Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Sleep Helps Protect Your Brain

During sleep, our brain’s memory centers are busy consolidating recall

I love the way I feel after a good night's sleep. My body is rested; my mind feels clear and alert; and I am happy to just linger in bed and relax. Of course, this delightful state is eventually interrupted by an alarm going off or the dog barking for me to feed him.

But I continue to feel good throughout the day if I slept well the night before. It's as if my entire system—my body and my brain—have been reset in a healthy way.

This good feeling may be a result of the anti-inflammatory effects of sleep. Chronic brain inflammation appears to contribute to cellular deterioration that can lead to Alzheimer's disease. Getting a good night's sleep has a positive impact on that inflammatory process and may explain why people who sleep well regularly often look younger and have more energy.

When scientists measure a volunteer's blood markers of inflammation, they find that after the volunteer has had a restful night of sleep, those measures improve significantly. These are the same measures that improve when we eat anti-inflammatory foods like omega-3 rich fish or olive oil. Dr. Wendy Troxel and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh have found that people with sleep problems such as difficulty falling asleep, fretful sleep, or loud snoring have a higher risk for metabolic syndrome, another condition linked to chronic inflammation that puts the brain at risk for neurodegeneration.

Scientific evidence tells us that actually sleeping on our problems is an efficient way to solve them. During sleep, our brain's memory centers are busy consolidating recall for more effective memory when we're awake. Sleeping well is an important way to improve your memory ability and may lower risk for cognitive decline.

About 30 percent of adults suffer from insomnia. The following are a few strategies to consider if you're having trouble falling or staying asleep through the night.

  • Stay up during the day. A daytime nap can be invigorating, but if you already suffer from sleeplessness at night, try not to nap so you'll feel more fatigued at bedtime.
  • Avoid evening liquids. After dinner, try not to drink large quantities of water or other drinks. A full bladder can awaken you during the night and you may have trouble getting back to sleep.
  • Stay mellow in the evening. Watching lively nighttime sports or an exciting movie thriller tends to hype some people up, making it harder for them to fall asleep.
  • Avoid caffeine at night. Whether it's from tea, coffee, soda or even a chocolate bar, caffeine can keep us awake, so avoid it in the evenings. Try to skip coffee entirely in the late afternoon and evening.
  • Maintain good sleep habits. It helps to get into bed at the same time each night. Try to skip watching TV, eating, or even reading a book. Simply turn out the light and take a few moments to get settled. If you are not asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something else until you feel tired again. Once you go back to bed, get settled, and give it another 20 minutes. Every time you get into bed to sleep, try remaining still and focus on slow, steady breathing.

Gary Small, MD, is director of UCLA's Longevity Center and co-author of The Alzheimer's Prevention Program: Keep Your Brain Healthy for the Rest of Your Life.

Also visit me on

Originally posted on