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20 minutes more sleep makes your brain more powerful

07-08-2014

20 minutes more sleep makes your brain more powerful

Making your brain more powerful sounds like the stuff of sci-fi, right? Maybe not. Maybe it is the stuff of sleep. Yep, all you need to do to power up your brain is to get an extra 20 minutes of sleep (on average anyway). The brain is like any piece of machinery, if you look after it well you will get better a better performance out of it and one of the best things that you can do for your brain is to sleep just that bit more.

Let’s ask Doctor Payne... yes that is her real name and no she is not a James Bond villain.
Right, so let’s talk to Doctor Jessica Payne who is a real doctor, not a Bond villain. Doctor Payne is a cognitive neuroscientist and assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame. She is a sleep expert, she specializes in how sleep affects stamina and in turn our ability to perform.

First we need to know a bit about sleep though.

Ok, Doctor Payne wants us to understand sleep first. The amount we need varies hugely, with some people needing a whopping 12 hours a night while others can get away with a meagre 4. The average is 7.5 (which is right for the majority of us). There are a number of stages of sleep, the first stage is slow wave sleep (SWS), this is a very deep and rejuvenating period where we consolidate memories and we find it hard to wake from. After the slow wave we enter rapid eye movement sleep (REM), where we make mental connections, it is the period where we dream the most, our dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is deactivated and we are able to be far more creative and random than normal. Both of these phases are critical but our REM sleep is often limited because we are waking after too short a period of sleep.

The REM shortage

So while we are getting enough SWS most of the time many people do not get enough REM sleep.  The signs of an REM shortage include irritability, an excessive focus on the negative plus a feeling of struggling through the day. Does this sound like you a lot of the time? It sounds like a lot of us a lot of the time. The thing is that much of the modern world is suffering from an ongoing REM shortage.

What is going on?

So what happens when you have an REM shortage? Why do you feel so terrible? The thing is that your hippocampus and anterior cingulate cortex are far more active when you are in REM. These help to control the brain areas that are in charge of regulating emotions and control activity levels, so if you suffer from a shortage of then these areas will struggle to work as well. With these working less effectively you will struggle to have a good day.

The solution

So what is the solution to all of this? It is simple, all you need is another 20 minutes of sleep each night and you can get the REM sleep you need to make sure your brain is in the zone. Simple.

 


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