How sleep can improve brain function, memory and cognitive health

Renowned holistic lifestyle coach Luke Coutinho explains the power of resting well

By Luke Coutinho

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Published: Thu 14 Jul 2022, 7:09 PM

I cannot stress on the importance of sleep enough, and I will continue to remind people about how powerful it is through my videos, articles, posts, and live talks, till I can. Every other consult of mine is with a patient who is sleep-deprived, and at least one out of four of them is suffering from brain fog, grogginess, headaches, low mood, and memory issues due to this. They blame it on age, and while it’s normal for every organ to undergo a gradual decline in its function, young men and women are going through this too.

While we can go on consuming walnuts, Omega 3, and other brain-boosting syrups and concoctions to boost our cognitive health, we also need to take a step back and ask ourselves: Am I sleeping well enough?

Research after research today is showing the deep connection between chronic sleep loss and declining brain function. There is no debate that sleep is important for us. It is non-negotiable. While we might put it on the back-burner to achieve more, work more, and earn more, our body doesn’t care about our social or professional commitments. It needs sleep, which is its fundamental requirement.

Ever experienced how hard it gets to think, execute, innovate, memorise and just be in a positive frame of mind with even one night of less sleep? Even our capacity to handle emotions and stress the next day decreases. What does this mean? There is power in sleep.

Let’s understand why. So many people today chase detox programmes, follow them for a week and shed some weight, but then again get back to their old ways of living. Have you ever wondered when your brain detoxes? When does it clean itself up of all the residues and wastes? The brain is not an elimination organ, but every organ has its wastes, and the brain has a beautiful mechanism of swiping itself clean when we are in deep slumber. Nothing much, just the basics so our body’s own intelligence can protect us.

Just like the lymphatic system, which is our body’s garbage disposal unit, our brain has an intelligently designed glymphatic system that helps remove its metabolic wastes that come from stress, overthinking, and information overload. Our brain is constantly producing these toxins, and an overload of these can lead to mental fatigue. And, what activates the glymphatic system? Deep sleep.

When we sleep, our brain shrinks, which is a good thing because it then creates space for the cerebrospinal fluid to enter and wash out the wastes and protein particles like beta-amyloid plaques found in the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient. When there is excess beta-amyloid plaque formation and accumulation, it interrupts communication between neurons leading to memory loss, slurring of speech, slow movements, confusion, and more. Toxins breed disease, and the same is the case with your brain.

Also, inflammation! Science terms cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Dementia as inflammatory conditions. Amongst several factors, a chronic lack of sleep can increase inflammation. And while we can keep popping curcumin supplements to quell inflammation, it cannot be a replacement for sleep.

This is the magic that occurs in your body when you sleep deep. People usually start taking care of their cognitive health in their later stages of life but Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s don’t happen overnight. The process is slow but gradual and the quality of your lifestyle and sleep today will determine the quality of your cognitive health later on. Do not take your sleep for granted, just because it’s free. Lifestyle matters.

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