Better Sleep Reduces Alzheimer’s Risk
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible disorder that affects the mind, progressively destroying the memory and brain functions of those affected. There are many different drugs and therapies used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, but new research shows that something as simple as good sleep could help stave off the disease.
The relationship between sleep and brain health is pretty evident to anyone who has ever had to persevere on little or no sleep. Researchers have demonstrated the connection countless times. This most recent study shows that poor sleep could lead to much more than a little grogginess the next day and could actually increase a person’s likelihood for cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s.
Sleep and Alzheimer’s Disease
Quality sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Adults should get between seven and eight hours of undisturbed sleep a night. Researchers have long known of a relationship between memory and sleep.
When you sleep, your body is hard at work. There are many processes going on that we are just beginning to uncover. One of these processes cleans out the buildup of a toxic proteins called amyloids. At the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, researchers reported finding a link between amyloid buildup and memory impairment.
The dementia and cognitive impairments associated with Alzheimer’s were long thought to be caused by dying brain cells. Now it seems amyloids are largely to blame. These proteins are produced in their highest levels throughout the day and generally removed during deep sleep. Sleep deprivation causes a buildup to occur and in a sort-of feedback loop, amyloid buildup contributes to sleep deprivation.
There are four different stages of sleep. We transition through each stage several times each night. The deepest stages of our sleep is when our brains remove amyloids. When our sleep cycles are disrupted, we do not reach deep sleep as much, leading to a buildup of amyloids. This was backed with evidence in Washington University in St. Louis study on mice. The mice in the study slept less as the buildup increased, creating a vicious cycle.
The presence of these amyloids was linked to sleep quality and memory performance for the first time in this University of California, Berkeley study.
“It is very clear that sleep disruption is an underappreciated factor,” Dr. Matthew Walker of Berkeley said. “It’s a new player on the scene that increases risk of Alzheimer’s disease.” A new player that is treatable.
How Can I Reduce My Alzheimer’s Risk?
Isn’t there a pill I can take? Many of our problems today can be mitigated with medications, but there are no pills to reduce Alzheimer’s disease risk. A healthy diet high in omega three fatty acids will help to keep your body and mind in good shape.
Doctors recommend lifestyle changes for those concerned with decreasing Alzheimer’s risk. People who have less physical activity in their daily lives tend to have cognitive functions that are worse than those who are more active. This could be tied to sleep, as active people tend to have a higher quality of sleep.
If recent evidence is accurate, getting quality sleep may be a good way to combat the onset of Alzheimer’s. In order to get the most from your sleep, consider doing the following:
- Get plenty of exercise. There is plenty of evidence showing a link between exercise and sleep quality. Being active can wear you out so that you feel tired and will fall asleep faster. If you are having trouble sleeping, try to increase your physical activity during the day.
- Make sleep a priority. Many people view sleep as something they can skip or cut down when schedules are tight. If you want quality sleep, you must make time for it.
- Keep consistent. We are creatures of habit. Going to bed at the same every night sets your internal clock to anticipate the behavioral change. Your body will start getting prepared to sleep at that time, making it easier to fall and stay asleep. Try to keep temperature, light and noise levels consistent, also.
- Watch what you eat and drink. Don’t overeat or undereat before bed. You should be comfortably full so you don’t feel hungry. Don’t drink too much or you will need to go to the bathroom throughout the night.
- Turn off gadgets. Being exposed to light can make it difficult to sleep for several hours and can even affect your sleep quality. Power down your devices at least an hour before going to bed.
There are many new tools to help you monitor and improve your sleep, also. Many of these devices link with your smartphone to provide data about the quality of sleep you’re getting and can offer tips on how to improve.
Mental stimulation is another effective means of reducing Alzheimer’s disease risk. Strategy games, riddles and puzzles provide a good mental workout and increase one’s capacity to create and retain cognitive associations. Memorization games help to improve and strengthen neural connections. Keep learning new things, such as another language or a musical instrument. The bigger the challenge, the greater the impact on your health.
As with most lifestyle changes, starting earlier will improve your chances of success. Though there are many factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease risk, sleep is a controllable one. If your sleep cycle needs improvement, take action today. Every good night’s sleep is of benefit to your brain.
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