Health

How to keep your brain young: The sleep factor

Few things in life are as fine a balance as sleep, and it's tough to get it just right. Too little sleep has been linked to all kinds of chronic problems, from unflattering eye bags to obesity, diabetes and premature death. And now it turns out that either too little or too much sleep can unduly age your brain, and even speed up the onset of dementia.

sleep

Masterfile

Few things in life are as fine a balance as sleep, and it’s tough to get it just right. Too little sleep has been linked to all kinds of chronic problems, from unflattering eye bags to obesity, diabetes and premature death. And now it turns out that either too little or too much sleep can unduly age your brain, and even speed up the onset of dementia.

A recent study, as reported by Boston.com (Too much or too little sleep linked to faster brain aging) has found that people who routinely get less than seven hours or more than nine hours a night of sleep have accelerated aging in the brain, and their cognitive function matches that of someone up to seven years their senior. These under and over-sleepers faced a faster decline in memory, reasoning skills and vocabulary. Researchers aren’t yet sure why too little or too much sleep can lead to unusual cognitive decline, but point out that the body and brain are engaged in significant restorative work during sleep. Yet again, the ideal amount of sleep was set at seven or eight hours a night.

The science of ideal sleep is becoming more and more pervasive, and the most frustrating thing about these findings is how difficult it can be to control the amount of sleep you get. If you know that 30 minutes a day of cardio is your best bet for optimum aerobic health, then you can strap on your sneakers and get it done. But sometimes sleep just doesn’t come, despite your best efforts.

I eat well and exercise regularly, I pause during the day to take deep breaths and try to avoid excess stressors, and I’m almost always in bed before 11pm on weeknights – and still, I too often lie awake with my brain racing or wake up at 4am and can’t get back to sleep. Some nights I get five hours and some nights I try to get nine or 10 to even things out. But I have yet to get to a place where I can train my body to sleep at exactly 11pm and then awake refreshed when my alarm goes off at 7am. But, with all of the evidence that keeps emerging about the life-or-death importance of the right amount of sleep, I guess I’m going to have to keep trying…