Sleep is important for a lot of reasons. One critical function of sleep is memory incorporation. This is when memories go from short-term storage into long-term incorporation. Obviously, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to study all day and then lose everything that you put in your brain because your sleep is inefficient or disrupted. Here are some things that can help your sleep to be more complete, deeper, and more effective.
Number 1: Know your sleep number – While I would be delighted if you bought a sleep number bed since a friend of mine runs the company, what I’m actually talking about here is how many hours of sleep you get a night. I’ve known a lot of doctors and residents who are major contributors to the national sleep debt. While you can get away with this for a while, it doesn’t lead to long-term success. Seven to eight hours is optimal, although you might be able to get away with six. Anything less than that is generally inadequate over time. The only way to get more sleep is to prioritize it.
Number 2: Make sure you don’t have sleep apnea. Use the STOP BANG questionnaire or ask your spouse or partner to watch your sleep cycle, especially the early parts. Yes, you snore, have many awakenings, you are not well rested in the morning, or have been feeling mentally foggy. A simple sleep study can make sure you do not have this serious condition.
Number 3: “Benzodiazepines” and “Bad” both begin with “B” for a reason. For the vast majority of people using benzodiazepines to sleep is a bad idea; it alters sleep cycles and interferes with memory.
Number 4: Another really bad idea is using over the counter sleep aids containing anti-cholinergic agents such as diphenhydramine. The most critical neurotransmitter for memory is acetylcholine. Anticholinergic agents such as diphenhydramine have been shown to lead to or worsen cognitive decline. Hence, they are a particularly bad idea when you are trying to learn new material.
Number 5: Try using a white noise, or better yet a pink noise, generator beside your bed. They are getting quite sophisticated and can help you enter and stay in deeper states of sleep. Both are available at online sellers such as Amazon.
Number 6: A newer device I use in my practice is called TouchPoints. They provide alternate-side, gentle vibratory stimulation to both arms or legs. They can dramatically relieve stress, and our experience with sleep tracking devices show that they help people enter deep sleep better than anything we have found.
Number 7: Track your sleep. I like the smartphone app called Sleep Cycle. It works while your phone is plugged in and on your nightstand beside your bed. It even records any snoring or other abnormal breathing patterns during the night.
Investing in sufficient and high quality sleep is a great way to improve your brain function and your effectiveness at studying when you are preparing for your Boards.
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