Tips for a better night’s sleep as bad rest linked to memory loss

Woman yawning tired after bad night's sleep. (Getty Images)
Is your poor quality of sleep affecting your day-to-day life?. (Getty Images)

If you're currently sat bleary-eyed at your desk after a bad night's sleep we have some news that may well trouble you.

Turns out scientists have linked broken sleep experienced in mid-life to cognitive problems in later years.

The study, published in the journal neurology, found people in their 30s and 40s who have disrupted sleep (likely most of us then) may be more likely to have memory and thinking problems later in life.

Researchers found that experiencing repetitive short interruptions of sleep in these decades were linked to worse cognitive function 11 years later.

"Our findings suggest that the association between sleep quality and cognition may become prominent as early as in midlife," the researchers wrote.

They point out, however, that their research does not prove that sleep quality causes cognitive decline, but merely shows an association.

"Given that signs of Alzheimer’s disease start to accumulate in the brain several decades before symptoms begin, understanding the connection between sleep and cognition earlier in life is critical for understanding the role of sleep problems as a risk factor for the disease," study author Yue Leng, from the University of California, says in a news release.

"Our findings indicate that the quality rather than the quantity of sleep matters most for cognitive health in middle age."

Woman in bed sleeping. (Getty Images)
A lack of sleep impacts our productivity, relationships and confidence. (Getty Images)

Expert-backed ways to get a better night's sleep

Getting a good night's sleep affects everything from our mood to how well we function at work – but despite this, far too many of us find it difficult to slumber through the night.

Thankfully sleep coach Tracy Hannigan has shared her simple tips to up our ZZZs and help us get a better night's sleep.

Don't got obsessed with trying to 'fix' sleep

"The single most important thing that a person with intermittent or short-term sleeping problems can do is to not get obsessed with trying to fix their sleep by developing complicated routines," Hannigan says.

"Accepting that these situations are often normal is hugely helpful to drop the sleep 'struggle' which can create a lot of anxiety. The more frantically we try to fix it, the more our sleep efforts can backfire."

Woman trying to sleep. (Getty Images)
There's nothing more frustrating than not being able to sleep. (Getty Images)

Re-think that evening tipple

While there is no judgment for those who enjoy an evening glass of something, it's worth considering the effects even just one can have if you're someone who struggles with sleep.

"In times of stress, many people turn to a glass of wine or a beer to help take the edge off," says Hannigan. "But this can make sleep worse.

"Many people think alcohol helps sleep, but it does more harm than good. Even moderate amounts of alcohol can severely affect sleep quality. If you do drink, try to keep it to no closer than three or four hours before bedtime to reduce the impact on deeper stages of sleep."

Family enjoying dinner and wine. (Getty Images)
Test out not having that glass of wine before bed. (Getty Images)

Put your laptop to bed (literally) for the night

Hannigan suggests "time-blocking" the use of laptops to protect "after dinner" time, especially when work is busy.

"Develop a routine of closing the laptop, putting it in a sleeve, and putting it to bed (literally!) for the night," she says.

"Most people use a laptop to work from, and so the association we have with those devices is one that promotes our 'work brain' to be active." Don't be temped to log back on after hours.

Unrecognisable woman in a yellow shirt taking her laptop pc out of the bag at work. (Getty Images)
Say goodnight to the laptop. (Getty Images)

Be aware of sleep procrastination

Often find yourself the only one still awake in your home?

"We all deserve time to ourselves, but be aware of sleep procrastination," says Hannigan. "This is when we save all our 'time for us' until we've done everything for everyone else and this reduces the amount of time we have available to sleep.

"This will naturally happen sometimes – when children are sick, for example. However, if it happens a lot it could be a sign that our boundaries and overcommitment need a review."

Man making bed. (Getty Images)
Don't put your needs last. (Getty Images)

Tire yourself out like a child

Try the old-fashioned way. Hannigan says, "Our mums had us go run around outside, expecting us to sleep well that next night."

While we all know exercise is helpful for the mind and body, Hannigan explains that it also helps to build 'sleep drive'.

"Sleep drive is the only thing that can generate sleep," she says, "so if someone's sleep is having a particularly wobbly time, getting an extra workout or two in during the week can be helpful."

However, there are other ways 'tiring yourself out' can be achieved, for those who are able to. For example, Hannigan suggests, "If someone is housebound, doing things like taking extra trips up the stairs can help accumulate more drive for sleep."

Woman exercising at home. (Getty Images)
Even just a short burst of exercise during the day can help you work up sleep drive. (Getty Images)

Nap the right way

"Everyone says 'don't take a nap' – and there's some truth to this," says Hannigan. "However, if someone is very sleepy, napping can help take the edge off sleepiness and make their daytime safer."

She says it's important to remember: "Naps are for sleepiness, not for sleep.

"So resist the temptation to sleep a long time as it will have a negative effect on building consistent sleep drive. Naps should be early and short, and the person should go to bed later to make up for the sleep drive they have lost."

Man napping with dog. (Getty Images)
A nap isn't always bad... (Getty Images)

Get up at the same time each day

"Most people think of 'going to bed' at a specific ideal time as key for good sleep but I consider waking up at the same time of day more important," she says.

'Sleep drive' is built up the longer we are awake and the more active we are. The timing of when this happens is organised by what's known as our circadian rhythm. As this sleep cycle starts in the morning, a set morning time is very important.

Person waking up to alarm clock. (Getty Images)
Set that alarm clock. (Getty Images)

Pick an enjoyable 'evening buffer zone'

Hannigan's top recommendation for what to include in your wind-down routine aka your 'evening buffer zone' is...."whatever you enjoy!"

"It could be TV, reading, knitting or playing with pets," she says. "Recovering from insomnia is not a short-term project, so if you end up staying up late, look at it as building up sleep drive for the future, as opposed to 'missing out on sleep' – because you may not have slept anyway."

Woman knitting. (Getty Images)
Whether it's watching TV or knitting, do what you enjoy in the evenings. (Getty Images)

Consider bedtime snacks carefully

Snacking can actually affect people differently and for some it can even help with sleep.

"Those who usually snack at bedtime can benefit their sleep by improving the quality of that snack – ideally to contain protein and carbohydrate and be low in artificial sugars," says Hannigan.

"However, for those who don't normally snack at night, adding in a snack may not be helpful (and doing so could contribute to weight gain)."

Woman snacking at night. (Getty Images)
Is a bedtime snack right for you? (Getty Images)

Don't linger in bed while you're awake

"When we get anxious about our sleep, and start 'chasing sleep' by going to bed early, sleeping in, laying in bed 'trying to make sleep come', we disturb the normal associations with our bed," explains Hannigan.

"This only makes it harder for our body and mind to use the bed as a cue to fall and stay asleep."

Woman awake in bed. (Getty Images)
Don't force sleep when you're not ready for it. (Getty Images)

Live life despite not sleeping well

While there's lots we can do to help our sleep, we're still going to wake up feeling tired from time to time. But Hannigan says, "Sleep doesn't have to be our idea of perfect to see friends, engage with people and do things you enjoy.

"Will it be harder? Yes. But if we reduce our life to one of doing nothing because of our sleep, that only gives more power to the sleeplessness and deprives us of the joy life could bring us."

And for those who might not have the luxury of getting a full night's sleep, such as parents of young children, Hannigan stresses that "making sure that the sleep a person does get is of high quality is even more important.

"A shorter span of high-quality sleep can actually be better for a person's daytime functioning than a few hours more of sketchy sleep."

Friends out walking. (Getty Images)
Even after a bad night's sleep, see your friends – you might feel better for it. (Getty Images)

Additional reporting SWNS.

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Watch: Tips if you're struggling to sleep