Not getting restful sleep at night can have some serious long-term health consequences. Insufficient sleep can lead to unnecessary weight gain, poor short-term memory and also increases the risk for many other diseases ranging from cancer to depression.
According to several latest researches, there is a strong connection between constantly disrupted sleep and cognitive decline. Insomnia, nighttime wandering and daytime sleepiness are some of the classic symptoms that are seen in Alzheimer’s patients.
But can poor quality of sleep actually cause dementia?
REM sleep and dementia
REM (rapid eye movement) is defined as the fifth and the deepest stage of sleep. When a person is in REM, the eyes move, the body temperature elevates, breathing and pulse quicken and the mind starts dreaming.
A study published in the Journal of Neurology highlighted that people who got less REM, also referred to as ‘dream-stage sleep’, are at a higher risk of developing dementia.
In this research, scientists observed 321 people, all around the average age of 61 years. Their sleep cycles were measured and their cognitive health was also assessed at regular intervals.
Over the duration of the research, 32 people displayed early symptoms of dementia. 24 out of these eventually developed Alzheimer’s disease.
It usually takes a normal person around 90 minutes to enter REM. The study concluded that people who took longer than usual to enter REM were more prone to developing dementia. People who were at a risk of dementia spent around 17% of their sleep duration in the dreaming state. While, a healthy individual should spend 20% of their sleep dreaming.
Author of the study, Matthew P. Pase, of Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, further confirmed, “Our findings point to REM sleep as a predictor of dementia.”
Sleep and Alzheimer’s plaques
People with Alzheimer’s disease have inflammation in the brain. They also have marked higher levels of beta-amyloid proteins that create plaques associated with the disease.
The same biomarkers are seen in people who suffer from poor sleeping patterns. Plus, new research also suggests that disrupted sleep can actually increase the levels of Alzheimer’s-related proteins and plaque buildup in the brain and the spinal fluid.
Deposition of beta-amyloid in the brain tissue is the first known symptom of Alzheimer’s. It starts developing way before any other obvious symptoms of dementia.
Lack of quality sleep can produce high levels of soluble beta amyloid, a protein that forms sticky plaques in the brain. These plaques kill healthy brain cells and slow down the information processing part of the mind.
Certain mice were also observed during the study. Interestingly, when these mice started sleeping well, scientist saw a stark reduction in their levels of beta amyloid, effectively improving their cognitive health and clearing toxins from the brain.
Tangles and cell damage in the human brain
When a person suffers from disrupted sleep, the brain starts displaying increased levels of damaged tau. This protein is responsible for cell stability and structure. These damaged cells create tangles, and accumulation of tau-tangles cause cognitive decline in the brain, hence leading to Alzheimer’s disease.
When scientist observed the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, they found two types of abnormal and insoluble protein structures. a) Clumps called amyloid plaques that grow outside the brain cells, b) and tangles of tau protein that build up inside brain cells.
How does sleep benefit your brain?
The health benefits of a good night’s sleep are often ignored. Most people fail to realize that the quality of their sleep can impact nearly every area of their daily lives. According to the scientists at Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, sleep is as important for your body as eating, drinking and breathing, if not more.
There have been countless researches on the effects of sleep. A healthy sleeping pattern plays a vital role in promoting physical and mental health. This is why, you instantly feel better after a good night’s sleep. Without ample sleep your judgement, mood and ability to learn and retain new information is severely affected.
If you are facing a sleeping disorder, get help as soon as possible. Over a period of time, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to many serious medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart related diseases and even early mortality.
How can you improve your sleep?
According to a research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, insufficient sleep is a major public health problem. The research highlighted that nearly 30% of adults get less than six hours of quality sleep at night. Another national survey by the Better Sleep Council found that a solid majority of adults (61%) crave sleep more than sex.
So, how can you improve your sleep quality? Here are some tips to help improve your sleep;
1- Cut the caffeine
As much as you love coffee, it does have a major impact on your sleep cycles. This is why it is important to reduce, if not eliminate, your intake of caffeine. Try to stay away from that cup of coffee within four to six hours of bedtime. You’ll be surprised to know that half of the caffeine you take in at 7 pm is still in your body at 11.
2- Give up smoking
You must already know a hundred reasons you should give up smoking. Let us add another one to that list. Just like caffeine, nicotine is also a stimulant, and it can wreak havoc on your sleep.
3- Have a light dinner
Eating a heavy meal just before bedtime is a bad idea. Avoid spicy, fatty or fried foods as they can lead to stomach issues. Eat a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re still hungry.
4- Wind down
You just can’t go to sleep immediately. Your body needs time to unwind and gradually drift into sleep mode. So, spend one hour before bed performing a calming activity. It can be anything, from reading a book or saying your prayers. Try to avoid using electronic devices before bedtime, because the light of the screen can activate the brain even further.
5- Maintain a schedule
Your body should know when it’s time to sleep, whether it’s a weekday or weekend. It may sound difficult, but stick to a schedule, and wake up at the same time every day, regardless of how you slept the night before. Go to bed early and this will help reset your sleep pattern within a few days.
6- Exercise daily
Adding a regular exercise regimen to your routine will improve your overall physical and mental health. It can ward off anxiety and depression, and also provide physiological boost to your sleep. Exercise improves circadian rhythms and can stimulate longer periods of slow-wave sleep, which is the most restorative phase of sleep. This is why if you exercise regularly, you will see a marked difference in the quality of your sleep.
Sleep problems should be seriously evaluated in all adults. If you are still having trouble sleeping, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor, or better yet, find a sleep professional. Maintain a sleep diary, which can help you point out common patterns or problems with your sleeping habits.
If you are facing memory related issues, take an online brain health test. Take the reports to your doctor, who can guide you accordingly.
Have you noticed any changes in your mental and physical wellbeing after improving your sleeping routine? Share your experience with us in the comments below: