3. Sleep on it
"Sleep loss means mind loss," says John Medina, director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning at Seattle Pacific University and author of Brain Rules. "When you sleep poorly, your mood, memory, creativity and problem-solving capabilities [all] suffer."
A good night's sleep can help decrease the risk of dementia. "Sleep turns off the toxins that build up in the brain and ultimately lead to Alzheimer's disease," says Harvard neurology professor Rudolph Tanzi, coauthor of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness and Spiritual Well-Being.
Though neuroscientists have long suspected that the poor sleep seniors often experience contributes to age-related cognitive decline, they weren't sure exactly what went wrong or why. Recent studies at the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley point to structural changes in the middle frontal lobe of the brain that develop slowly as we age. These changes interfere with the deep, restorative sleep necessary for the formation of long-term memories.
Tip: How much is enough? There's no magic number, but the National Sleep Foundation suggests adults aim for seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.
Stick to a regular schedule, going to bed and waking up about the same time every day. If sleep escapes you, don't toss and turn in bed. Get up, read a book or listen to music until you start to feel sleepy. Avoid smoking, caffeine or highly acidic foods two to three hours before bedtime, and unplug from all technology — TV, computers and cellphones — at least 30 minutes before lights-out. Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary, using the bed for sleep and sex only. Lower the temperature, install blackout shades and invest in a sound machine to drown out interfering noise.
Still wide awake?
Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and guided imagery may also help. (See No. 4 next page.)
Next page: Try meditation! »