Our body and brain repairs and renew themselves during sleep. Most neurogenesis occurs during sleep. We know that we need a full night’s sleep, meaning about 7-8 hours each night any less than this and neurogenesis declines.
Even a single night of 4-6 hours of sleep reduces cognitive function the next day. It reduces our ability to integrate or put facts together and impends your ability to pay attention to our environment.
Not getting enough sleep is now seen as a major health hazard. Not sleeping enough, or having disrupted sleep due to shift work has been identified as a carcinogen and is linked to:
- Weight gain (because hormones are thrown out of balance)
- Cancer (tumors growth is accelerated two or three times in lab animals with severe sleep disruption)
- Lower immune function for all diseases
- Altered gene expression
Evolution adapted our bodies’ circadian rhythms to light and dark – the rising and setting of the sun. But when electricity was discovered just a hundred years ago, in a blink of the eye in evolution time, our internal clock was suddenly thrown off.
So many of the body’s repair systems work during sleep:
- Muscles that were broken down during the day are built back up
- Organs are repaired
- Memory consolidation occurs
- The brain cleans itself by removing waste and toxins
- Neurogenesis is heightened
Research published in 2013 issue of Science 18 shows that, jus as the lymphatic system eliminates cellular waste products from the body, the brain has its own system that us sealed off the rest of the body by the blood-brain barrier.
This research shows why sleep is so important to brain health and body health. When brain waste and toxins build up due to lack of sleep, we think less well, memory is disrupted stress hormones aren’t cleared, immunity is lowered, anxiety and depression increase, and neurogenesis is slowed.
The stress of modern life keeps the adrenaline pumping so much we hardly even feel like we need sleep. But higher levels of stress hormones alone will reduce neurogenesis, as we’ve already learned. Not sleeping adds to this effect by keeping higher levels of stress hormones in circulation.
A single night or two of poor sleep doesn’t slow down neurogenesis, rather a pattern of disrupted not enough sleep that causes neurogenesis to decline.
Quantity and quality of sleep is important for neurogenesis. It is recommended that we sleep in a dark environment as sleeping with light in our room decreases neurogenesis and impairs cognitive performance.
Red, orange or amber light is better to have than blue wavelengths of the spectrum, which have more disruptive effect on circadian rhythms and melatonin production.
Besides increased neurogenesis and immunity, melatonin has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and it regulates our circadian rhythms.
Here are some points on getting good sleep:
- Avoid TV, reading and stimulating movies an hour before bed.
- Put work away to reduce stress
- Lower the lights 30-60 minutes before sleep. Bright lights impede melatonin production and sleepiness.
- Avoid alcohol before sleep. Its initial impact is drowsiness, but this is counteracted by awakening several hours later and preventing the deeper stages of sleep from occurring, which is when most healing of the body happens.
Doing new things
Our brains thrive on new stimulation, novel, ever-changing environments engage the brain and enhance growth of new brain cells.
But it’s a matter of degrees, too much of new stimulation can be overwhelming and stressful, on the other hand, too little can be stale and lifeless, both leading to reduced neurogenesis.
We need just the right balance between new and familiar stimulus, however, we are all unique and finding the “Middle Way” translates into different things for different people:
- Traveling, for example, is one way of producing novel, ever-changing environments. It expands our world, our brain, and we don’t need to travel to a foreign country to experience this. All that’s required is going to a new part of the city or region, breaking up the routine even if it is taking a new way to work.
- Having new colours in our homes and on our walls.
- Meeting new people.
- Trying new activities, going to concerts, museums, plays, lectures, community meetings, and cultural gatherings of all kinds enlarges our world, opens us to something new, enriches our life, and provides the kind of stimulation that increases new brain cell growth.
We all need novelty for highest brain function, we just need to find what is right for our unique nature.
Do one thing every day that scares you – Eleanor Roosevelt.
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Music is good and silence is golden
Research has found that music increases neurogenesis in both babies and adults.
However general noise pollution, can lower the growth of new brain cells as it can be stress inducing. If one can’t stand heavy metal rock at loud volumes, listening to that kind of music will most likely lead to decreased neurogenesis. Though if one loves this kind of music – such a music diet may well be perfect (at reasonable volumes).
Natural sounds such as birds singing or leaves rustling also promote relaxation and recovery from stress. Silence also cannot be dismissed as it has a strong positive contribution to neurogenesis, in some cases even more than music. Through silence our alert awareness enhances brain function and stimulates new neuron growth.
Every day we pass little bits of nature, yet, we never stop by to think how important it is for our body and brain. Depending on exposure, it has been shown to have a positive or harmful effect on our brain and new cells growth.
For example, office workers in the interior of buildings show higher rates of depression and stress than those who have windows to the outside. We know that one type of depression (seasonal affective depression) is caused by inadequate amounts of sunlight and can be treated with longer exposure to light.
Moreover, Eco-psychology has shown how healing nature can be for anxiety, ADD, and ADHD, as well as a host of other symptoms. Students who have outside views, either in their college dorms or in their elementary school classrooms, do better on standardized academic tests, than those who don’t.
Even having more trees and shrubs along highways reduces road rage, anger, and impulsivity in drivers. Indoor plants reduce eyestrain, boost creativity, and increase attention span in workers.
Thus, spending time in a park, exercising in nature or even bringing plants into our home and office can boost our body systems in ways we never thought about.
Bring some nature into your life by joining our floristry workshop that will soothe your mind, brighten the home and best of all improve neurogenesis!