The importance of sleep has always been a well known concept. We have been told to get 8 hours each night and…not much else, actually. Lets discuss what are the essentials for a good bedtime routine.

Why 8 hours? Is that really correct? And why is sleep apparently so important?

Well, let’s start at the beginning. There is a system that consists of pathways, channels, and pores in our brains and spinal cords called the glymphatic system. This system is crucial in removal of waste (by-products of cellular metabolism) with the help of transport by cerebrospinal fluid (CSF); it also helps regulate our nervous system immune health and intracranial fluid volume. We absolutely need this type of waste removal because every enzymatic reaction within the body can create waste compounds. We often do not need to worry about this because the body has these systems in place to degrade them; but, when these systems are not functioning optimally, we get buildup of waste compounds, which is exactly what we see happening in the creation of neurodegenerative diseases.

And something crucial to note, the glymphatic system only truly functions while we are in a restful sleep. It largely disengages during wakefulness. This means we will not be properly removing waste if we are not getting restful sleep.

So, how do we keep the glymphatic system functioning as it should?

The glymphatic system relies on multiple factors such as immune health, cardiovascular health, and overall inflammation levels. Certain dietary and lifestyle choices can lead to less ability for the waste to drain and be removed, creating damage to both body and brain.

Things like staying regularly hydrated, proper sleep, moving on a consistent basis, eating brain-supporting foods, and even having regular bowel movements will all positively impact the glymphatic system so that you can easily remove waste and keep your brain functioning at its best.

And finally, how do we ensure “proper” sleep to help the glymphatic system?

In comes …

Essentials for a Bedtime Routine:

  1. Timing matters. The consistency in our sleep and wake times can matter equally, if not more, than the amount of hours that we sleep each night. If we are getting minimal sleep one day, then trying to “catch up” the next, our bodies are only becoming more and more dysregulated than actually restoring. We rely on our circadian rhythm for a laundry list of physiological functions, and if we are constantly confusing it, restful sleep becomes harder and harder to come by. Studies also show that our bodies repair the most between the hours of 10pm and 2am. Even if you’re reaching for 8 hours of sleep, if it begins at midnight, it may not be as restorative compared to an earlier bedtime.
  2. Slow your brain down. Running around all day and trying to hop into bed, we often find we cannot get ourselves to fall asleep. Cortisol, our stress hormone, is likely going at a high level and it will not allow us to get into a restful mindset. Deep breathing, meditation, a lavender or epsom salt bath, reading, some restorative yoga poses, making a warm decaf latte, enjoying a long skincare routine, and trying to stay far away from the television are all wonderful options to add one or two into your routine in finding restful sleep.
  3. Lower the lights. We have learned the negative effects of too much blue light in our lives. One being it will negatively affect our sleep quality. This stems from the importance of a circadian rhythm and humans’ natural sleep patterns before electricity became a thing. We woke when the sun rose, and went to bed when it set. Now that we can fight that natural rhythm with lights and electronics, our bodies feel the effects. So, some small changes we can do to dampen the blow is to keep artificial lighting at a minimum in the last hour or two of being awake. Trying more candles than lamps, red reading lights, blue light blocking glasses while being around artificial lights or screens, and keeping away from the phone as much as possible before bed will support our circadian rhythm over time.
  4. Stay cool. Our bodies will find restful sleep in lower temperatures. Around 60-65 degrees F will serve us best in being able to fall asleep and remain asleep. We can help this concept by looking at what we are actually sleeping on. Cotton bedspreads tend to trap heat, while also letting cool air pass through in the summer months, making it an appealing option. Linen sheets may also be preferable since it has more ability to wick away moisture.

These practices, done consistently and over time, will start to translate over into our long term brain health. Try some of these out, and look out for a post on the essentials for a morning routine, as that is equally as important!