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Increasing the neuroplasticity of your brain is the gateway way to achieve your full potential. As we learn more about the brain’s ability to change, we are discovering how this can help us discover new directions and make much-needed change.

What is Neuroplasticity?

One of the most important discoveries of modern neuroscience is that our brain changes continuously throughout the lifespan. Previously, the adult brain was thought of as a fixed structure after it is sculpted in development. We now know that neural circuits in the adult brain are not hard-wired, but constantly change as a result of our experiences.

The changes that occur in our brain and nervous system in response to experience are often referred to as Neuroplasticity. It holds the promise for each of us to think differently, to learn new things, to overcome painful experiences and to adapt to anything life brings us. It is the doorway to a growth mindset.

Neuroplasticity also holds the key to changing:

· Behaviours - habits and change

· Thinking - mindset and attitude

· Emotions - awareness, regulation and resilience

How does plasticity change?

The brain is one of the first organ systems to develop and the last to finish development in our 20’s and 30’s. During development our brains are incredibly plastic, which refers to the ability of the brain to change and adopt to new information. Have you ever noticed how quickly kids are able to learn or adapt so quickly? This is why. After around the age of 25 or so, in order to get changes in our brain and nervous system, we have to engage in a completely different set of processes in order to get these changes to occur and get them to stick around.

Our brain and nervous system don’t just change when you experience something. It changes when two things happen sequentially:

1. When you are in an alert and focused state, neurochemicals are released that allow neurons to either strengthen or weaken the connections of those neurons. It’s the experiences you pay super careful attention to during high focus, high alertness states that trigger to plasticity. This is due to the release of two key neuromodulators: epinephrine and acetylcholine. I will elaborate on specific actions you can take to access plasticity in order to optimize your brain in another post. However, actual neuroplasticity occurs in the next stage.

2. During periods of deep rest or sleep, rewiring and reconfiguration happens. This is fundamental to reinforce the learning that occurs. If you didn’t sleep or rest well, you wouldn’t learn, and these changes wouldn’t stick.

The Key to Neuroplasticity: Sleep

The MOST important thing to increase neuroplasticity is mastering your sleep! If we cannot sleep or rest well, we cannot access plasticity and rewire our brain. If you don’t sleep within 24 hrs of learning something new, you don’t consolidate those memories. Sleep is the most important thing you can do for your brain. It is the foundation on which everything else is built. Research tells us that there’s pretty much no system in the body that is untouched by a need to sleep. Nothing has more impact on the brain, mind and body as does a lack of sleep. Matthew Walker’s Book “Why We Sleep” is a great resource to learn more.

3 Tips That Will Put You to Sleep

Sleep is a skill that can be learned. Here are three ways you can master your sleep:

View Sunlight Early: The most important thing you can do to establish healthy sleep/wake rhythms is viewing light early in the day, as it is the foundation for proper sleep and circadian health. Neurons in our eyes that set our circadian clock respond best to a quality and amount of light that comes from sunlight at low solar angle and have a particular contrast of yellows and blues that triggers activation of these cells. Stanford neuroscience research explains that viewing sunlight during sunrise and sunset provides the strongest cue for aligning wake-sleep rhythms and optimizing metabolic function. You can use this to defeat jet lag, shift work and disrupted sleep patterns for new parents. However, make sure to view it directly into your eyes, as it is 50 times less effective to view through a window.

Avoid artificial light from 11pm-4am: Studies have shown that light that arrives to the eyes during these hours supresses the release of dopamine and can inhibit learning. Viewing light late at night can contribute to mood regulation, learning problems, focus and anxiety. One of the ways you can support your brain health and performance is to take control of light exposure behaviour at night. Dim lights that are set low in the room are best before bed, as exposure to bright light in the evening will inhibit melatonin production and release, so your body won’t know it’s night-time. So be mindful of your exposure to light and dark; they are the most important regulators of all our biological rhythms.

Be consistent: Getting enough sleep is vitally important. However, research from Dr. Robert Stickgold’s lab at Harvard found that it was more important to have a regular amount of sleep each night as opposed to the total duration when it comes to learning new information and performance. For the sake of learning new information, limiting the variation in how many hours you sleep is at least as important if not more important than just getting more sleep overall.

What about sleeping pills? In fact, they DO NOT induce natural sleep. They target the same point of our brain that alcohol does - it sedates your brain. It will help knock you out, but it doesn’t allow you to experience natural sleep architecture where the replenishment of the body, clearing of toxins from the brain and memories functions occur. It is important to try to regulate your sleep naturally in the long-term when possible.

Overall here’s some basics of mastering your sleep:

1. Get sunlight in the morning

2. Stick to a sleep schedule

3. Exercise (but not to late)

4. Nap early (if you are going to nap).

5. Relax in a dim light before bed

6. Dark, cool, quiet bedroom (no devices)

7. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and meals before bed

8. Calm your mind


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