We all know that we need to stretch after a cardio or weights session (hello Yoga poses) to release tension and lactic acid in the muscles. Taking the time to properly care for every muscle in the body is crucial to your health and this includes the mind. It is equally important to relax the brain in sleep.
Yet, what happens if the brain doesn’t rest?
The brain is working all day long, thinking, problem-solving, remembering, analysing, balancing, coordinating, digesting, breathing…. The brain can use about 300 calories of the resting metabolic rate of 1300 calories the average person uses each day. The brain is one hard-working muscle. This means rest and relaxation are incredibly important to your brain’s health. Just like the need to rest to rest your leg muscles after a long run, you need to rest your brain after a long day (the brain is actually what’s in charge of that leg muscle anyway). Here’s what happens if you don’t get enough rest:
- Your memories get blurry: Memories are controlled by the hippocampus in your brain – they are created when the brain sleeps as this is the time it replays them in order to make them stick. Losing sleep means there is less time to make those memories stick. Additionally, the prefrontal cortex and parietal lobe regions help encode these memories, lack of sleep can therefore also lead to you remembering false information.
- Your brain shrinks: Scientists believe that the volume of the frontal, temporal and parietal lobes actually gets smaller. There is still research to be done on this phenomenon, but this can go on to affect your speech, as the temporal lobe processes the way you talk.
- You experience irrational emotions: The brain has a hard time in general processing your surroundings when you are sleep deprived. You may misinterpret situations which could then lead to irrational and sometimes aggressive emotions and behaviours. This could cause physical harm to the body if in a dangerous situation.
- Sleep enables our brains to perceive pleasure. The link between sleep and pleasure has to do with stress: continual, low-grade stress diminishes our ability to get a good night sleep, triggering a vicious cycle. The more stressed we are, the less we sleep; the less we sleep, the more stressed we get. The result is lowered levels of DHEA, the “life is good” hormone. Without sufficient DHEA, it’s harder for us to experience happiness. It doesn’t just seem as if we’re in a bad mood. Chemically, we are.
- Sleep gives the brain time to detox. Sleep helps restore the brain by flushing out toxins (including harmful proteins) that build up during waking hours. Our brains have a drainage system based on the movement of clear cerebrospinal fluid through channels surrounding the blood vessels. The process, managed by special cells in the brain (glial cells), has been named the brain’s glymphaticsystem by researchers.
Steps to rest your brain Here are a few activities to relax and nourish your brain, best of all you can do these from the comfort of your home!
- Cut back on stimulants: Don’t try to prop up your energy levels or elevate your mood with caffeine, alcohol or sugar. Keep caffeine for the early part of the day. You’ll notice you begin to sleep better at night: excessive alcohol actually releases a hormone that will disrupt your sleep.
- Practice deep breathing: Turn off or dim the lights, close your eyes and get ready to breathe. Slowly inhale through the nose (for about four seconds) and then exhale through the mouth on the same count., or even better longer.
- Meditate:We don’t often turn our brains off, so meditation is a good practice to shut down the mind. For beginners, guided meditation is a great way to get started; there are some fantastic meditation classes, as well as videos (e.g. YouTube), podcasts and music files The deep breathing will help you get in the zone as well!
- Do Yoga: Yoga is an exercise that is good for both the body and mind. It has the ability to rest the brain, with focus and intention. Getting into a regular yoga routine will help you stay balanced throughout the week.