If you’re like most people, you know that healthy sleep is necessary. When you sleep well, you wake feeling refreshed. Your memory functions better, you enjoy better moods, and you have more energy to focus on things like work, family, and friends. But did you know that good sleep can stave off Alzheimer’s, as well?
As it turns out, a good night’s rest has benefits that go far beyond general health. According to several prominent studies conducted by universities and research facilities around the country, poor sleep is a contributing factor in the brain plaques and memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Some studies have found that sleep loss and poor sleep promotes these plaques and may be one of the things that cause Alzheimer’s.
Read on to learn more.
The Benefits of Good Sleep
Good sleep has many distinct benefits, for both our bodies and our minds. Here are a few of the most commonly noted benefits:
1. Improved memory
Sleep is the time that the brain lays down and solidifies the things you learned while you were awake, including memories you made and skills you mastered. This happens in a process known as consolidation. When consolidation is interrupted by poor sleep, however, the brain is unable to lay down these memories properly, and your conscious memory suffers as a result.
2. Increased lifespan
According to a 2010 study that looked at the sleep patterns of women between the ages of 50-79, women who slept less than five hours a night were more likely to die than their counterparts. It turns out that hitting “snooze” may add years to your life!
3. Decreased inflammatory responses
Inflammation is one of the body’s worst enemies. Luckily, it can be mitigated by healthy sleep. According to one 2010 study, people who slept fewer than six hours each night had higher levels of inflammatory proteins in the bloodstream than those who slept longer.
4. Better mood
When you sleep well, you wake up feeling rested, happy, and ready to meet the day. When you get a poor night’s sleep, however, it’s difficult to peel your eyes open, much less feel bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. This can impact everything from your work life to your personal relationships.
The Connection Between Sleep Loss and Alzheimer’s
Now that you understand the benefits of good sleep let’s talk about what happens when you don’t sleep well, and how that can affect your likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s no secret that waking up during the night or sleeping poorly is hard on your brain. When you have a night like this, you likely wake up feeling groggy or exhausted. As it turns out, though, the damage goes much deeper than just a difficult day.
People suffering from Alzheimer’s generally sleep badly or wake throughout the night. Until now, though, researchers haven’t fully understood whether the poor sleep is a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, or whether the restless sleep patterns cause the disease. Thanks to new research, though, they’re leaning toward the latter.
One of the most critical studies in these findings was conducted at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. According to this study, people who slept poorly at night had significantly elevated levels of beta-amyloid in the brain. Beta-amyloid is a toxic brain plaque that is derived from proteins in the fatty membranes that surround the nerve cells of the brain. The substance is quite sticky, and eventually builds up within the brain to form the plaque that contributes to Alzheimer’s.
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study looked at 70 adults with an average age of 76. At the time of the study, these participants were already members of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. The study used brain scans to check the participants’ beta-amyloid levels, and the results were shocking: the participants who slept less than five hours each night, or who often woke during the night, had drastically higher levels of beta-amyloid in their brains than the participants who enjoyed full, restful nights of sleep.
While the study couldn’t conclusively state that poor sleep caused toxic levels of beta-amyloid to build up, it did provide some compelling evidence that poor sleep boasts more than just a consequential connection to the development of Alzheimer’s.
How the Brain Protects Itself from Alzheimer’s During Sleep
When a person gets a good night of sleep, the brain uses that “Downtime” to clean out damaging toxins that can contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
In a recent interview with NPR, Jeffrey Iliff, a neuroscientist at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, explains how it happens: “the fluid that’s normally on the outside of the brain, cerebrospinal fluid — it’s a clean, clear fluid — it actually begins to recirculate back into and through the brain along the outsides of blood vessels.” In this way, the brain clears out toxins and wipes the slate clean for the next day of learning and functionality.
When this doesn’t happen, though, either because sleep is disrupted or because a person is not sleeping enough each night, it’s impossible for the brain to self-clean, which increases the likelihood that toxic brain plaques will build up and set the stage for Alzheimer’s.
Tips for Getting a Better Night’s Sleep
Now that we know how pronounced the connection between poor sleep and Alzheimer’s is, it’s critical to make getting good sleep a priority. Right now, an estimated 45% of Americans report that poor or insufficient sleep plagues their daily lives, so it’s not an uncommon problem to suffer from. Unfortunately, it can be very damaging to your health over time. With this in mind, here are five tips to help you fall asleep easier and enjoy a more restful night in bed.
1. Develop a bedtime routine
Just like a speeding car needs sufficient time to come to a complete stop, the human body and brain need a chance to wind down after a busy day. This is why developing a bedtime routine can be so beneficial. While it looks different for every person, a bedtime routine is a set of behaviors or rituals (say making a cup of tea and reading for thirty minutes) that essentially cue your body that it’s time to go to bed. Practiced regularly, this simple trick can make it much easier to fall asleep.
2. Keep your room dark, quiet, and cool
Good sleep is interrupted by noise, heat, and lights. With this in mind, cover all light sources (blinking electronics are a common culprit) and use shades or blinds to block out ambient light. Open a window to keep the room cool and use a white noise machine to smooth out external noise.
3. Go to bed at the same time every night
Good sleep relies on good routines, and going to bed at the same time every night can spell the difference between drifting off to dreamland and staying up –restless and unhappy. Work this into your bedtime routine for best results.
Good Sleep is the Key to Good Health
Good sleep is essential for good health and has a drastic impact on everything from our fitness to our mood. According to new research, though, it may also be a critical factor in the avoidance of Alzheimer’s disease. With this in mind, committing to good sleep and doing everything in your power to ensure a healthy and restful night may be one of the best ways to protect yourself from memory loss and cognitive decline.