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Health & Exercise Forum

Sleep Well to Improve Your Memory: Part 1 of 2

Feb 1, 2016

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumPART I OF II

It has been long known that sleep has a significant impact on health. In fact, sleep is third only to diet and exercise when it comes to health and wellness.

Recent studies funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) have found important information on sleep that may lead to new approaches to improve how students learn and older people retain memories.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have discovered that getting a good sleep BEFORE you learn PREPARES the brain for initial formation of memories, while getting a good sleep AFTER you learn helps one SAVE and CEMENT the new information solidly into the architecture of the brain. Moreover, in this pre and post sleep model, one is less likely to forget new material. Furthermore, it was determined that if you haven’t slept well, your ability to learn new material may be compromised by up to 40% for young students and more so as we age.

Unfortunately, the research also shows that sleep patterns change as we age and so too does deep memory, which begins to decline as we leave our 30’s. Those over 60 have a 70% loss of deep sleep compared to young adults 18 to 25 and this has been found to correlate to memory loss, especially of new material.

It is recommended that people discuss their sleep problems with their family physician because many medical conditions such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome and others may contribute to sleep disorders.

The “24/7” society offers 24 hour cable, internet, email, and work shifts. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 20% of all Americans report less than 6 hours of sleep per night. Sleep deprivation contributes to poor work performance, athletic performance, motor vehicle accidents, relationship problems, mood swings, anger and depression. It is also associated with increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. However, all is not lost. Current wisdom offers the following suggestions to improve your chances for a good night’s sleep.

  1. Take Time To Chill Out: At the end of a busy day make sure you take time to chill out. Give your eyes and mind an opportunity to wind down and rest. No computer use for 1-2 hours before bedtime! You may think harmless surfing the net or checking your email won’t get you wound up. However, the computer light triggers a receptor in the brain that affects your body rhythms and your sleep-wake cycle.
  2. Sleep in the Bedroom – No Work: Research shows that people with sleep disorders sleep better in a sleep test room than in their own bedrooms. Upon further review, most of these people have turned their bedrooms into everything other than a bedroom. The room often is a place for snacking, television, a computer, and home office. Sleep experts suggest limiting bedroom use for sex and sleep. Limit the distractions that stimulate the brain. Keep the room quiet, dark, cool and cozy. Also, consider keeping pets out of the bedroom if they distract you or if you have asthma or allergies.
  3. Shut Out The Worries at Bedtime: Research suggests that 30% of Americans lose sleep over economic problems at least 3 nights a week and 12% every night. Try to distract your brain from your problems with music, a good book or audio book. Consider keeping a pen and pad on your bed stand to allow you to write important reminders that come to mind as your try to sleep.
  4. Avoid Alcohol: While an alcoholic beverage may help you fall asleep, once you metabolize it and the sedative wears off in 3-4 hours, you may wake up more alert. Instead, try a cup of warm milk or decaffeinated chamomile tea. Warm liquid makes you drowsy by a sudden increase in core temperature which drops quickly to cool the body. A cool body sleeps better.
  5. Keep The Bedroom Cool: A warm bedroom with too many blankets can make you restless. Research shows that higher core-body temps are associated with insomnia. Keep the room at 60-65 degrees to help the brain cool the body and shut it down.
  6. Eat Dinner Earlier: Eating a late meal too close to bedtime makes the body work too hard digesting the food when it should be relaxing. Eat at least 2-3 hours before bed. At the same time, eat a light snack because hunger can also wake you up. Remember, cheese, turkey and other proteins have sleep inducing amino acids.
  7. Limit Caffeine: While coffee and other caffeine drinks may give you a lift in the morning, drinking it later in the day can contribute to insomnia. Limit yourself to 2 cups of caffeinated drinks in the morning and avoid coffee, tea, and other soft drinks containing caffeine such as Red Bull, Jolt and Java after lunch.
  8. Stick to Your Bedtime: Going to bed at different times every night is like traveling through different time zones… it upsets your biological clock. Try to create a consistent biorhythm and biological clock by setting a routine sleep and wake-up time.
  9. Reset: If you can’t fall asleep after tossing and turning for 30-45 minutes, get out of bed and do something else. Read, listen to soft music, or meditate to reset your internal clock. Then, return to bed and try again. Also, turn your alarm clock around so you are not tempted to look at it every 10 minutes. Consider performing relaxation techniques that involve visualization and deep breathing techniques.
  10. Exercise: A consistent daily exercise routine can help relieve stress, establish consistent biorhythms, relax muscles and promote sleep. 45-60 minutes of aerobic exercise by walking, biking, running, or swimming combined with a light-weight, high repetition weight training program can be very valuable. However, do not exercise too close to bedtime as it may over stimulate the brain and contribute to insomnia.

SOURCES: Stephanie Schorow, Lifescript; National Sleep Foundation; National Institute of Health

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.