PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Marking Mental Health Awareness Month, a brain health expert is sharing the importance of getting enough sleep to protect mental health in the long run.

Health officials say getting eight hours of sleep every night can help you be better focused, more creative and help you live longer.

“Sleep really is one of the most powerful, important things for our health, our mental health, our long-term brain health. The good news is there’s things that we can do to take control of our sleep, we’re learning so much more about how the brain works, so it’s an area we can optimize,” said Dr. Marc Milstein, author of “The Age-Proof Brain: New Strategies to Improve Memory, Protect Immunity & Fight off Dementia.

According to the brain health expert, adults need anywhere between seven and nine hours of sleep to help fight colds and viruses, improve memory and flush out toxins in the brain.

Milstein says it’s not only important to get enough sleep but to try to get into deeper stages of sleep by making bedrooms as dark as possible and avoiding lights from a TV or a cell phone charging.

“It’s not just about the number of hours of sleep, we want to make that sleep really effective,” Milstein said. “What we’re seeing in all these studies is that it’s really important to just make our rooms as dark as possible because the light from all these devices can interfere with our brain’s ability to get into deep stages of sleep and really give us true rest.”

Milstein says naps can also be beneficial and recommends keeping them to 30 minutes or less to feel refreshed in the beginning sleep stages.

“The way to make a nap feel really refreshing is to keep it short. So, we sleep in a cycle and the first 30 minutes of our sleep cycle is something called a ‘light sleep,’ and if we wake up in light sleep, we feel really refreshed. If we go past light sleep, we go into deep sleep – your brain is basically taking a break and off and that’s that awful groggy feeling,” Milstein explained.

“We know so much more now about how to really not only get the best of our brain each day but protect it down the road. We can actually lower the risk of things like Alzheimer’s and dementia anywhere from 30 to 60% based on lifestyle factors and one of those lifestyle factors is optimizing our sleep.”