The Link Between Alzheimer’s and Sleep: Are You at Risk?14 Dec
For years, doctors have been aware of the correlation between Alzheimer’s and sleep since Alzheimer’s patients suffer from insomnia and nighttime wandering. But newer research shows that poor sleep earlier in life may actually increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Before you become concerned that your restless nights will lead to dealing with dementia later on, here’s a little more about the findings. We’ll introduce Alzheimer’s disease, what puts you at risk for being diagnosed, preventions to take now, and if it’s really linked to your sleep habits.
Could Alzheimer’s and Sleep Really Be Connected?
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that causes brain cell connections and the cells themselves to degenerate and die, eventually destroying memory and other important mental functions. Symptoms include:
- Cognitive: Difficulty thinking and understanding, confusion especially in the evening hours, delusion, disorientation, forgetfulness, confabulating, difficulty concentrating, an inability to create new memories, and an inability to recognize common things.
- Behavioral: Aggression, agitation, irritability, meaningless repetition of own words, personality changes, restlessness, and wandering.
- Physical: An inability to combine muscle movements and loss of appetite.
What Puts You at Risk For the Progressive Disease?
Most people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are over the age of 65. Early-onset Alzheimer’s, which is much rarer, begins to show up closer to 40. There are theories that genetic disposition may affect risk factors – showing that someone with a direct relative who has had dementia is 5% more likely to develop it.
There is also research pointing to lifestyle habits such as diet and sleep that increase the chances of dementia. While none of these are definitive, they’re worth considering if it means reducing the risk.
Alzheimer’s and Nutrition
Current evidence shows that a diet that’s bad for the heart is also bad for the brain. Since eating saturated fats and sugary foods is bad for the vascular system, doctors recommend two diets that may be beneficial in reducing Alzheimer’s risk:
- The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) which emphasizes vegetables, fruits, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils.
- A Mediterranean diet of relatively little red meat and whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, nuts, olive oil, and other healthy fats.
Alzheimer’s and Sleep
A new study in Neurology, the journal for the American Academy of Neurology, found an alarming link between Alzheimer’s and sleep. After following the sleep cycles of 321 people with an average age of 61 for 12 years, researchers found that people who get less REM sleep may have an increased risk of dealing with dementia later in life.
The study found that the people who took longer than the typical 90 minutes to enter REM were more likely to get dementia, and in fact 32 of the study participants with poor sleep habits (24 of which were Alzheimer’s) developed dementia.
How do researcher’s explain these findings? Well, there is scientific evidence that Alzheimer’s patients have an excess amount of plaques and other toxic materials in their brains that kill brain cells and bog down information processing. After various sleep studies on mice and humans, results showed that sleep-deprived subjects had higher levels of soluble beta amyloid, the protein that folds and forms these sticky plaques. Alternatively, when subjects entered the deepest stage of sleep, the brain cleaned itself out of plaque and other toxic materials that trigger Alzheimer’s disease. This indicates that getting enough deep sleep could possibly prevent Alzheimer’s.
How You Can Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s research is not far enough along to determine that missing a few hours of sleep means you’ll end up with dementia. But while researchers continue to determine what causes Alzheimer’s and how to prevent it, you can attempt to reduce your risks by making good nutrition and sleep a priority. It is proven that getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep is essential for brain health and function, so protect your brain now by getting enough sleep and by sleeping long enough to enter that REM sleep that removes toxic plaques.
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