Lack of zzz’s May Be Harmful to Your Brain

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on March 4, 2014

IMG_0549A client told me the other day that she is going to be working two different shifts for a month.  She’ll work 3-11 a few days and then switch to 8-5 and then back again.  This is a common situation for broadcasters, and I imagine some of you voiceover folks find yourself working later than you’d like quite often.  I thought it would be a good time to look at the new research on sleep.

The bottom line on the new research is that scientists are finding lack of sleep has an immediate effect on the brain.  We all know if you don’t get enough sleep you feel a little fuzzy all day, but it goes deeper than that.  According to Neurology Now magazine (2/14), “sleep deprivation hinders learning, impairs cognitive performance, and slows reaction time–like being intoxicated but without the buzz.”

Scientists are even finding a connection between sleep deprivation and Alzheimer’s disease.  It seems that without enough sleep (at least 7 hours a night) the brain can’t rid itself of the accumulation of waste products that build up when the brain is awake and working.

I often explain it like this:  If your office had a cleaning crew that came in every night for 8 hours, it would stay pretty clean.  If the crew started cutting their hours in half, junk would begin to pile up in your office.  After several months of this, the junk would impede your work.  That’s similar to what happens in the brain.  Lack of sleep doesn’t allow the brain to refresh itself.

So what do you do if you have to work overnights or different shifts?  Here are the 5 things I recommend to clients:

  1. Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep when you do sleep.
  2. Keep your sleep times as close to the same times as possible.  If you work 3-11 four days and 8-5 the next two, for example, sleep from midnight to 7 on the  nights you can.  Only adjust on the days when you have to switch to the new time.
  3. Ramp down to your bed time.  That means no TV, internet, phone, or texting the last hour before bed.  It’s especially important to turn off your electronic equipment.  Check out why in this post of mine, Power Down for Better Sleep.
  4. Lower the lighting in that last hour.  This signals the brain it’s time for sleep, and it makes the body secrete melatonin, which is a natural sleep hormone.
  5. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and large meals night.  Any of these will disrupt sleep.

Want to know more tips on sleep and other ways to stay healthy so you can work more productively?  Ck out my book, BROADCASTER’S SURVIVAL GUIDE.  It’s only $4.99, and it’s packed with helpful tips.  Download it instantly by clicking here.

 

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