The gift of sleep: helping the brain protect our mental well-being while we sleep.
Sleep is a crucial biological process and has long been recognized as a determining factor in human health and performance. Although not all sleep functions are fully understood, it is known that it restores energy, promotes healing, interacts with the immune system and has a real impact on brain function and behavior. Poor sleep quality can be defined according to the recommendations of the National Sleep Foundation, based on total sleep time, time needed to fall asleep, wakefulness after sleep onset, number of waking times longer than 5 minutes and sleep efficiency. Low quality has been associated with Cos’è lo stress? Dal punto di vista clinico, lo stress è... More, anxiety, smoking, consumption of sugary drinks, workplace pressure, financial worries, regularity of working hours, physical activity, sleep regularity and commuting time.
In addition to that, sleep is related to neurodegenerative disorders in three basic ways: firstly, patients with these disorders often suffer from sleep problems and disorders; secondly, sleep problems and disorders may be risk factors for the subsequent development of neurodegenerative disorders; and finally, sleep may be related to the pathophysiology of these conditions.
The emerging concept of “sleep health” presents a holistic view of sleep, including multiple sleep characteristics such as regularity, alertness, time, efficiency and satisfaction, rather than individual symptoms and complaints.
6 tips to improve sleep + 1 technique to turn it into a friend of our mental well-being
How can we learn to improve our sleep with scientific brain research?
Here are 6 evidence-based tips and an extraordinary technique from the Pedagogy for the Third Millennium: self-blessing, to make sleep a powerful ally of our brain.
- Do some movement: exercise supports cognitive processes and alsostimulates the production of melatonin, one of the sleep hormones, thus facilitating falling asleep. Beware, however, of the time of day: while this effect occurs with a morning workout, exercise done in the evening can have a stimulating effect.
- Balanced eating: both eating too much and too little can disturb falling asleep. If possible, it is best to eat at least three hours before bedtime. If you need to eat before sleep, eat lightly.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine: if you snack close to bedtime, you should avoid alcohol and caffeine. It may seem that alcohol leads to drowsiness, but it actually has an overall stimulating effect that keeps us awake.
- Pay attention to the environment: it can affect sleep quality. The ideal environment is quiet, dark and cool.
- Start “a sleep ritual”: When we were children, maybe our mother would read us a story and tuck us in before bed. It was a comforting ritual that helped us drift off to sleep. Even in adulthood, a series of bedtime rituals can have a similar effect. Rituals help signal to body and mind that it is time to sleep. For this purpose, the next point, and especially the self-blessing technique, can be useful.
- Relax before going to sleep: At the end of a hectic day in which a lot of stress hormones may have been produced, it is important to give our bodies the opportunity for a smooth transition. You can use meditation, or other techniques, or simply take a few deep breaths and bring your attention to where you feel tension.
Then, in a state of relaxation, dedicate a few moments to bless yourself and your day.
The self-blessing technique
The self-blessing technique (Paoletti 2018), its benefits and the direct connection to well-being and sleep are presented here as extracts from the “The 10 Keys of Resilience” course (Paoletti et al. 2022).
The technique, designed according to the theory of optimal functioning of the resilient brain, helps those who apply it to cultivate planning and self-determination, even in times of great stress.
Extracts from “The 10 Keys of Resilience” course (Paoletti et al. 2022):
Key 10: Welcome and transform before going to bed: generate your tomorrow today
Just before going to sleep, we are particularly sensitive and willing to transform as our brain prepares for its natural reorganization. When we fail to switch off thoughts and worries, these can disturb the quality of our sleep. We often wake up the next day more tired and confused than the day before. If we take a moment to take care of ourselves and “bless ourselves” before going to sleep, if we construct a useful and proactive narrative of our day, we will help our mind to put thoughts, emotions and events in order.
During sleep our mind replays and reprocesses everything we have experienced in our waking state and reelaborates it continuously, without ever stopping. With the act of “blessing” we help our brain to process experiences and put them in order during the night, with the aim of programming ourselves voluntarily, directing our brain functions. This enables us to relax and feel a sense of confidence and efficacy, which are very important accompanying factors for our sleep at night in order to prepare us with a clear and positive mind for the next day. This moment dedicated to you and your well-being, before you fall asleep, is defined as “self-blessing”: speak well to yourself, with the right order. Cultivating this attitude with constancy will have a generalized positive effect on you: as you learn to bless each day, you will know how to bless each experience, even the most difficult ones, and in the end you will know how to bless your whole life.
Just before you fall asleep at night, take a moment for yourself. Replay the scenes, actions, events of your day as if they were frames of a film. Bring order and clarity to your mind through these actions of mental focus that we define as ‘self-blessing’:
1) Above all, emphasize the things and situations to yourself that were successful, also those small actions that gave you pleasure and made you feel good. Reap that sense of satisfaction that makes you feel confident and capable;
2) after you have emphasized the things that were successful, organizing the memories in your mind, recall an episode in which you did not feel capable. Watch yourself act in that frame where you felt that, rather than relating to things, events, people, you reacted by giving a response that you consider inappropriate;
3) ask yourself how you could/would have wanted to act and construct another scenario in your mind of that event, where you turn the reaction into an interaction, including the new response for that specific situation;
4) now you can tell yourself that you are ready to respond differently to all those similar situations you will encounter tomorrow. You are ready and willing to learn more;
5) now you can build the next day’s image: see yourself acting and associate with the state you wish to manifest. At this point you are ready to fall asleep and let your mind’s natural reprocessing during the night do its part.
Engage as much as you can in this exercise. If you know how to value each individual day in its uniqueness, you will prepare for the next one with an open and willing attitude and be less and less at the mercy of events, building and rebuilding your entire life step by step. You will thus be a new person, always eager to learn more.