up at the same time every morning.
- Exercise daily. Exercise helps us sleep better at night.
- Make sure your room is ideal for sleep. The best temperature to sleep at is around 67-69 degrees. And you don’t want too much noise. Some people (like me) have to have some kind of white noise in the background, but if you do this, try to keep the volume low so it isn’t disrupting your sleep cycle in the middle of the night.
- Spend the hour before you go to sleep doing a calming activity. For some people this might be reading. For some people it might be listening to a podcast or an audiobook or taking a bath. It is best to avoid screens in this hour.
Though getting more sleep is easier said than done, it’s important to take steps to improve the quantity and quality of sleep while you can. Pick one or two of these that seem doable to you and start there. We don’t have to live in fear of memory loss or dementia, but we should be smart about the decisions we make.