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What Is Delirium?

What Is Delirium?

By Arlin Cuncic Updated on November 29, 2020

Woman in hospital being helped by nurse.
David Sacks / Getty Images

Delirium, also known as acute confusional state or acute organic brain syndrome, is a medical condition that results from various causes. It involves severe confusion and rapid changes in brain function as well as a specific cluster of symptoms involving a disturbance in mental abilities and abrupt changes in the brain. It can interfere with sleep, concentration and attention, and cognitive functioning.

Delirium differs from dementia in that it develops relatively abruptly and is potentially reversible with treatment of the underlying medical condition that is causing it. Delirium can be a side effect of certain medications, medical conditions, or have other causes such as alcohol withdrawal or surgery.

Symptoms

In general, delirium involves fluctuations in mental states, states of confusion, and issues with typical cognitive functions.1Typical symptoms include:

  • Reduced perceptional and sensory abilities
  • Abrupt changes in movement (hyperactivity or slowness)
  • Sleep cycle changes (sleeping more, drowsiness)
  • Confusion about whereabouts and time
  • Lack of concentration (easily distracted)
  • Inability to recall recent memories
  • Trouble speaking and organizing thoughts (rambling, nonsense speech)
  • Personality changes (mood swings, irritability, anger, fear, paranoia)
  • Incontinence
  • Trouble writing or reading
  • Apathy
  • Calling out or moaning
  • Hallucinations
  • Withdrawal

Delirium usually starts quickly, within a period of hours or days. In a hospital setting, it might last a week or longer and can progress to a coma or death if not properly treated.

Symptoms generally fluctuate throughout the day, with some periods of no symptoms. Delirium tends to be worse at night when the environment does not look as familiar.

Diagnostic Criteria

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists the following five criteria for a diagnosis of delirium:

  1. There is a disturbance in attention and awareness.
  2. The disturbance develops over a short period of time, generally within hours or days. There is a change from normal attention and awareness and this change fluctuates throughout the day.
  3. In addition, there is a disturbance in cognition in another way, in terms of language, memory, orientation (time and space), or perception.
  4. The disturbances are not better explained by a pre-existing, evolving, or established neurocognitive disorder. The patient also cannot be in a state of low arousal (i.e., coma).
  5. There must be evidence that the delirium is due to the direct physiological outcome of a medical condition, substance intoxication/withdrawal, exposure to a toxin, or resulting from multiple etiologies.

Delirium vs. Dementia

While delirium and dementia might seem hard to tell apart on the surface, and the fact that a person can be experiencing both delirium and dementia at the same time (delirium happens often in people with dementia), there are key differences:

Delirium Is Not Always a Sign of Dementia

Having delirium does not mean that a person is living with dementia. Dementia involves the progressive decline of thinking skills and memory due to a loss of brain cells and brain dysfunction. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.

Delirium Has a Quick Onset

Delirium comes on abruptly in those who are experiencing it. Attention becomes very impaired with delirium, whereas a person with early dementia will generally not have fluctuating alertness. Additionally, dementia is a fairly constant state overall, whereas delirium tends to fluctuate throughout the day.

Types of Delirium

There are actually three main types as well as delirium tremens which is related to alcoholism.

Hyperactive Delirium

This type of delirium tends to involve restlessness, agitation, rapid mood swings or hallucinations. It may result in a patient refusing to cooperate with a caregiver.

Hypoactive Delirium

This type of delirium tends to involve reduced activity, being sluggish, becoming drowsy, or appearing to be in a daze. Persons with this type of delirium will often sleep more and may miss some meals.

Mixed Delirium

The mixed delirium type involves symptoms of both hyperactive and hypoactive delirium. A person with this type of delirium may switch back and forth between the two different states of hyperactive delirium and hypoactive delirium.

Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens is a severe form of delirium that results from withdrawal from alcohol consumption among persons who have been drinking large amounts of alcohol for a long period.

Causes

Delirium is usually the result of an underlying physical illness that causes impaired signaling in the brain.2 Delirium can have one single cause or multiple causes. Below is a list of some of the specific potential causes of delirium:

  • Oxygen deprivation (e.g., due to asthma)
  • Toxins in the brain (e.g., exposure to carbon monoxide, cyanide poisoning)
  • Alcohol or drug abuse (overdose, withdrawal)
  • Acute infections (e.g., urinary tract infection)
  • Severe lack of sleep or sleep deprivation
  • General anesthesia
  • Inflammatory diseases
  • Medication (a variety of medications can contribute to delirium)
  • Metabolic imbalance or electrolyte disturbance (e.g., low sodium)
  • Fever
  • Malnutrition or dehydration
  • Stroke, heart attack, or a severe injury

Risk Factors

There are several risk factors for delirium. Below is a list of some of the most common risk factors:

  • Hospital stays, particularly in the intensive care unit (ICU) or after surgery, involving frequent room changes, multiple procedures, loud noises, or poor lighting
  • Living in a nursing home
  • Being an older adult
  • Lack of sleep
  • Living with dementia or Parkinson’s disease
  • Previous episodes of delirium
  • Having a hearing or vision impairment
  • Being aged over 65
  • Having multiple medical conditions

Complications

In general, when the issues that cause the delirium are addressed, the recovery period will be shorter. The degree of recovery also depends on the general health status of the person prior to developing delirium. In other words, a person’s mental status before delirium plays a role. Those in better health prior to developing delirium will be more likely to fully recover in a shorter period of time.

In those with serious illnesses, delirium may lead to the following complications:

  • A general decline in health
  • Poor recovery from surgery
  • The need for care in an institution
  • Loss of ability to care for oneself
  • Loss of ability to interact with others
  • Progression to coma, stupor, and increased risk of death

Prevention of Delirium in Hospital Patients

The best way to prevent delirium is to be aware of the risk factors and mitigate them through proactive measures such as the following:

  • Promote good sleep by reducing noise and distractions
  • Help hospital patients stay oriented to time and space
  • Avoid unnecessary medical procedures
  • Avoid the use of sedatives

Assessments

Below are some of the physical examinations and tests that might be done when conducting an assessment for delirium:

  • Blood chemistry tests
  • Head scans (CT, MRI)
  • Drug and alcohol testing
  • Thyroid testing
  • Chest x-ray
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)

In addition, a mental status test would be conducted. For example, the Confusion Assessment Method involves observing whether a patient can speak, think, and move normally and whether their behavior changes throughout the day.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the cause of the delirium. If a person is not already hospitalized, a hospital stay may become necessary.

Certain medications will need to be stopped (e.g., central nervous system depressants, analgesics, anticholinergics), and the use of any alcohol or drugs must be discontinued.

Finally, basic assistive devices such as eyeglasses or hearing aids may help those with impairments.

Medications for Delirium

Medications may be given to manage the underlying cause of delirium.3 Below are some examples.

  • Inhaler/breathing machine for severe asthma
  • Antibiotics for bacterial infections
  • Antidepressants for depression or agitation
  • Sedatives for alcohol withdrawal
  • High potency antipsychotics to manage agitation

Recovery

Full recovery from delirium is possible depending on the underlying cause and how well it is treated. It may take a patient several weeks to fully recover from delirium.

When to See a Doctor

How do you know if your loved one should be seen by a doctor? Or what do you do if your loved one is already in the hospital and you are concerned that they may be experiencing delirium?

Older People Are More At Risk

First, recognize that older people enduring hospital stays are most at risk for delirium. If your loved one is in the hospital and showing the signs and symptoms listed above, it’s important not to assume that the hospital staff or medical staff have noticed this change.

Record Behavioral Changes

You will need to tell doctors about the changes that you are seeing from normal functioning and how you see a someone acting differently. It may help for you to keep a record or log of events as they happen so that you can explain what you are seeing and also how it changes over time. A record of your observations will allow the hospital staff to intervene as necessary.

Schedule Appointments

If, on the other hand, you have a loved one or relative who is not in the hospital and is showing signs of delirium, it is important to help that person visit the doctor for an assessment or, if symptoms are severe, you may need to take them to the emergency department for immediate help.

A Word From Verywell

Delirium is a treatable acute condition that is most common among older individuals and those who have been hospitalized. The best thing you can do is to familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of delirium so that you can be aware of what to look for when visiting loved ones who are older or in the hospital.

While it may be scary to experience delirium or to witness someone else experiencing it, know that a full recovery is possible with appropriate treatment. For this reason, it’s best that delirium is caught as early as possible. If you notice the signs and symptoms in a loved one, it’s better to act on them quickly rather than to let the situation extend. The longer your loved one experiences symptoms, the more time it will take for them to make a full recovery.

How Ginkgo Biloba Affects Memory and Stroke Risk

How Ginkgo Biloba Affects Memory and Stroke Risk

By Mark Stibich, PhD Updated on February 04, 2020

Ginkgo biloba capsules
Thomas J Peterson/Getty Images

Ginkgo biloba is one of the most popular supplements used around the world. Also known as the maidenhair tree, it is widely popular for improving memory and preventing cognitive problems such as dementia. However, researchers are finding out ginkgo biloba may not be as effective as once thought. What’s more, it may increase the risk of a dangerous, yet common medical condition.

The Research

Researchers enrolled 118 people over age 85 with no memory or other cognitive problems in a study, published in 2008 in the journal Neurology, to find out the impact of ginkgo biloba on memory and dementia. Half of the people took a ginkgo biloba supplement three times a day, and the other half took a placebo. Researchers followed up with them for three years. Over the course of the study, 21 people developed mild memory problems; 14 of those people were taking the placebo, and seven were taking to ginkgo extract. But it’s not all good news for ginkgo. The difference between the ginkgo and placebo groups was not statistically significant. In other words, the fact that the placebo group had more cases of memory problems could have been just random change.

The Reality

During the aforementioned study participants were found to not having taken the proper dosage of the supplements. When the people who were not taking their ginkgo biloba three times daily were removed from the analysis, the remaining ginkgo biloba takers had 68% less risk of developing mild memory problems over three years. This would seem like a significant lowering of risk, however, the studies findings also revealed an uptick in risk.

Stroke Risk

The group taking the ginkgo biloba extract properly had more strokes and mini-strokes than the placebo group. Researchers concluded that more research needs to be done to better understand the benefits and risks of ginkgo biloba and brain health. In a recent review of studies related to Ginkgo biloba supplementation, Ginkgo biloba was found to show improvement of cognitive function, activities of daily living, and global clinical assessment in patients with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease. However, because many studies are limited in sample size, some findings were inconsistent and the methodological quality of included trials was shoddy, more research is warranted to confirm the effectiveness and safety of ginkgo biloba in treating mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.

Bottom Line

Right now, it doesn’t seem like a good idea. There could be something to the claims that ginkgo biloba can improve memory (or at least slow memory decline), but the evidence isn’t strong enough, and the possible increase in stroke risk is just too high. There are also multiple forms of ginkgo biloba in the marketplace. Until researchers figure out which forms are harmful and in what dosage, it seems best to stay away. Instead of looking for a pill, consider these mental fitness techniques to keep your brain sharp.

What Is Dementia?

What Is Dementia?

By Sara Lindberg, M.Ed

Published on September 11, 2020

woman

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is a broad term that refers to the deterioration of cognitive functioning. This includes problems with thinking, remembering, learning, judgment, reasoning, and language. Although a decline in many of these areas is part of the aging process, a person with dementia will have deterioration beyond what is normal at their age.1

That said, the longer you live, the more likely it will be that you have some form of dementia. In fact, up to half of all people over the age of 85 may have some form of dementia.2

Dementia covers a wide range of specific medical conditions including Alzheimer’s — which is the most common form of dementia — Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and mixed dementia, which is a combination of two or more types of dementia.3

Symptoms

The symptoms of dementia vary depending on the specific type and progression of that disease. Early on, symptoms are often minor, with a gradual onset. Because of this, dementia may go unnoticed by friends or family. As cognitive decline progresses, symptoms become more noticeable, and routine tasks such as caring for yourself become more difficult to perform, eventually leading to an interruption in daily living and independent functioning. 

Some of the more common symptoms of dementia include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Memory loss
  • Mood changes
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Problems with reasoning and judgment 
  • Confused about time and place
  • Getting lost in familiar settings
  • Forgetting the names of family and close friends
  • Difficulty carrying out familiar daily tasks
  • Problems with language, difficulty finding the right words
  • Withdrawal from socializing
  • Changes in executive functioning (difficulty carrying out multiple steps or with planning)

Causes

There is no one cause of dementia. That said, all types of dementia stem from damage to the brain cells. Moreover, each type of dementia may be associated with different damage and different regions of the brain. In general, the damage to the brain cells interferes with their ability to communicate with each other, which leads to problems with behavior and thinking. 4

Symptoms of dementia can also be caused by conditions like depression, vitamin B12 deficiency, thyroid disorders, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, normal pressure hydrocephalus, or by taking certain medications. But unlike Alzheimer’s and other progressive brain diseases, these causes of dementia symptoms may be reversible. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the strongest risk factor for dementia is increasing age. Many of the symptoms are common in people as they get older, however, they say most cases of dementia affect people 65 years and older. 5Additionally, they cite family history, poor heart health, traumatic brain injury, and race/ethnicity as factors that increase the risk of dementia.

Types

There are several types of dementia. The following are the most common.

Alzheimer’s Disease

This accounts for 60% to 80% of cases, is a progressive brain disease that impacts memory, thought process, behavior, and the ability to remember newly learned information.6

Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementiahappens as a result of inadequate blood flow to various regions of the brain. This type of dementia changes thinking skills, especially following a stroke. Estimates put vascular dementia after Alzheimer’s as the second most common form of dementia, accounting for 5% to 10% percent of cases. 4

Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy body dementia results from abnormal microscopic deposits that damage brain cells over time. 7This is the third most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. Symptoms include changes in thinking and reasoning, confusion, slowness, sleep disturbances, and more. 

Frontotemporal Dementia

This refers to a group of disorders, is caused by progressive nerve cell loss in the brain’s frontal or temporal lobes. Symptoms include a deterioration in behavior and personality and difficulty with language, both producing and comprehending. 

Mixed Dementia

This is a combination of two or more types of dementia, is common in the elderly. 8 Someone with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia is an example of mixed dementia. 

Diagnosis 

Since dementia is an umbrella term that describes the decline in cognitive functioning, resulting in different types of dementia, there is no one test to determine if someone has the condition. 4With that in mind, your doctor will conduct a thorough physical exam that also includes an in-depth medical history, laboratory test, and brain scans like a CT or MRI to determine if the symptoms you are exhibiting are related to dementia.

Depending on the doctor’s training, they may be able to conduct further evaluations to determine the type of dementia. Otherwise, they may need to refer you to a specialist such as a neurologist who can make an accurate diagnosis. 

Treatment

Treatment of dementia depends on the type and underlying cause. Unfortunately, for several forms of dementia, like Alzheimer’s, there is no known treatment to stop the progression of the disease. However, there are interventions your doctor can recommend, such as medications that may temporarily decrease the severity of the symptoms, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes.

Medication

There are several FDA-approved drugs available to treat the symptoms of dementia, especially in Alzheimer’s disease. 9For mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, your doctor may recommend drugs like Razadyne® (galantamine), Exelon® (rivastigmine), and Aricept® (donepezil) to help reduce symptoms and control behavior.

As the disease progresses, your doctor may recommend a medication called Namenda® (memantine) that is appropriate for moderate to severe cases of Alzheimer’s. This drug may help decrease symptoms and allow you to maintain daily functions longer than you would without medication. 

Psychotherapy

Your doctor may also recommend palliative care, psychotherapy, or counseling to help you understand the diagnosis and learn new ways to cope. The goal of this type of treatment is to improve your quality of life. For family members and caregivers, family counseling should be considered. 

Memory Care Facility

When dementia progresses to its most severe stage, families may need to consider permanent placement in a memory care facility. This typically happens when it becomes difficult to care for someone at home. Memory care can take place in a specialized unit at an assisted living facility or in a skilled residence that only houses people with severe forms of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease. 

Coping

If you or someone you love is dealing with the symptoms of dementia, it’s critical to practice self-care and reach out for help. Although certain types of dementia, like neurodegenerative dementias, have no cure, your doctor may try drug treatments and other lifestyle

They may also recommend counseling for both the patient and the caregiver. When diseases like Alzheimer’s begin to progress, it may be necessary for the support person to reach out for additional help such as in-home care, assisted living, or permanent care in a memory care facility. 

modifications to temporarily ease symptoms and help with daily living.

They may also recommend counseling for both the patient and the caregiver. When diseases like Alzheimer’s begin to progress, it may be necessary for the support person to reach out for additional help such as in-home care, assisted living, or permanent care in a memory care facility. 

Does Rosemary Actually Improve Your Memory and Cognition?

Does Rosemary Actually Improve Your Memory and Cognition?

The Research Behind the Idea of Rosemary as a Cognitive Enhancer

By Esther Heerema, MSW Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Updated on May 19, 2020

Rosemary for Your Memory?
Judith Haeusler/ Getty Images 

There are many theories that suggest different ways of improving memory or thinking more clearly. One of those is the idea that adding rosemary to your food or water, or even breathing in its scent, can give your brain a boost. But, is this concept supported by research?

What Is Rosemary?

First, it’s important to understand what rosemary is. Rosemary (scientific name: rosmarinus officinalis) is an herb with needle-like leaves. It’s a perennial, meaning that once you plant it, it should re-grow every year when the whether is warm enough for it to do so.

It’s native to Asia and the Mediterranean, but it is grown in the United States, as well.1 Rosemary is related to the mint family of plants. When it blooms, its flower are white, purple, pink or deep blue.

Rosemary is often used as a spice in food, including soups, stew, meat, chicken, fish and other Mediterranean food, and it has a somewhat bitter flavor. Some people also enjoy tea flavored with rosemary. Rosemary is also used as a perfume and added to shampoo, conditioner and soap.

Rosemary as a Cognitive Enhancer?

Here’s what research has found about rosemary and its effects on cognitive function.

Rosemary Consumption

One study that involved 28 older adults found that a consumption of a low dose, but not a higher dose, of dried rosemary powder, was associated with statistically significantly improved memory speed.2

Rosemary Aroma

Some research looked at how the smell of rosemary affects cognition. Participants were exposed to the aroma of rosemary while performing visual processing tasks and serial subtraction tasks. With higher amounts of the rosemary aroma, both speed and accuracy in the tasks increased.3

Research that was presented at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society also highlighted the benefits of the aroma of rosemary. Research included 40 school-age children who were placed either in a room that contained the rosemary aroma or another room without an aroma.

The results, which have not yet been published by a peer-reviewed journal, found that those in the rosemary aroma room demonstrated higher memory scores than those in the room without the rosemary scent.4

Rosemary Essential Oil

Another study was performed with 53 students who were between 13 and 15 years old. Researchers found that their memory of images and numbers improved when the essential oil of rosemary was sprayed in the room.5

Rosemary Water

One study involved 80 adults who drank 250 milliliters of rosemary water or mineral water. Those who drank the rosemary water demonstrated a small improvement in cognitive functioning as compared to those who drank the mineral water.6

Studies in Mice and Rats

Several other studies have been published in peer reviewed journals about the effect of rosemary consumption, with results that fairly consistently show benefits in memory associated with rosemary. However, those studies were performed with rats and mice, and it is unknown if those benefits would hold true to humans. Thus, they’re not included in this summary of research.

Why Might Rosemary Benefit the Brain?

It’s unknown for sure why there may be a benefit from rosemary, but one theory is that rosemary appears to have some antioxidant properties which may offer some healing for the damage in our bodies due to free radicals.

Another idea cited by Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center is that rosemary appears to lower anxiety, which in turn, may increase the ability to concentrate.1

A Word From Verywell

While rosemary shows some promise for boosting our brain power, it’s important to check with your doctor before you begin supplementing your diet with it. It does have the potential to interact with other medicines including blood thinners, ACE inhibitors (for treating high blood pressure), lithium, diuretics (such as Lasix) and diabetes medications. Additionally, the case for rosemary needs to be strengthened by additional research in humans that demonstrates consistent cognitive benefits.

What Is the Hippocampus?

What Is the Hippocampus?

By Kendra Cherry Medically reviewed by Shaheen Lakhan, MD, PhD, FAAN

Updated on July 22, 2020

Hippocampus
Sciepro / Getty Images

The hippocampus plays a critical role in the formation, organization, and storage of new memories as well as connecting certain sensations and emotions to these memories. Have you ever noticed how a particular scent might trigger a strong memory? It is the hippocampus that plays a role in this connection.

What Is the Hippocampus?

The hippocampus is a small, curved formation in the brain that plays an important role in the limbic system. The hippocampus is involved in the formation of new memories and is also associated with learning and emotions.1

Functions

Research has also found that different subregions of the hippocampus itself play important roles in certain types of memory.

Spatial Memory

The rear part of the hippocampus is involved in the processing of spatial memories. Studies of London cab drivers found that navigating complex mazes of big city streets is linked to the growth of the rear region of the hippocampus.2

Memory Consolidation

The hippocampus also plays a role in consolidating memories during sleep. Studies published in 2004 suggest that greater hippocampal activity during sleep following some sort of training or learning experience leads to better memory of the material the following day.3

Memory Transfer

Memories are not stored in the hippocampus for the long term. Instead, it is believed that the hippocampus acts as something of a shipping center, taking in information, registering it, and temporarily storing it before shipping it off to be filed and stored in long-term memory. Sleep is believed to play a critical role in this process.

Location

Because the brain is lateralized and symmetrical, you actually have two hippocampi. They are located just above each ear and about an inch-and-a-half inside your head.

Impact of Hippocampus Damage

If the hippocampus is damaged by disease or injury, it can influence a person’s memories as well as their ability to form new memories. Hippocampus damage can particularly affect spatial memory, or the ability to remember directions, locations, and orientations.

Because the hippocampus plays such an important role in the formation of new memories, damage to this part of the brain can have a serious long-term impact on certain types of memory. Damage to the hippocampus has been observed upon post-mortem analysis of the brains of individuals with amnesia. Such damage is linked to problems with forming explicit memories such as names, dates, and events.4

The exact impact of damage can vary depending on which hippocampus has been affected. Research on mice suggests that damage to the left hippocampus has an effect on the recall of verbal information while damage to the right hippocampus results in problems with visual information.5

Tips

So what can you do to protect your hippocampus? Research suggests that exercise may help protect the hippocampus from the detrimental effects of aging.6 Long-term stress can also have a negative impact on the hippocampus, so finding ways to manage your stress may help protect this part of your brain.7

Some research suggests that stress associated with PTSD may also lead to damage to the hippocampus. People with PTSD have smaller hippocampi than people without PTSD.

Potential Pitfalls

There are a few different factors that can affect the function of the hippocampus:

Age can also have a major impact on the functioning of the hippocampus. MRI scans of human brains have found that the human hippocampus shrinks by around 13% between the ages of 30 and 80.9

Those who experience such a loss may show significant declines in memory performance. Cell degeneration in the hippocampus has also been linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.10

The hippocampus may also play a role in contributing to the development of addictions. Because drugs and alcohol affect the brain’s reward systems, the hippocampus creates memories of these satisfying experiences. It also may help form memories of environmental cues associated with substance use that can contribute to intense cravings when these cues are encountered again.11

History of the Hippocampus

The term hippocampus is derived from the Greek word hippokampus (hippo meaning “horse” and kampos meaning “sea monster”) because the structure resembles the shape of a sea horse. The structure was first described by the anatomist Julius Caesar Aranzi. Because the hippocampus has been known of and observed for centuries, it is one of the most studied areas of the brain.

The Different Causes of Memory Loss

The Different Causes of Memory Loss

By Esther Heerema, MSW Medically reviewed by Shaheen Lakhan, MD, PhD, FAAN on April 10, 2020

Woman holding photographs
Lena Mirisola/Getty Images

Most of us have, either occasionally or more frequently, had the unpleasant experience of forgetting something. These episodes of memory loss can cause irritation and frustration, as well as a fear that we’re “losing it” and beginning to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

While Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia are responsible for many cases of memory loss, the good news is that there are other, non-permanent factors that can also cause memory loss.1 Better yet, some of them are easily reversed.

So, what causes us to forget? What prevents us from mentally storing that piece of information or being able to recall it? Here are some of the many reasons we can’t remember.

Emotional Causes of Memory Loss

Because our mind and body are connected and affect each other, our emotions and thoughts can impact our brain. The energy it takes to cope with certain feelings or life stress can get in the way of storing or remembering details and schedules.

Often, these emotional triggers of memory loss can be improved by support, counseling, and lifestyle changes. Even just being aware of—and limiting exposure to—things that increase stress can help.

Stress

Too much stress can overload our minds and cause distraction and brain drain.​ Short-term, acute stress can trigger a momentary memory problem, while chronic, long-term exposure to stress may increase your risk of dementia. Stress management is an important strategy for maintaining quality of life and improving the health of your body and your brain.2

Depression

Depression can blunt the mind and cause such disinterest in your surroundings that memory, concentration, and awareness suffer. Your mind and emotions may be so weighed down that you are just not able to pay much attention to what’s happening.

Consequently, recalling something that you weren’t paying attention to is difficult. Depression can also cause problems with healthy sleep, which can make it more difficult to remember information.3 

Pseudodementia is a term that describes the combination of memory loss and depression. If you think you’re experiencing pseudodementia, cognitive testing can be helpful in reassuring you and ruling out true dementia.

Despite feeling “out of it” in daily life, the person with pseudodementia will be able to perform quite well on cognitive tests. Depression is usually highly treatable. Often, a combination of counseling and medication can be very effective.

Anxiety​

If you’ve ever blanked out when taking a test, even though you knew the answers, you can blame anxiety. Some people have anxiety in certain situations, like this test-taking example. Others have a more pervasive generalized anxiety disorder that continually interferes with healthy functioning, including memory.4 Identifying and treating anxiety can significantly improve quality of life, and possibly memory, as well.

Grief​

Grieving requires a high amount of physical and emotional energy, and this can reduce our ability to focus on events and people around us. Consequently, our memory can suffer.5 Grief can be similar to depression, but it’s often triggered by a specific situation or acute loss, while depression may seem to be without a specific cause.

Deep grief takes time to process, and it’s appropriate and necessary to spend time in your grief. You can expect to feel drained—both physically and mentally—when you’re going through grief. Give yourself extra time and grace while you’re grieving. Individual counseling and support groups can help you to effectively cope with grief.

​Drugs and Medical Treatments

Sometimes memory lapses can be attributed to medications or other substances. These can include prescription drugs, other mind-altering substances, and even surgeries.

Alcohol or Illicit Drugs

Drinking alcohol or using illicit drugs can impair your memory, both in the short term and long term. From blackouts to an increased risk of dementia years later, these substances can significantly harm your memory, among many other things. Too much alcohol can also cause Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which if treated immediately, may be able to be partially reversed in some people.6

Prescription Medications​

Just because a medication is legally prescribed by a physician doesn’t mean it can’t hurt your body or impair your memory.1 You may be taking the medication exactly as ordered by the doctor, but prescription medicines (especially when taken in combination) can significantly affect your ability to think and remember clearly.

If you go to different doctors for multiple conditions, make sure each one has your complete list of medications. They need to know so they don’t order a medication that could interact with the one you’re already taking.

Ask your physician if any of your medications can be slowly reduced to eliminate this cause of forgetfulness.

Chemotherapy

If you’re receiving chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer, you might experience “chemo brain,” described as brain fog from the medicines targeting your cancer.7 Knowing that this is a common and often temporary effect from chemotherapy can be reassuring.

Heart Surgery

Some research has indicated that following bypass surgery on the heart, there may be an increased risk of confusion and memory impairment. This may improve as you recover, and typically the need for this type of heart surgery is greater than the possible risk.8 Be sure to discuss your concerns with your physician.

Anesthesia

Some people report memory loss or confusion, typically lasting for a few days, following the use of anesthesia. Research, however, has been unclear in determining if there’s a direct correlation between the anesthesia or if other factors may be causing the brain to function less effectively.9

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Sometimes referred to as “shock” therapy, ECT can be very helpful for those suffering from severe depression, but it may also cause some memory loss. You should talk with your physician about the risks and benefits of ECT.10 Because it has been effective for some people, the risk of some memory loss may be worth it for your quality of life.

Physical and Medical Conditions

Other conditions aside from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can lead to memory loss or memory problems.

Fatigue and Sleep Deprivation

The benefits of getting a good night’s sleep are many: Less weight gain, more energy, and the ability to think more clearly. Being tired because you didn’t sleep well last night and being chronically short on sleep both have been shown to affect memory and learning.11 It’s worth trying some easy ways to improve your sleep habits.

Concussions and Head Injuries

Concussions and traumatic head injuries can cause short-term memory impairment, but some research has found that they can also increase the likelihood for the development of dementia over the years.12

Be sure to take steps like wearing protective headgear and helmets when playing sports. And, if you do sustain a concussion, it’s important to let your head fully heal before returning to regular activities and participating in sports.13 Discuss any headaches and concentration difficulties after a head injury with your doctor.

Low Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a very important vitamin. In more extreme cases, deficits in vitamin B12 have caused symptoms that have been mistaken for dementia. Upon receiving adequate vitamin B12, those symptoms may improve and even resolve in some people.14

Thyroid Problems

Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can cause cognitive problems such as memory loss and mental fog. If you’re noticing brain sluggishness or that it’s more difficult to remember things, mention this to your doctor. It may be appropriate to test your thyroid functioning, especially if you’re experiencing other symptoms of thyroid issues.15 Treating thyroid problems could improve your memory and concentration.

Kidney Disorders​

When your kidneys aren’t working well, such as in chronic or acute kidney failure (also called renal failure), the accumulation of waste products, such as the breakdown of proteins, can affect brain function.16 In addition, studies published in 2017 have shown that those with albuminuria (the presence of albumin protein in the urine) are more likely to display impaired memory and cognition.

Liver Disorders

​Liver diseases, such as hepatitis, can cause toxins to be released into your bloodstream, which can then affect brain functioning.17 Hepatic encephalopathy is a related brain disorder that can develop from serious liver problems. If you have liver problems and notice some difficulty with memory and thinking, be sure to report this to your physician for prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Encephalitis

This acute infection of brain tissue may trigger symptoms of dementia, such as confusion and memory problems, along with a fever, headaches and even seizures.18 If you suspect encephalitis, seek emergency medical treatment.

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus

Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) typically has symptoms in these three areas: cognitive problems, incontinence, and a decline in balance and walking.19 Prompt evaluation and treatment by a physician have the potential to reverse the problems with memory and thinking in NPH, as well as help with regaining the ability to be continent and to walk well.

Pregnancy

Sometimes, the changes in the body’s chemicals and hormones, combined with the emotional and physical changes in pregnancy, can contribute to forgetfulness and poor concentration.20 Fortunately, this is a temporary condition that resolves in due time.

Menopause

Similar to pregnancy, the hormonal changes in menopause can bring chaos to thought processes and disturb sleep, which also impacts your cognitive processes. Some physicians prescribe hormonal supplements or other treatments to relieve the temporary symptoms of menopause.21

Infections

Infections, such as pneumonia or urinary tract infections, can cause forgetfulness, especially in older adults and others with chronic health conditions.22 For some people, delirium—a sudden change in mental ability—is one of the only outward signs of an infection, so be sure to report these symptoms to the physician right away. Prompt treatment can often help restore memory to its normal functioning.

Strokes

Strokes can significantly affect brain functioning. Sometimes, the memory loss related to a stroke is permanent, but other times the cognitive functioning improves as the brain recovers.23

Transient Ischemic Attacks

A TIA, also known as a “little stroke” (although that isn’t completely accurate medically), is a brief blockage in the brain that can cause lapses in memory, along with other stroke-like symptoms.24 Symptoms usually resolve on their own, but treatment is important to prevent future strokes.

Brain Tumors

Brain tumors can cause headaches and physical problems, but they can also affect our memory and personality at times. Depending on the severity and type of tumor, treatment can often relieve these symptoms.25

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea, where you actually stop breathing for a few seconds while you’re sleeping, has been connected to a higher risk of dementia. A study published in 2018 also tied sleep apnea to memory problems, which is not surprising given that sleep deprivation can cause forgetfulness and diminished brain functioning.26 

Aging

As people age into older adulthood, cognitive processing generally slows down, and memory ability may slightly decline. For example, a healthy older person will still be able to memorize information, but it probably won’t be as easy as when they were a child or young adult.

Knowing the difference between normal aging and true memory concerns can help you determine if you should visit the doctor or stop worrying about it.

Cognitive Causes of Memory Loss

Sometimes, problems with how the brain functions can lead to memory loss. These may be due to aging.

Distraction

​Thinking about too many things at once? Attempts to multi-task in order to be efficient can sometimes decrease efficiency because of the need to repeat a task that was poorly completed or forgotten. Your brain has a limit on what it can effectively process simultaneously and remember.27

Natural Memory Ability

Some people naturally just don’t have a great memory. Maybe you’ve seen the difference between one person who needs to spend three hours to effectively learn and remember material, and another who has it mastered and can quickly recall it after taking only 20 minutes to page through it.

Mild Cognitive Impairment

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) consists of a decline in mental abilities that develops gradually but generally doesn’t change the person’s ability to function fairly well on a daily basis. One symptom of MCI is forgetfulness.

Sometimes, MCI responds to medications that are designed to treat Alzheimer’s. Some cases of MCI hold steady or even resolve completely, while others progress into Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia.

Is It Alzheimer’s or Another Kind of Dementia?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and causes significant memory loss, in addition to multiple other symptoms. If you think your memory loss could be caused by Alzheimer’s, review the symptoms and make an appointment with your physician for an assessment. Although Alzheimer’s typically affects those over the age of 65, early-onset Alzheimer’s can occur in those as young as 40.29

Memory loss can also be caused by other kinds of dementia, such as vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and several others.30 Problems with memory should be discussed with your doctor so that any reversible cause can be found and treated, or so that treatment for Alzheimer’s or dementia can begin as soon as possible if this is the cause.

7 Ways to Take Care of Your Body

7 Ways to Take Care of Your Body

By Sharla Kostelyk

I’ve never been particularly good at taking care of myself. I am very good at making sure that my kids eat healthy foods and don’t have a lot of sugar, but my own diet is atrocious. I consume large amounts of sugar daily in the form of Slurpees or pop, chocolate and candy. I still eat like a teenager and it’s catching up to me. I used to get very little exercise, but this is something that has already begun to improve. I take my kids to appointments weekly, but have not been to a dentist for myself in 7 years or a doctor in over a year. I may think that in doing this, I am being a good mom, but in fact, the example I’m setting for my kids of how to take care of themselves is not a healthy one.

7 Ways to Take Care of Your Body

It’s common especially among women to put others first, but not taking care of your body will get in the way of you having the life you want. If you are not healthy, you cannot achieve the goals you set for yourself. You also cannot fully enjoy what life has to offer if you can’t participate. Imagine that one of your dreams is to travel to Mexico. Once you get there, you find that you cannot climb the stairs of the Mayan ruins or go snorkelling because you are too out of shape.

Even something as simple as playing outside with your kids or your future grandkids can be something impossible if your health doesn’t allow for it.

While there are many aspects of your health that are out of your control, what I’m advocating for here is taking care of the things that you can control so that even if you suffer from a chronic illness, you can get the best out of life that you can.

Here are 7 ways that you can take care of your body to the best of your ability:

Sleep

Doctors recommend that an adult get an average of 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Although sleep needs are individual and some people do need more rest than others, the effects of chronic sleep deprivation are far-reaching.

Even adults can have trouble sleeping because of sensory issues.

Sleep deprivation affects our mood, our concentration, our attention, our memory, our ability to fight off infection, our libido, and our judgment. Inadequate sleep can also lead to weight gain, depression, car accidents, potentially fatal errors, and cause serious health problems such as stroke, heart attack or diabetes.

Schedule time in your life for sleep. This week, try moving your bedtime back by half an hour.

Hydration

Are you dehydrated? Even mild dehydration can affect your energy level and your mood. Many doctors still recommend that adults drink eight 8oz. glasses of water per day, but that amount may need to be higher or lower depending on other factors such as your level of physical activity and your size. New research suggests taking your weight, dividing it in two and drinking that number in ounces per day.

Start by adding just one extra glass of water a day to what you are already drinking. You may soon see an increase in your energy.

Nutrition

Nutrition is a complicated thing nowadays with food allergies and food intolerances in abundance. What is healthy for your body may not be healthy for someone else’s but there are certain commonalities that I think most people could agree on. Cut down on sugar. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Eat a variety of foods. Maintain good portion control standards for your body in terms of your height and energy level.

Nutrition is not about weight. It’s about health. It’s about fuelling your body with good energy sources so that it can work at its optimum capacity. Having healthy food on hand is half the battle. I find that by making freezer meals ahead so that I don’t have to meal plan and can easily pull out supper every day, I eat less junk.

Cut out one thing that you know is not healthy for your body even if it is a small thing like adding one scoop of sugar into your tea instead of two.

Exercise

Many people think of exercise as just being for weight loss but it does far more than that. It helps combat disease such as high blood pressure, depression, certain types of cancer, stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. It boost certain brain chemicals which leaves you feeling happier and more relaxed than before (this is a very good thing!). Exercise boosts your energy, improves your sex life and helps you get a better sleep.

We make all kinds of excuses as to why we can’t exercise (time, kids, health, etc.), but all of us can do this one simple thing: move more. Park further away. Take the stairs. Dance in your kitchen. Use soup cans to do curls. Play tag with your kids at the park.

I have started exercising by changing three things in my life and it has made all the difference. I have more energy, my clothes fit better, I’ve lost weight, and my strength is noticeably improved. I now go on walks with my neighbour three times a week for 6 km. I do the app Seven which is a 7 minute workout. I take the stairs.

Just choose one small way to move more.

Dental Health

When was the last time you got your teeth cleaned or went for a dental check-up? It’s been over 7 years for me even though I take my kids regularly for dental appointments. Did you know that poor dental health and gum disease have actually been linked to heart disease and lower life expectancy? That is a pretty good reason to take it seriously. You are probably (hopefully) already brushing your teeth a few times a day which is a start.

Mental Health

Our mental health is just as important as our physical one. No matter how stressful your life is, there are steps that you can take to decrease your body’s stress response and to be doing good self-care. Take a walk, have a visit with a friend, take a candlelit bubble bath with Epsom salts, read a good book, go for a massage, pray, write in a journal, and/or see a counsellor.

If you are the parent of a high needs child and find that the stress from that is affecting you, consider accessing help and support from The Chaos and The Clutter Community Center.

Breathe: Take a few minutes three times a day to sit with your eyes closed and breathe in and out five times slowly.

Appointments

I touched on this point already in the dental care section, but I’d like you now to think about other appointments that you may have put off making for yourself. Do you need to see a doctor for a check-up or a specialist for something that is worrying you? Do you need to see a nutritionalist, physiotherapist, naturopath, chiropractor, or massage therapist?

Make an appointment today that you have been procrastinating about.

Plan of action:

  • go to bed half an hour earlier
  • drink one extra glass of water each day
  • cut one unhealthy thing out of you diet
  • move more
  • start flossing if you aren’t and book a dental appointment for yourself
  • breathe slowly in and out five times with your eyes closed three times a day
  • book an appointment with a medical professional

Part of getting the life you want is taking care of your body. It’s the only one you’ve got!

Move towards the life you want to live.

Adopt A Healthy Lifestyle With New Habits

Adopt These Healthy Habits for Low Stress Living

Adopt A Healthy Lifestyle With New Habits

By Elizabeth Scott, MS Updated on June 24, 2019

women friends enjoying yoga class
Thomas Barwick / Stone / Getty Images

Learning to manage your stress includes many steps. Among those is adopting healthy habits that are designed to lower your stress levels. The food you eat, the exercise you get and your sleeping habits can make a significant impact in controlling stress.

Living a low-stress life can help you in other aspects of your health. It can make you feel better physically and even help you heal from injuries. The mental health benefits are significant because you can learn how to remain calm and handle challenges in healthy ways.

Trying to lead a healthier and less stressful life is not a bad thing. While it may be challenging to make some of these changes, at first, you will be happier and healthier in the end. Once you get started, these habits become just that: habits!

Maintaining Healthy Habits: One Step in a Solid Stress Management Game Plan

Your ability to maintain healthy habits that lead to a lower amount of stress in your life is just one step in a larger stress management game plan. If you are suffering from frequent stress, it’s best to take a deeper look at each stage so you can most effectively manage your stress.

  • Step 1: Understand Stress: The Basics You Need To Know
  • Step 2: Assess Your Situation
  • Step 3: Stop Tension Right Now
  • Step 4: Reduce Lifestyle Stress
  • Step 5: Maintain Healthy Habits (you’re here!)

Once you learn about stress, assess your situation, relieve current tension and make lifestyle changes, a final and important step in a stress management game plan is to maintain healthy habits.

Cultivating healthy habits will keep your stress levels low and enable you to handle any stress that does come into your life.

This step ensures that stress management becomes a part of your overall healthy lifestyle and not just an activity to help you handle excessively high-stress levels when they become too much. 

5 Healthy Habits for Low-Stress Living

The goal of this step is to reduce stress in your daily life and put into practice techniques you have learned to keep that stress under control. The following are healthy habits that can enhance your lifestyle:

  • Self Care Strategies: All too often, especially when busy, we forget to take good care of ourselves and our bodies. Unfortunately, this type of neglect can exacerbate stress levels and, eventually, lead to health problems. One of the best steps you can take toward lowering your stress levels is to get into the habit of taking care of yourself. This means getting enough sleep, eating healthy food, and focusing on nurturing yourself as well as everyone else.
  • Maintaining a Healthy Diet: You may not be aware of all the ways that poor nutrition can adversely affect you, but there are many, and they aren’t good! Good nutrition can do wonders for your emotional health and should become a habit for you. You’ll feel better, remain healthier, have more patience to handle stress and more stamina to get things done. Definitely worth the effort!
  • 6 Great Ways to Start Your Day: What you do in the morning sets the stage for your entire day. You may not be aware that some of the things you do—or don’t do!—can be causing you unnecessary stress, and now is the time to find out what they are! These healthy morning habits can set you up for a great day and a healthy lifestyle that includes less stress.
  • 10 Great Ways to End Your Day: Sleep is an extremely important and undervalued resource. Stress can affect your sleep in many ways, such as keeping your mind overly active or your stress hormones high enough to interfere with sleep processes. These healthy nighttime habits can lessen or reverse the effects of stress to help you to get a better night of sleep. They’re easy and can be incorporated into your lifestyle starting tonight.
  • Get Regular Exercise for Stress Relief: The importance of exercise for stress relief can’t be stressed enough. A healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise can help you better handle daily stresses, give you an outlet to release tension, potentially provide a social outlet, reduce cortisol levels and raise endorphin levels, and more. 

Synchronizing Your Biological Clock With a Schedule

Synchronizing Your Biological Clock With a Schedule

By Kendra Cherry Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Updated on April 20, 2020

What if there was a way to get more out of each day? While we all have the same 24 hours, how we use that time impacts what we can accomplish. Recent research suggests that one way to pack more into your day is to sync your biological clock to your daily schedule. By doing certain things at peak periods of activity and energy, you might be able to improve your productivity.

Your Biological Clock

Your biological clock controls a great deal of how you function. This works much like a program, regulating the timing of many biological functions ranging from when you sleep to when you reproduce. Circadian rhythms manage daily cycles of sleeping and waking and contribute to your energy levels at various points during the day.

You might become particularly aware of your body’s biological clock at times when your daily schedule is thrown off-kilter. Shift workers, for example, must constantly adjust their daily ebb and flow to the demands of their work schedule. Travelers may experience disturbances in their sleep-wake cycles leading to feelings of jet lag.

You’ve probably noticed that there are certain times during the day when you feel more energized. At other times, you might feel drained. Research has shown, however, that your body clock is responsible for far more than just your sleep-wake cycle.

Mental alertness, hunger, stress, mood, heart function, and even immunity are also influenced by the body’s daily rhythms. By synchronizing your biological clock with your daily schedule, you can make the most of your day and feel more accomplished and motivated.

How It Affects Your Health

Circadian rhythms affect your sleep-wake cycle, eating habits, body temperature, digestion, hormone levels, and other body functions. Because of this, your body’s internal clock can play an important role in your overall health. Interruptions to your circadian rhythm may contribute to health conditions including diabetes, seasonal affective disorder, and sleep disorders.1

Fortunately, understanding how these cycles influence your health can help you address potential problems and seek treatments that can help. For example, you can make lifestyle changes that can help get your circadian rhythm back on track. Your doctor can also help you address conditions that might be affected by your body’s natural rhythms and come up with treatments that involve both medication and lifestyle adjustments. 

The Best Time for Activities

The reality is that the demands of daily life such as school, commuting, work, and social events can all throw the body’s natural cycles out of whack. The way we organize our daily activities is sometimes in direct contrast to our body’s own inclinations.

Altering your schedule might not always be easy, but there are clear benefits to doing so. In addition to making better use of your time, there are also potential health implications. Circadian rhythm disruptions have been linked to a range of negative health outcomes including depression and diabetes.1

When is the best time to tackle certain tasks?

Sleeping

Your biological clock plays a major role in controlling your daily sleeping and waking cycle. Factors such as your schedule, bedtime routines, and even age can play a role as well.

The body’s natural sleep cycle changes as we age. Knowing this might help you adapt your own schedule to best suit your sleep needs.

  • Young children tend to be early risers, where teens are more inclined to sleep in.
  • As people approach later adulthood, the sleep cycle continues to shift back toward rising earlier in the morning.
  • Teens might be better served getting longer periods of rest before tackling their day, where older adults might prefer to get up earlier and go to bed earlier.

Energy levels tend to dip in the early afternoon. This can be a great time to take a nap. Even if you are not able to take a quick power nap, a quick break from your work might be beneficial and improve task performance.

Eating

Could eating at the right time really be better for your health? Studies suggest that eating at certain times may have some health benefits.

  • Eating at the right time might help control your weight. According to one study, when certain mice had their food restricted to particular times, they were protected from excessive weight gain and metabolic diseases.3
  • Surprisingly, research has found that when you eat can even play a role in resetting your biological clock. This research also suggests that if you are trying to adjust to a new schedule (such as if you are traveling or doing shift work), altering your eating schedule can also help you reset your body clock to better match your new daily schedule.4

Restricting your eating to a 12 to 15-hour window during the day can be helpful. Eating before bed can also have a negative impact on sleep, so its best to avoid eating late in the evening. At the very least, try timing your last meal so that it a minimum of three hours before you go to bed.

Exercising

Adjusting your exercise schedule to match your biological clock may also help you get the most out of your workouts.

Research suggests that regular exercise can help regulate your circadian rhythm and help improve your daily sleep schedule.5

  • You might get the most out of workouts that take place in mid- to late afternoon. People tend to perform their best and are the least prone to injury between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Try strength-training later in the day. Physical strength also tends to be at its highest point between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

The evening might be the best time for yoga and other exercises that require flexibility. This is because this is when the body is at its most relaxed and least prone to injury.

Thinking

You may also want to adjust your schedule to make of most of your mental powers.

  • You are probably at your sharpest in the morning. Studies suggest that cognitive abilities tend to peak during the late morning hours you might want to tackle those mentally taxing activities before lunch.6
  • Experts also suggest that alertness and attention levels taper off following meals. This is why you might find yourself struggling to concentrate on those post-lunch work meetings.
  • Concentration levels tend to dip between noon and 4 p.m., which might explain why so many people feel like they need some type of energy-boosting pick-me-up during those hours.

If you are working on some sort of creative task, you might want to wait until you are feeling a bit fatigued. In a study examining how the time of day influences problem solving, researchers had participants solve analytical problems during times when they were either at their mental peak or at non-optimal times of tiredness.6

The researchers found that people tend to do their best creative thinking when they are tired. Because the mind is more inclined to wander when we are tired, it seems that it can lead people to think in more novel and innovative ways.

How to Change Your Circadian Rhythm

Of course, not everyone’s biological clock functions the same way. Some people tend to experience energy peaks earlier in the day, while others are more active during the later hours. Thanks to the demands of daily life, it may sometimes feel like your biological clock and schedule are at odds.

So what can you do if your daily schedule is out of sync with your biological clock? Early risers, for example, may burn up their best energy in the early morning hours and feel burned out by the time evening rolls around. Night owls, on the other hand, might sleep through what might be the most productive times of the day and find themselves staying up at times when they tend to be low energy.

Tips for Adjusting

Here are some tips for establishing a more productive daily schedule:

  • Establish a sleep schedule: Set an alarm and go to bed at the same time each night. Wake up when your alarm goes off—no hitting that snooze button over and over again.
  • Give it some time: Getting used to a new schedule may take a while, but stick with it until it starts to feel more natural.
  • Pay attention to your energy levels: Try to arrange certain activities around your peak energy levels. Not everyone is the same, so your own energy levels may follow a slightly different schedule.

A Word From Verywell

Paying attention to how your energy levels shift throughout the day can give you a better idea of when you might be at your best. If you tend to feel more mentally alert in the mornings, try to schedule cognitively demanding activities during that time. Changing your daily schedule to better match your daily rhythms can take some time, but it can ultimately lead to greater productivity and improved motivation.

What Is Sleep Hygiene?

What Is Sleep Hygiene?

By Sara Lindberg, M.Ed

Published on November 20, 2020

High angle shot of a beautiful young woman sleeping in her bed at home during the night
 Adene Sanchez / Getty Images

What Is Sleep Hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is the term used to describe healthy sleep habits or behaviors you can practice that may help improve your ability to fall asleep and remain asleep through the night.1 Establishing and practicing good sleep hygiene throughout the day impacts both the quality and quantity of sleep you get each night. It also plays a significant role in your physical and mental health. Smart sleep habits that may improve your sleep hygiene include:

  • Following a nightly routine that allows time for relaxing activities
  • Getting up and going to bed around the same time each day
  • Creating a healthy sleep environment that includes dim lights and the ideal thermostat temperature
  • Shutting off all electronics at least 60 minutes before bed
  • Limiting caffeine intake several hours before bedtime
  • Getting enough physical activity earlier in the day
  • Reducing stress levels
  • Avoiding large meals with high-fat content before bed

Impact of Sleep Hygiene

It’s not uncommon to have ups and downs in your sleep hygiene. But as long as you’re following healthy habits and getting quality sleep, the occasional late night or interrupted sleep pattern is normal. That said, it becomes a concern when poor sleep impacts your daily routine and overall health—especially considering that more than one-third of American adults are not getting the recommended amount of sleep on a regular basis.2

Short and Long-Term Consequences of Poor Sleep

In healthy adults, short-term consequences of sleep disruption include increased stress, reduced quality of life, emotional distress, mood disorders, and cognitive, memory, and performance deficits.3

When sleep disruption becomes a long-term problem, healthy adults could face an increase in hypertension, cardiovascular disease, dyslipidemia, weight-related issues, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and gastrointestinal disorders, among others.3

Link Between Mental Health and Sleep

Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, are linked to sleep disturbances, according to one study.4 The two often go hand-in-hand.

Sleep disturbances can happen as a result of mental health problems. But new evidence suggests that the causal relationship can also go the other way with sleep problems contributing to new and existing mental health conditions.

How Stress and Sleep are Related 

Even everyday stress can do a number on your sleep routine and overall health. That’s because sleep and stress appear to have a causal relationship. According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America 2020 Survey, general stress levels are significantly above average. 5

So, it comes as no surprise that the quality and amount of sleep is being impacted by stress. And the problem goes both ways—reports show an increase in stress when quality and length of sleep decreases in addition to higher incidences of lying awake at night due to stress.

Because of the adverse physical and mental health consequences associated with disrupted sleep, it’s important to address any underlying health issues that could be causing sleep disturbances and work with your doctor on how to develop a sleep hygiene protocol. 

How To Practice Sleep Hygiene

The path to better sleep starts with small changes to lifestyle habits. Establishing routines, getting regular exercise, creating a healthy sleep environment, and changing dietary habits, can positively impact the quality of your sleep. Here are some tips to practice healthy sleep hygiene. 

Follow a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule by going to sleep and waking at the same time each day not only helps with routine but it also leads to better sleep. The amount of shut-eye you get each night also contributes to a consistent sleep schedule.

Adults need at least 7 hours of sleep each night, with older adults over 60 needing between 7 and 9 hours each night.6 If possible, try to limit or avoid daytime naps if you are experiencing trouble falling asleep.

Establish a Nightly Routine

Establishing a nightly routine that includes something you enjoy can help you relax and get ready for bed. Whether it’s reading a book, taking a bath, meditating, practicing restorative yoga, stretching, listening to soothing music, or journaling, activities that help calm your body and mind allow you to transition from wakefulness to sleep.

Create a Good Sleep Environment 

An optimal sleep environment can help you fall asleep easier. Ideally, this environment should be free of electronics, kept at a comfortable temperature, and dark enough to fall asleep.

Aim to turn off all electronics including phones, TV, tablets, and laptops at least 60 minutes before bed. Turn off or dim all lights in your room, and check that the thermostat is set between 60 to 67 degrees, which is the suggested bedroom temperature.7 

Incorporate Physical Activity Into Your Daily Routine

Engaging in regular physical activity can improve sleep quantity and quality.8 And if you are an evening exerciser, there’s no need to shift your activity to the morning hours. Research indicates that moderate-intensity exercise performed within 60 to 90 minutes of your bedtime should not affect your ability to sleep.9

However, you might notice sleep disturbances if you engage in vigorous activity ending 60 or more minutes before bed. So, save the hardcore workouts for earlier in the day and stick to moderate-intensity activities like yoga, walking, and low-impact swimming before bed. 

Pay Attention to Food and Drink Before Bed

Optimal sleep begins with a stomach that is not too full or too empty. Ideally, avoid large meals before bed, especially ones that are high in fat since they have been associated with sleep disorders.10

Limit Caffeine Intake 

Consuming this stimulant too close to when you want to drift off to sleep can really make it hard to fall asleep. If you regularly drink caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, or soda, aim to finish them earlier in the day rather than during the evening hours. Caffeine consumed six hours before bedtime can disrupt sleep.11

Seek Professional Help

Making an appointment with your doctor to discuss sleep-related problems can help you determine if you have any underlying conditions contributing to sleep disturbances. It also gives you an opportunity to develop a sleep hygiene plan that works for you.

They may refer you for a sleep study to determine if you have any sleep-related disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, insomnia, hypersomnia, or REM sleep behavior disorder.

If you are dealing with mental health issues that are impacting your sleep, consider talking with a psychologist, therapist, psychiatrist, or another mental health expert. They can help determine if symptoms related to depression, anxiety, grief, or any other mental health issue are contributing to poor sleep hygiene habits.