Anyone that has had a bad night’s sleep knows how it can intrude on productivity the following day!  Have you ever experienced “brain fog”?

As I progress through my studies on dementia, I’d like to share some of the information given by Dr Michael Breus, Ph.D.  He is a Clinical Psychologist and author who is nationally-recognised in the US as an expert on sleep.  All of the information below has come from an interview he gave in the “Regain Your Brain” series by Peggy Sarlin.

He talks about the importance of establishing and maintaining a consistent waking and sleeping routine to assist your circadian rhythm and by doing this assisting your memory.

Questions to ask yourself about sleep – because sleep is definitely about quality and quantity.

  • Do I have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep?
  • Do I wake feeling rested?
  • Do I snore? (you might need to ask your partner this one – and believe them if they say you do!  You’re asleep – you may not know!)
  • Do I have sleep apnea (your partner may have to answer that one too!)  This is when you actually stop breathing and may do a big gasp when your body realises it’s running low on oxygen!

According to Dr Breus, if our circadian rhythm is functioning well, our focus will be best earlier in the day as we should have higher levels of cortisol in our system.  In the later part of the day, our creativity is at its best because the cortisol is dropping off and our melatonin levels are beginning to rise.

One way of developing a good sleep/wake routine and reducing the brain fog effect is this:

On waking –

  1. Hydrate – have at least one glass of water to make up for the fluid loss overnight.
  2. Sunlight and movement – natural light helps shut down the melatonin release.  Exercise gets the blood flowing assisting your body to function well
  3. Nutrition – have a protein-based breakfast rather than a carbohydrate loaded breakfast as the carbohydrates elevate melatonin levels.

 “Light (natural) is Medicine” – “Movement is Medicine” 

During the day – Most people can maintain good focus for about 45 – 50 minutes before fatigue sets in.  When you notice your focus is dropping, Dr Breus suggests:

  1. Re-hydration – keep the body hydrated – he really stresses this point
  2. Walk outside – recharge and turn off the melatonin!  Also getting outside gets you fresh air.  Do exercises that cross the mid-line of your body.
  3. Deep breathing (regardless of whether you can get outside).
  4. Nutrition – Eat a good, healthy lunch – you can have more carbohydrates in this meal

In the mid-afternoon, there is a drop in energy levels and body temperature so go outside again to get more natural light.

Dr Breus advises a consistent bed-time and wake-up time.  Every body is different but most people need 7 to 8 hours sleep a night and certain behaviours encourage a good night’s sleep followed by a productive day and then a good night’s sleep …  So, before going to bed, there is a little preparation required.

For the healthy, non-medicated person, using the example of their bed time being 10 pm:

  • 9 pm to 9:20 pm – turn off all the gadgets – phones, tablets, computer work and do the preparation for the next day – organise anything that you know needs to be done for tomorrow that can be done tonight
  • 9:20 pm to 9:40 pm – end of day hygiene – showering, brushing teeth etc
  • 9:40 pm to 10 pm – relaxation – find the technique that works for you that allows you to fall asleep.

If anxiety and depression or a busy brain gets in the way of easily falling asleep then try this technique.  Maintain a “worry journal” – or call it what you like!  Divide the page in 2  and have a “Problem” column and a “Solution” column.  Sometimes the solution will be that you will concentrate on that tomorrow!  Having the problem written down sometimes helps resolve the problem or at least put it into perspective.  This activity should be done before the routine written above.  That is, before you turn of the electronic devices and preparing for the next day.

Things that can get in the way of a good night’s sleep can include:

  1. Medications – your doctor/pharmacist can advise you of the best times to take your medication so that sleep problems from the medication are minimised.
  2. Pain – Dr Breus works in a pain clinic and specifically mentions that pain and sleep should be treated simultaneously
  3. Sleep Apnea – maintaining a healthy weight helps to reduce this problem.  Also using devices that help you to breathe well through the night eg CPAP, mouth devices that keep your jaw forward
  4. Nocturia – needing to go to the toilet through the night.  Dr Breus didn’t have any suggestions for this but I would suggest you start by being referred to a Continence Adviser as they have so much knowledge to share.  Nocturia comes into their area of expertise.  You could also consider a Urologist.

Dr Breus’s guide to successful night’s sleep starts with his Banana Tea as it is very high in magnesium – great for a muscle relaxant.

His instructions are:

  1. wash the banana (skin intact)
  2. cut off the tips
  3. cut into half
  4. put into a pot of water – 3 to 4 cups
  5. boil for 4 to 5 minutes
  6. drink the water

This wouldn’t be great if you hate bananas but if you love them, then apparently it is very delicious!