Brain Health: Sleep & mental rest Back »

Written collaboratively by Andrea Bjornestad, Leacey Brown, and Nikki Prosch.


In the series on the cognitive wheels, we have discussed various factors that can impact memory including physical exercise, mental stimulation, stress, social engagements, and spirituality. Within all of those factors, did you know that getting a good night’s sleep can improve your memory? Sleep plays a crucial role in our current functioning as well as retaining memories.

Reflect upon a time in which you did not sleep well and had difficulties paying attention the next day. Adequate sleep puts us in the right state of mind to absorb information throughout the day. In addition to helping us stay attentive, sleep also helps us process new information or consolidate new skills. Sleep also helps us solidify memories. Specifically, when we sleep, memories and skills are moved to more efficient and permanent brain regions, which helps in recall.

How much sleep do you need?

A big question remains: how much sleep do you need? The following includes information based on age:

  • Adults: 7-8 hours of sleep each night
  • Teenagers: At least 9 hours of sleep each night
  • School-aged children: At least 10 hours of sleep each night
  • Preschoolers: Between 11 and 12 hours per day
  • Newborns: Between 16 and 18 hours per day

Tips for a good night's rest

Several factors can inhibit sleep, so it is important to lower your stress levels and maintain a routine. Here are some tips to help you get a better night’s sleep:

  • Stick to a consistent schedule - try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day.
  • Avoid sleeping in, even on the weekends or evenings that you have stayed up late.
  • Be mindful of naps. If you suffer from insomnia, it may be best to eliminate naps or limit them to 15 to 20 minutes in the early afternoon.
  • Exercise – but not right before bed. Try not to engage in vigorous exercise at least three hours before bed. For some people, it can take six hours for your body to fully relax after exercising.
  • Decrease your caffeine intake and refrain from eating big meals at night.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed as it can interfere with your sleep cycle once you are asleep.
  • Control your exposure to light. Spend more time outside during the day, and let as much light into your home or office.
  • In the evenings, avoid watching TV or using electronic devises within two hours of your bedtime. This can disrupt your body’s natural rhythm.
  • When you go to sleep, make sure the room is dark. You will sleep better if the room is darker.

Bedtime rituals can also help you to relax before bed. Rituals may include taking a bath, listening to soft music, stretching, listening to books on tape, and dimming the lights. Relaxation techniques may also be helpful including visualizations, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation. Finally, try not to worry or brainstorm before bed.


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