When we were younger, staying up late to squeeze in all the things we wanted — or needed — to do may have seemed like a “no brainer”.  Recent research suggests that may have been the case, but for a different reason.  A study performed by Washington University School of Medicine and Stanford University found that poor sleep causes an increase in the proteins in the brain that are linked to Alzheimer’s disease.  Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia, responsible for as many as 80 percent of all cases.

The study showed that just one bad night of sleep in healthy adults produces an increase in amyloid beta.  Amyloid beta is the protein that forms the plaques in the brain tissue that are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s.   Equally disquieting, the investigators learned that about five to seven days of bad sleep leads to an increase in tau.  Tau proteins form the tangles in brain tissue that are also associated with Alzheimer’s.  The senior researcher, neurologist David Holtzman, concluded that it’s possible that chronic poor sleep during our 40s, 50s and 60s age raises the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s in later years.

Why does this happen?  Among other things, sleep provides an opportunity for our brains to cleanse themselves.  While we sleep, brain tissues rid themselves of the detritus of metabolism produced during waking hours.  If we don’t sleep well, that cleansing mechanism cannot function.  Garbage builds up in our brain tissue.

It’s no surprise that consistent, good quality sleep is important for our health and well-being.   This study provides even more reason to make regular sleep a priority.  Experts who have studied the relationship between brain health and sleep offer the following suggestions to promote better sleep.

Be regular:  our internal clocks like a consistent, regular pattern; try to go to sleep and get up and the same time each day.

Be cool:  our bodies fall asleep more successfully in a cool room; experts recommend a room temperature in the mid- 60s.

Be generous:  we need about eight hours/night of good quality sleep; make getting adequate sleep a priority.

Be old fashioned:  evidence shows that the blue light produced by the screens of electronic devices only serves to stimulate brain activity, which is the opposite of what we want as we approach bedtime; instead of reading on your Kindle, be a dinosaur and get the paper version at your library.

Caring Corner

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About the Author:

Lorenzo Mejia and his wife, Mary Lynn Ryerson, are the owners of Acorn, a caregiver registry located in Chapel Hill.

They founded Acorn based on their experiences caring for his mom, who suffered with Alzheimer’s Disease.  In 2013, he became a Qualified Dementia Care Specialist.  In 2014, the Alzheimer’s Foundation named him the Dementia Care Professional of the Year in the United States.

Lorenzo is the founder of Dementia Friendly Orange County an effort to make local businesses more accommodating to people with dementia.

Lorenzo speaks often on dementia and the challenges associated with caring for loved ones.  He has been interviewed by ABC News and National Public Radio.  He is an advisor to Orange County’s OC-CARES Dementia Capable Community Project.