The Relationship Between Sleep and Health: The Risk of Developing Dementia
A good night’s sleep can contribute to a number of positives. It can ensure your heart stays healthy, improve your memory and help you maintain a healthy weight. And I’m sure you’ve experienced the brain fog that comes after a poor night’s sleep.
However, in the past few years, a number of studies have found that a lack of sleep can lead to a higher chance of developing Alzheimer's Disease - the most common form of dementia and the second leading cause of death in Australia.
Sound scary? To understand how to prevent Alzheimer's, it’s important to understand what Alzheimer's Disease actually is.
What is Alzheimer's Disease?
According to the National Institute of Aging, Alzheimer's Disease is an irreversible disorder in which brain tissue damaged causing memory loss, which eventually leads to the incapability of performing basic functions and tasks.
There are many physical changes and abnormalities in the brain of someone who has Alzheimer's, two of them being a build-up of fibres called tau fibres and plaques called amyloid plaques. Tau and amyloid proteins are also found in a healthy person’s brain, but when they build up and clump into plaques and fibres, they can affect the tissues nearby.
Studies have suggested that when you’re awake, tau and amyloid protein production is increased and when you’re asleep, they fall. The data suggests that over time, if you are consistently getting less than the recommended amount of sleep, your overall tau and amyloid protein levels will be higher and start to form deposits in your brain. This would suggest that a long, restful night’s sleep can delay or inhibit the development of Alzheimer's Disease.
Unfortunately, once these changes in the brain begin, it can be notoriously difficult to reverse. What’s more is that individuals with Alzheimer’s may find it more difficult to fall asleep, thus allowing more proteins to build up in a vicious cycle. It is therefore very important that we flush out these proteins by sleeping better now.
Is Sleep Necessary?
You might believe that sleep isn’t something that you need to think about right now or that you’re still young and have plenty of time to catch up. Unfortunately, sleep doesn’t work this way. Sleeping in on weekends to catch up on lost sleep doesn’t reverse the metabolic dysfunction that comes with racking up a sleep debt. But we will discuss this in more detail in a later article.
Sleeping well and for an average of 8 hours can be beneficial in not only delaying or stopping Alzheimer's Disease but for a number of other reasons:
Decreased risk of Heart Disease
Sleep helps regulate and lower your overall blood pressure, one of the risk factors for heart disease. Studies show that sleep deprivation and insomnia have been linked to an increase in the incidence of hypertension.
Stronger Immune System
Sleep helps the body with recovery. If you’re ill with the flu, or you’ve broken a bone, you’re more likely to recover faster in your sleep than when you wake. Research has suggested that the body can fight infection more successfully when you have a better sleep quality.
Ever fought the urge to shut your eyes while listening to someone speak? Getting more sleep can improve your cognitive function, ability to learn efficiently and consolidate memories more effectively.
How to Get More Sleep
According Health Direct Australia, most adults should get 8 hours of sleep a night. Think that’s easier said than done? Take a look at our suggestions below:
Take time out of your evening to wind down before bed. Whether that means a hot bath or reading in bed, unwind your brain to help ease into sleep as soon as you’ve hit the sheets.
Get off the grid
Our eyes can absorb the blue light emitted from screens- including phones, tablets, and laptops, so it’s important to decrease the amount of light you are seeing before bedtime. Using dimmer switches, setting your phone alarm way before getting into bed, and reading a book an hour before bed are just some ways that your eyes can adjust to night time.
Go to sleep at the same time every night
This one seems self-explanatory. You can trick your body into going to sleep and waking up at the same time. Your body will naturally want to wake up when the sun rises, so using black-out blinds and gradual timers can help with sleep cycles.
Want to go to sleep earlier than you used to? Take it slow. Every week, get into bed fifteen minutes earlier than the week before until you’ve reached your target sleep time.
Improving Sleep Quality
It’s not just about how many hours you’ve slept but also sleep quality. In order to get the most out of your nights, it’s important to attempt to sleep better, not just for longer. If you find yourself waking up throughout the night, or still feeling tired no matter how many hours you’ve slept, this could be a sign that your sleep quality is poor. Try these tips help remedy this:
Wake up straight away
Hitting snooze can seem tempting, but a great way to improve your sleep quality is by forcing yourself out of bed straight away. It’ll help stop you from being tired mid-morning and reaching for a java kick.
Be more active
Tiring yourself out during the day means that you spend more time in a deep sleep during the night. Whether you prefer going on a long walk or a twenty-minute HIIT workout, anything to increase your heart rate and get you sweaty will encourage you to have a better sleep.
Wake up at the same time every day
Avoiding sleeping in on a weekend might sound harsh, but it will help regulate your sleep cycle and ensure that Monday and Tuesday don’t shock you back into the working week.
Sleep more! You’ve earned it. An average adult between the ages of 30 and 60 should aim for seven to eight hours of sleep every night. Delaying Alzheimer's Disease can be as easy as getting more sleep, winding down before bed, and not going on your phone to ensure the best quality snooze.
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