It can start with some little things, like forgetting where you put your glasses or what you did with the car keys.
But when those “senior moments” are only getting worse, is it time to start worrying?
Before you do, maybe it’s time to get some better sleep instead!
Because some landmark research in sleep science is telling us that poor sleep can short-circuit your brain, preventing it from making the connections needed to form memories.
One scientist describes the process like that of a computer — with memories “getting stuck” before they’re able to move into the long-term “hard-drive” part of your brain.
It’s another big reason why we need to take stock of our sleeping habits now, rather than later.
If all of the news about how lack of sleep can trigger heart disease, diabetes, depression, and cancer weren’t enough, we now know that being shortchanged in the sleep department can steal your precious memories.
University of California, Berkeley, researchers have been studying sleep for years now — specifically, how poor sleep can keep you from remembering things that you should easily be able to recall.
Previous studies done at that university revealed that if you want a good memory, you need to get what’s called “slow brain-wave” sleep. Berkeley neuroscience professor Matthew Walker explains it this way: “As we get older, the quality of our sleep deteriorates and prevents those memories from being saved by the brain at night.”
Now, you may think that because you’re getting those eight hours a night, that’s enough. But how good is that sleep?
When you don’t get that deep kind of sleep, it appears that memories can “get stuck” in the temporary parts of our brains (like the cache in a computer system), and then they are “overwritten” by new ones.
Other research has found that even in young adults, enhanced periods of deep sleep were able to double the ability to remember things.
Now, some just-out research from UC-Berkeley has given additional credence to those earlier studies, finding that altered sleep patterns as we age throw off memory-boosting slow waves and prevent them from coordinating with “faster” ones.
“When those two brain waves [are] perfectly coinciding, that’s when you seem to get this fantastic transfer of memory,” Walker said.
Obviously, there’s a lot more going on when we’re in dreamland than you would think!
So, if you want to wake, not just refreshed, but with your memories stored snugly in your brain’s “hard-drive” for easy retrieval, it’s obvious that getting high quality Zzzz’s is the answer.
But that brings up an even bigger question, because falling asleep when you get into bed and sleeping through the night is another nut that sometimes seems impossible to crack.
First, when it comes to pharmaceutical sleeping meds, remember they’re not as benign as they appear to be in those drug company ads. They’re dangerous, addictive, and can easily cause you to take a fall, crash your car — or worse. Plus, there are plenty of other options to help you sleep soundly that are also safe.
Last week, I gave you some tips such as not taking your phone (or other gadgets) to bed with you and keeping your bedroom as dark as possible, but there are some other tips and tricks you can try as well:
- Watch your coffee and tea habit, as it takes around five hours just for your body to eliminate half of the caffeine you’ve consumed.
- Give yourself a bedtime. Sticking to a “sleep schedule” can help you get your Zzzz’s back.
- Put a few drops of essential oils that have relaxing properties, such as lavender and bergamot, in an aromatherapy diffuser in your bedroom.
Plus that, I’ve previously told you about some of the benefits of taking a melatonin supplement, but there’s plenty more to know about this amazing “sleep hormone.”
In fact, it appears to work even better as a sleep enhancer the older you are!
Along with a supplement, you can also add certain foods to your diet that will boost melatonin production, such as pineapple, oranges, and tart cherry juice.
“Older adults’ forgetfulness tied to faulty brain rhythms in sleep” Jon Hamilton, December 18, 2018, NPR, nor.org