March 20, 2019/Sleep

How Sleeping Better Can Give Your Brain a Big Boost (+ Tips for Making That Happen!)

Improve your cognitive health and energy

Couple sleeping together

You know how you feel when you haven’t slept well. Not only are you tired and lethargic, but you can’t concentrate or think clearly. Trouble is if your sleep problems become chronic, research shows you might suffer more serious effects on your cognitive function over the long term.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

“How can you be in your best health when one-third of your life is spent in sleep and you cannot do that?” says neurologist and sleep medicine specialist Winnie Pao, MD. “It’s like overdrafting from your bank account. If you overdraft every day, pretty soon you can’t pay back the interest.”

Sleep is vital for the health of your brain and body, yet a 2018 National Sleep Foundation (NSF) poll indicates that only 10 percent of adults prioritize sleep over other aspects of daily living, such as work and hobbies. So, give your sleep the attention it deserves, and work to address any sleep problems that can sap your cognitive health as well as your energy.

Sleep disorders + your brain

Research has linked untreated sleep disorders like insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea with a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Recent evidence suggests that insomnia and OSA also may have deleterious effects on your brain. For instance, in a study of 208 cognitively normal people, ages 55 to 90, researchers found that over a two-year period, OSA was associated with increasing markers of beta-amyloid, a protein fragment comprising the amyloid plaque buildups found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, or AD. Accumulation of beta-amyloid occurs in the early stages of AD, but adequate sleep is believed to help clear beta-amyloid from the brain.

The study’s findings don’t prove that OSA and other sleep disorders cause AD or other dementias, or that treating sleep problems can prevent those diseases. However, “For people who have sleep problems, if you can improve sleep, that can lead to improvements in cognition,” says geriatrician Ronan Factora, MD, with Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Geriatric Medicine. “From what I’ve seen clinically, treatment of sleep apnea can provide some positive benefits for people in terms of concentration and ability to focus.”

The best way to address sleep problems

So, how much sleep do you need for better brain function? The answer is unclear. But in general, the NSF recommends that adults ages 26 to 64 aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night, while those ages 65 and older should get seven to eight hours nightly.

“Who is to say you have to sleep all at once? If life doesn’t allow you to sleep for seven hours all at once, take a nap a little later, but not too late in the day,” Dr. Pao advises. “People in other countries have siestas, and they’re happy. Everyone is different.”

Tell your doctor if you’re experiencing chronic insomnia, document your sleep habits and share your notes with your physician. Your doctor may recommend a treatment like cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, which teaches you, among other things, ways to improve your sleep hygiene.

Dr. Pao says prescription sleep medications should be used in the lowest effective dose ― and only for a limited time. Keep in mind that using certain prescription sleep aids and nonprescription products, like diphenhydramine (Benadryl®) and nighttime pain relievers, has been associated with cognitive side effects in older adults. Plus, use of sedating medications may worsen OSA, Dr. Factora cautions.

Report any OSA symptoms to your physician:

  1. Loud snoring and interruptions in breathing (as reported by your bed partner).
  2. Excessive daytime sleepiness.
  3. Morning headaches/sore throat.
  4. Teeth grinding.
  5. Drool on your pillow.
  6. Memory/concentration problems.

Advertisement

And, discuss your possible need for continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), dental appliances or other treatments for OSA.

“There are clear cognitive areas that can be affected by lack of sleep or obstructive sleep apnea,” Dr. Factora says. “There really is compelling evidence to do something about these sleep disorders because the effects of lack of treatment may be longstanding. They shouldn’t be ignored.”

This article originally appeared in Cleveland Clinic Men’s Health Advisor.

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Person in bed experiencing nightmares
May 22, 2024/Sleep
7 Reasons You’re Having Nightmares

Stress, alcohol, sleep apnea and (you guessed it!) scary movies are a few common causes of bad dreams

Child in pjs sleeping in bed moving legs
May 22, 2024/Children's Health
How To Help Children With Restless Legs Syndrome

Regular exercise, an iron-rich diet, adequate sleep and bedtime routines that include a warm bath or massage may help with your kid’s RLS

Person sitting in bed in the evening, reading a book, with cup of tea on bedside table
May 15, 2024/Sleep
Restless? Try These Bedtime Teas for Better Sleep

Chamomile, lavender and valerian root teas may offer a faster route to dreamland

Legs of healthcare provider and patient during rehabilitation
What Are the Differences in Left vs. Right Brain Strokes?

Strokes in the left side of the brain are more common and the effects are typically more noticeable

Person asleep in bed, talking in their sleep
May 3, 2024/Sleep
Why Do People Talk in Their Sleep?

Many factors can contribute to sleep talking, like stress or anxiety, lack of or low-quality sleep, or even more serious sleep-related conditions

Young child in bed reading at night
May 2, 2024/Children's Health
Nighty-Night: Tips To Get Your Kid To Stay In Bed

A consistent, structured routine, which may include incentives, can help children learn to stay in bed and get the ZZZs they need

Close up of lion's mane mushroom growing on a tree
April 19, 2024/Nutrition
Health Benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushrooms

These trendy fungi may promote a healthy brain, heart and gut, but more research is needed to say for sure

Person in bed at night without covers, with fan blowing on them
April 17, 2024/Sleep
9 Reasons Why You’re Sweating in Your Sleep — And How To Get Relief

Getting to the root cause of night sweats — like menopause, medication side effects, stress or anxiety — can help you manage them

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey

Ad