Imagine a vitamin, slimming pill, anti-depressant, supplement and performance enhancer rolled into one magic drug that, with the same magic, has zero side effects? What is more unbelievable about this magic drug is that… it’s completely free. Sadly, due to a gross underestimation of this 'drug', millions have neglected it.
We’re sure that even before you read this, you already have certain awareness of the many benefits of sleep. Yet more than just a preventive cure from the negative impacts of sleep deprivation, sleep is an incredible nourishment to every aspect of your life. It even makes you more creative, giving solutions you might otherwise not generate when awake. A great sleeper, who slept up to 10 hours a day plus naps, some guy called Einstein, can attest to that.
You probably know that sleep helps your memory, and how your brain consolidates all the information and retains it in your sleep. Multiple tests have shown that the amount of deep non-REM sleep a person has is the directly linked to how much the individual will recall the next day. However, not only does your memory improve through sleep, you brain is conducting an ‘offline’ learning session.
Everyone is familiar with the phrases ‘muscle memory’ and ‘practice makes perfect’, but not everyone knows how much sleep is part of the equation.
Inspired by the personal experience of a pianist who struggled to master a particular piece, only to wake up the next morning able to play it perfectly, Professor Matthew Walker conducted research to find out if sleep truly helped to build our motor skills. Taking a group of right-handed individuals, the professor had them learn to type a keyboard sequence with their left hand as quickly and accurately as possible.
It was a given that after some practice, they executed it to an acceptable standard. The first half of the group who learnt the sequence in the daytime were tested again at night, showing no significant improvement. The second half who learnt the sequence in the evening were tested and were sent to sleep.
At the retest the morning after, results showed a striking 20 percent increase in performance speed and almost 35 percent improvement in accuracy. Even for long sequences, a night’s sleep proved able to create seamless performance by the individual.
Through a brain scanner, the transference of memory shown was unlike the usual short- to long-term used for facts. Here, motor memories had been shifted over to brain circuits that operate below the level of consciousness. Sleep enables not just your mind to remember more, but also your body.
Just as the lymphatic system circulates and collects waste for removal, your brain has a similar system too. Researchers Antoine Louveau and Aleksanteri Aspelund discovered that the system is responsible for ridding the body of amyloid beta, a protein that accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
Now guess when this system is more productive. When asleep, it is 60 percent more productive. Here comes the double whammy: Your sleeping brain can also distinguish what is important to remember and what isn’t. A bit like artificial intelligence (or true intelligence, since this came first), sleep does not retain all information equally.
It is able to discern, based on orders from the waking state, which memories to selectively boost. Spindles, like filters on an Internet search, are responsible for this, by allowing your hippocampus, ie the memory storage site, to program what has been decided as important or irrelevant. Now forgetting an ex seems a lot easier—just remind yourself to forget before you sleep!
1. AVOID ALCOHOL
A nightcap may shorten the amount of time taken to fall asleep, but its presence in the bloodstream can disrupt the second half of the sleep cycle and the important information consolidation process that takes place during REM sleep. Meaning you get sleep, but not deep, restorative sleep. Alcohol also impairs breathing in sleep, affecting the brain’s breathing centre by masking the effect of low oxygen levels in the bloodstream, which leads to sleep apnoea.
2. MAKE IT A HABIT
Not the sleeplessness, the positive wind-down rituals. You know them, the ones prescribed by Doctor Google. No heavy meals hours prior, switching off your phone, breathing exercises, etc. Setting an alarm to sleep is a good one. You have one to wake, so why not? It’s all about discipline. Even if they don’t show immediate results, practice them for at least 21 days (the average span for an action to become a habit).
3. STOP TRYING SO HARD
While it is good practice to stick to a sleep schedule, don’t lie in bed awake if you simply can’t fall asleep. Don’t allow yourself to be susceptible to attentional bias. Instead, go do something relaxing. Read Esquire Singapore (in print, now that you are educated on blue light). Drink some milk. Daydream even. Picture yourself doing what you enjoy. It’s crucial to avoid exposure to information about sleep to take your focus off trying to sleep and unnecessarily scaring yourself with symptoms you believe you have that you actually don’t.