How "Sleep Consolidation" Can Boost Your Cognitive Function
Chances are, you've been told that you should be getting eight hours of sleep a night. Well, it turns out that this blanket (no pun intended) advice won't apply to everyone, and the quality of your sleep can be more important than the quantity. But what does "quality" sleep really mean, anyway, and how does it benefit your health?
A new study presents the marker of sleep quality you should focus on in the name of promoting better cognition and potentially preventing cognitive decline.
Measuring sleep and cognition
Participants were all at least 45 years old and free of dementia and stroke. They participated in population-based studies that had them conduct at-home overnight sleep tests as well as cognitive testing.
As the first study in a series called the Sleep and Dementia Consortium, this research looked into what markers of sleep were associated with better cognition. Before conducting the study, researchers suspected that the percentage that people spent in deeper sleep stages like stage 3 and REM would be most important for brain function.
However, after crunching the numbers, they found that better "sleep consolidation" and an absence of sleep apnea were actually the metrics most associated with better cognition. These were even more important than sleep stage percentages—previously considered gold standard metrics for sleep quality.
This finding will lay the groundwork for future research untangling the nuances of how sleep impacts the aging brain. Sleep and Dementia Consortium researchers predict that, "Sleep of sufficient quality and duration may be associated with decreased risk of dementia through several mechanisms, including augmenting the glymphatic clearance of Alzheimer's disease proteins."
These initial findings show the importance of monitoring and treating sleep apnea, as well as working on sleep consolidation, in order to stay mentally sharp.
How to improve your "sleep consolidation"
Sleep consolidation is a measure of how much of your time in bed you actually spend sleeping. Those with solid sleep consolidation scores will fall asleep quickly and won't wake up often throughout the night. Here are a few tips on how to tighten up your sleep to serve this important metric:
- Avoid pre-bed drinks: Experts recommend taking your last sip of liquid up to 3 hours before bed in order to prevent mid-night wakeups. The exact timing will vary from person to person—but we'd all do well to avoid chugging water or tea right before lights out.
- Take a well-rounded supplement: While some popular supplements like melatonin encourage you to fall asleep faster, they don't do much to help you stay asleep. This new research finding suggests that you should look for a supplement that optimizes your total sleep time instead, like the options on this list.
- If you do wake up, don't sweat it: Even the best of sleepers will wake up in the middle of the night from time to time. When you do, remember that it's completely normal and your body naturally wants to fall back asleep. Stay calm instead of stressing yourself out further. If you do end up having trouble falling back asleep, leaving your bed and doing a calming activity for a few minutes could help take your mind off of it.
- Cut down on triggers: Checking your work emails or watching a scary TV show before bed might not be the best idea if you want to fall asleep fast. Optimize your pre-sleep window by reading an uplifting book or listening to calming music instead.
- Limit napping: Set an alarm and cap your naps to 30 minutes to avoid harming your sleep consolidation later on. Keeping the light on or opening the blinds can keep you from extending naptime for too long.
These just scratch the surface of how to stay asleep through the night. Here are more tips to help you spend as many minutes snoozing in bed as possible.
New research finds that sleep consolidation—the measure of how much time you spend sleeping—positively correlates with cognition. Avoiding pre-bed drinks, limiting napping, and taking a well-rounded sleep supplement are just a few ways to consolidate your sleep for the sake of your brain health.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.