A lot of people don’t recognize just how important sleep is for their brain function, their mood or even their physical strength. Sleep is when the body repairs from the damage caused during the day though and it is when your brain rejuvenates neurotransmitters and strengthens new connections. If you sleep well, then you will be more focused, more alert, happier and more creative all at once.
So how can you go about enhancing your sleep for better cognitive performance?
Have a Set Bedtime
This isn’t easy to enforce but if you can try to get to bed at least roughly the same time every day, then you’ll find that it has profound benefits for your brain function, mood and more. This is because the brain and body are designed to work in rhythms. We are beholden to our ‘circadian rhythm’ for example, which helps us to feel tired at the right time (before bed) and to wake up at the right time (when the sun rises). This is based not only on external cues (technically called ‘external zeitgebers’) but also on our internal biology (called ‘internal pacemakers’) such as the build-up of adenosine in the brain.
If you can get into a rhythm then, your brain will be ready for bed when you hit the sack, resulting in a better night’s sleep and less ‘sleep inertia’ the next day.
Getting your temperature right when you sleep is very important and can have a big impact on your quality of sleep. One thing that helps a great deal, for example, is to take a warm bath just before bed. This will help to relax the muscles and the brain due to the warmth but it also encourages the body to better regulate its temperature as you sleep, preventing you from getting too hot or too cold.
To get the best night’s sleep, it is recommended that the environment around you be slightly cool. Open a window a jar and this will help to ensure that this is the case!
Have Some Downtime
Most important of all is to allow yourself to ‘wind down’ at the end of the day before you get to sleep. This means that you should try to spend at least about half an hour without using your smartphone for example and that you should avoid television and computer games as well. These things all produce light of a certain spectrum that will make the brain more alert and awake, while also triggering a stress response.
Instead, try reading for half an hour with a dim light. This will help you to start calming down and will encourage the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Meanwhile, the reading will cause your eyes to get tired making it hard to keep them open!