Sleep comes easily for some – especially the very young. As we age, however, sleep can become as elusive as a dream. We know that proper rest is important for our body. But why is it specifically important for our brain?

Getting enough sleep is important for attention and learning during our waking hours. Have you ever had a bad night’s sleep and felt like you were in a fog the entire following day?

According to Leonie Kirszenblat, postdoctoral research fellow at The University of Queensland, sleep also is needed to do a bit of brain “housekeeping”. A recent study in mice found sleep cleanses the brain of toxins that accumulate during waking hours, some of which are linked to neurodegenerative diseases. During sleep, the space between brain cells increases, allowing toxic proteins to be flushed out. It’s possible that by removing these toxins from the brain, sleep may stave off neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

There are a few key components to better rest that are important for all of us. Most sleep studies have shown that reducing or even eliminating electronics such as TVs, tablets or phones around bedtime is vital to your brain for rest. Most also agree that reading an actual book is fine, and that your room’s environment should be quiet and dark. 

Sleep experts say if you have recurring problems with waking at night and not being able to fall back to sleep, it’s best to leave your bedroom and go to another part of your house that’s quiet and dark, practice relaxation techniques until you are tired again, and then return to your bed. This method resets your association between your bedroom and sleep and eliminates the conditioned response to not sleeping. 

Now let’s break down some specific tips for common sleep traits that will help you set up your home for proper rest.

The “Light” Sleeper

  • Focus on the time leading up to bedtime – the time at which your head actually hits the pillow. 
  • Have a dedicated time to go to sleep, and try not to stray far from it.
  • Staying calm is the goal, so take a hot bath an hour before bed to initiate the process of relaxation.
  • Legs Up the Wall, included as part of our Yoga for Better Sleep therapy, is a fabulous way to start the relaxation process if you are not a bath person.
  • A quiet and clean bedroom is important for you because your element can be sensitive to noise and clutter.
  • You may claim to be a “light” sleeper. Eye pillows and ear plugs may be helpful. 
  • Keep your bedside table clear of electronics and try to keep your bedroom clutter-free. 

The “Groggy” Riser

  • The “waking up” part of your sleep cycle is where you should focus. 
  • Set up a sleep/wake schedule to support your natural circadian rhythm. 
  • Set an alarm, but not a phone or electronic device, just a regular old alarm clock will do. 
  • Get up at the same time everyday and set up a practice space for moving in the morning. This place could be in your bedroom or another calm/uncluttered place in your home. 
  • If possible choose a space with lots of natural light. 
  • It’s important for you to get the brain energized in the morning by moving instead of sitting down.
  • Alicia has some great, short wake- up videos in the library you can use for this addition to your morning routine. Morning Flow or Wake Up to Sun Salutations work well for intermediate yogis and Up and Down From Chair or Wall Salutations are great for beginners! Mix it up and try a new video each week, your brain will have fun with the challenge.  

The “Busy” Mind

  • Your objective is to calm the mind and avoid the use electronic devices 1-2 hours before bed.
  • We recommend practicing a meditation technique before bed, like Imagery Therapy. Simply imagine a serene and calm place your mind can focus on until you fall asleep. 
  • Progressive Relaxation is also very effective. It’s a simple technique in which you tighten and relax your muscles from your feet all the way up to your head and face. 
  • Staying cool is important, so make sure your thermostat is set just right.
  • Create a calm environment, maybe decorate the bedroom with live plants and candles. 
  • In the morning, try your best to slowly get out of bed and maybe read a book with your morning beverage, instead of the news right away.
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