Talk to most successful people and most will say that the key to their success lies in the space between their ears.
Your ability to brainstorm, create, remember, communicate, problem-solve, and make crucial decisions is often what separates success from failure. So if you want to invest in your business, and receive the biggest rate of return, then devote resources to your most vital commodity: your brain.
What can boost your brain power? It begins with neuroplasticity. I learned about the role of neuroplasticity in brain health from Param Dedhia, MD during a recent trip to Canyon Ranch Spa in Tucson, Arizona.
Neuroplasticity is your brain's ability to form new neuro connections throughout your life. Your brain is capable of growing and expanding even when faced with declining age or even injury, and neuroplasticity can help keep your brain active, healthy, and functioning at a high level.
But neuroplasticity needs a support staff in place to work, according to Dedhia. This team effort consists of six key areas, he says: Sleep, exercise, joy, nutrition, internal medicine, and inflammation. They each work independently and together to promote neuroplasticity, so you have to give them equal attention.
Sleep for Good Health
In future posts, I will explore each of these areas and how they can increase neuroplasticity in more detail, but the first one you should begin with is sleep. You need both sufficient quantity and quality, according to Dedhia, and odds are you are getting neither.
How much is enough? The ideal number is seven to nine hours for adults age 26 to 64, according to the National Sleep Foundation, but can vary somewhat from person to person. Still, business giants like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Arianna Huffington all sleep seven to eight hours.
Forget those stories of great minds getting by with the bare minimum of shuteye. They are the exceptions. In fact, research published in the journal PLOS One found that sleeping six or fewer hours was associated with problems with memory and executive function, such as problem solving, planning, and execution.
Quality sleep means uninterrupted sleep. When your sleep cycle is disrupted, it can keep sleep from doing one of its main jobs-- sweeping out amyloid proteins, a waste product produced from the energy of brain cells. Your brain removes these proteins during the slow-wave sleep cycle. If you don't get enough sleep, or wake up during this phase, the less time your brain has to clear out excess amyloid.
Eventually, these proteins can build up and form amyloid plaque on the brain, and high amounts may predict the rate brain functions might decline over a four-year period, according to a 2017 study in JAMA Neurology that looked at adults aged 40 and older.
Get to Sleep
Good sleep is a matter of establishing sound sleeping rituals. Here are some suggestions I have found helpful:
- Block the noise. Decorate your bedroom with heavy curtains and rugs, which absorb sounds, or use earplugs or a sleep machine that can play soothing background sounds.
- Dim the lights. Bright lights can suppress your body's production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep cycle, so avoid watching television or using a computer within an hour of bedtime, and don't read from a backlit electronic device like a Kindle or iPad.
- Keep it cool. Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room (around 65° F).
Take a Power Nap
Winston Churchill did it. So did Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson. It's the daily power nap. Adopting a routine can give your brain a restful time out, as well as support your overall sleep quality, especially if you have problems sleeping.
A few pointers to keep in mind:
- Don't sleep for more than 15 to 20 minutes; after 30 minutes you enter the deep rapid eye movement (REM) cycle and can wake up groggy.
- Set an alarm to make sure you don't oversleep.
- Try to find a cool, quiet place free of distractions. If it's your office, place a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door.
There is often a learning curve whenever you enact change, so give yourself time to adopt these strategies. Remember, there are six areas that help build more neuroplasticity, and focusing on one at a time is the best way to ensure you devote the necessary time so it becomes a part of your life.