Postdate: 05 November 2018
Between the ages of 20 and 25, your brain function reaches its peak. Your attention is razor-sharp, switching between ideas is a breeze, and you'll master skills in no time. After this point, cognitive ageing slowly occurs and the process is faster in some people than others. Brain cells die off and neural connections don't function as well anymore. Sleep plays an essential role in the functioning of mental faculties, such as learning and gaining insights. Unfortunately, we can’t (yet) halt the ageing process, but the associated mental effects can be kept in check by a good night's sleep.
An updated ‘brain disk’
A poor night’s sleep means that information is remembered less easily, by young and old alike. Dutch scientists have shown that this is related not only to the length of sleep, but also to the quality of the sleep. During the night, you go through different sleep phases, each with its own role. One of them is deep sleep. Research shows that artificially stimulating deep sleep leads to better memory performance. The hippocampus, a kind of ‘disk’ on which information is stored, plays an important role in this.
Sleep better to learn better
During sleep, your mental disk is reorganised so that information is kept longer and there is room for new information to be stored the following day. If you don’t get enough sleep or insufficient deep sleep, it becomes more difficult for the brain to absorb new information the next day. The hippocampus needs deep sleep to do its job properly. In short, your brain needs to be rested in order to store information and make it easier to learn. As you get older, not only does your brain function change, but the quality of your sleep does as well. On average, adults sleep 7 to 8 hours a night. This is characterised by deep sleep in the first half of the night and dream sleep in the second half of the night. For elderly people, the duration of deep sleep and dream sleep decreases.
Prepare for night-time
Making sure you get an optimal night's sleep during your life is a prerequisite for functioning properly. And it all starts with good preparation. Sleep is not a button you can just press to activate. The brain needs time to move from being awake to sleep mode. Ending the day by reading a book or listening to music can help. You don't want to be disturbed when sleeping. Darken the bedroom and wear earplugs if you are bothered a lot by ambient noise (perhaps a snoring partner!). In the morning it is tempting to hit the snooze button, but unfortunately that does not help your sleep. The chance of having a fragmented night becomes greater. Choose a set time to wake up and stick to it.
Want to know more about how to get the most out of your sleep? Take a look at our other blogs on sleep. Have you thought of a good topic for a new blog or vlog? Then get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.