There’s growing evidence that a lack of sleep can leave the brain vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease.
“Changes in sleep habits may actually be setting the stage” for dementia, says Jeffrey Iliff, a brain scientist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.
The brain appears to clear out toxins linked to Alzheimer’s during sleep, Iliff explains. And, at least among research animals that don’t get enough solid shut-eye, those toxins can build up and damage the brain.
Iliff and other scientists at OHSU are about to launch a study of people that should clarify the link between sleep problems and Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
It has been clear for decades that there is some sort of link. Sleep disorders are very common among people with Alzheimer’s disease.
For a long time, researchers thought this was simply because the disease was “taking out the centers of the brain that are responsible for regulating sleep,” Iliff says. But two recent discoveries have suggested the relationship may be more complicated.
The first finding emerged in 2009, when researchers at Washington University in St. Louis showed that the sticky amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s develop more quickly in the brains of sleep-deprived mice.
Then, in 2013, Iliff was a member of a team that discovered how a lack of sleep could be speeding the development of those Alzheimer’s plaques: A remarkable cleansing process takes place in the brain during deep sleep, at least in animals. Read more from NPR.
Seven rules of good sleep hygiene:
- Avoid napping during the day. It can disturb the normal patterns of sleep and wakefulness.
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine as well as alcohol close to bedtime.
- Vigorous exercise should be done in the morning or late afternoon, although a relaxing exercise such as yoga before bedtime can initiate a restful night’s sleep.
- Keep the bedroom dark, cool and quiet. No TV, computer or tablets.
- Avoid eating right before sleep. A two- to three-hour delay between dinner and bedtime is a good idea.
- Ensure adequate daytime exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for older adults who may not venture outside as frequently.
Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine. Avoid emotionally upsetting conversations just before going to bed.
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