How You Sleep Tonight Will Affect Your Brain’s Future

Want to keep your memory sharp in your twilight years? Then youíd better stock up on sleep now, says a new analysis published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

The numerous mind-body benefits of a sound snooze are undeniable. But after examining the results of more than 200 studies spanning across five decades, researcher and director of the Baylor University Sleep and Neuroscience Cognition Laboratory, Michael Scullin, Ph.D., and his co-author Donald Bliwise, Ph.D., a professor of neurology at Emory University, have concluded that getting higher-quality sleep in middle-age (between 30-60 years old) can have a huge impact on how well your brain works in your 70s, 80s and beyond.

The body of research examined by Scullin and Bliwise included investigations based on self-reported sleep quality measures (e.g. how long it typically takes a participant to fall asleep; how long they stay in a state of uninterrupted, deep sleep; how tired they are during the day and how many hours of sleep they get), as well as various examinations of the effects of sleep-deprivation, sleep-medications and daytime naps on brain-wave activity.

Scullin sums up the key takeaway from their analysis in a Baylor press release: “It’s the difference between investing up front rather than trying to compensate later. We came across studies that showed that sleeping well in middle age predicted better mental functioning 28 years later.”

Itís important to note that getting good sleep in your 30s wonít prevent you from getting dementia in your 70s. But catching enough Zs while youíre younger can give your brain the help it needs to remain agile as you age.

You canít play catch-up

Whether itís attempting to make up for an all-nighter you pulled to prepare that presentation for work, or adopting a general attitude of “I’ll sleep when Iím dead,” procrastinating on your rest can harm your health in a variety of ways:

  • Increases your risk of depression (by as much as five times in people with chronic insomnia), heart disease, cancer, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Wreaks havoc with your emotional stability.
  • Causes you to look older by releasing too much cortisol, which causes inflammation and degrades the levels of collagen in your skin.
  • Makes you more prone to obesity by increasing your appetite and contributing to unhealthy food cravings.
  • Elevates your risk for getting into a car accident. Each year in America, about 100,000 automobile crashes are at least partially caused by excess fatigue, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • Levels your immune system, making you more prone to catching the cold or flu.

And trying to play catch-up with sleep is not a sound strategyóyou can never recapture the sleep youíve lost, an issue that becomes even more prominent in your later years, since the quality of a personís sleep tends to decline with age.

Sleep strategies that work

Rather than letting all of this sleep research scare you, use it as motivation to commit to adopting these strategies for better sleep:

  • Create the right environment: A dark, cool, quiet environment is ideal for falling into the slow-wave level of sleep that promotes memory formation and healthy brain functioning.
  • Find your number: The traditional eight-hour-a-night sleep philosophy has been challenged by studies indicating that each person is unique when it comes to the amount of sleep they really must have. Some people may only need six hours to stave off daytime drowsiness, while others may need a solid eight hours to perform their best. For most, the optimal time falls somewhere between five and nine hours, according to a 2014 Harvard study.
  • Get some exercise: Among the many benefits of engaging in a daily workout routine is the ability to get a better nightís sleep. Just donít hit the gym right before bed or you may be too revved up to settle into bed.
  • Adopt a nighttime routine: Human beings are creatures of habit. We find comfort in following a prescribed regimen for certain daily activities. Start winding down before bedtime by forgoing electronic devices, taking a warm shower, doing a gentle yoga practice, drinking a glass of milk, etc. Aim to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day to help align your internal body clock.
  • Listen to a lullaby: Nope, lullabies arenít just for babies. A study of older adults in their 60s, 70s and 80s found that listening to quiet, soothing music right before bed helped them fall asleep faster and feel more energized the next day.
  • Snack smart: While itís never a good idea to sleep on an empty stomach, itís equally important to avoid certain foods and beverages before bed. Caffeine after 2:00 pm, alcohol right before you hit the sack, and too much fluid of any kind in the hours leading up to bedtime can interfere with sleep. Opt for bland, low sugar foods such as whole grains, bananas and other complex carbohydrates.

Image credit: joi via Flickr

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Benten B.
Benten B1 years ago

Really amazing blog, I’d love to discover some extra tool for multiple url

Sen Senz
Sayenne H2 years ago

I think I'd do better in a world that was less masochistic and more fun. I do not believe in work hard play hard. I believe in play and before you know, you did something that qualifies as work better then working as such ever could. xD Too bad I'm the only one. Oh well.

Sen Senz
Sayenne H2 years ago

Routine never works for me. I always sleep best when I don't force it on myself.. and rituals just.. repulse me somehow. I think we got it wrong. We invented time only to enslave ourselves to it. Time is a tool, not a master to serve. But the world is kind of forcing me in to serving time more then time is serving me. I think insomnia sucks, however but the hours counting thing or rituals only get me into endless fights with myself instead of making it easier. But thats probably just me.

Jayasri Amma
Jayasri Amma2 years ago

Thank you!

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago


Jayasri Amma
Jayasri Amma3 years ago

Thank you!

Sara Sezun
Sara S3 years ago

I've suffered from insomnia my entire life. I understand why, and am trying to change this through acupuncture and medicinal herbs.

Magdalena J.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thank you!

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey3 years ago