Could Too Many Sleepless Nights Lead to Dementia?
Getting a good night’s rest can be a challenge. Maybe you go to bed late because you’ve been working long hours or want more “me time” on the couch. Or you can’t stay asleep because of a snoring partner, hot flashes or trips to the bathroom. Besides affecting how you think and feel the next day, chronic sleep deprivation may increase your risk of developing dementia, says new research.
A study found that after one night of no sleep, participants had a 5 percent increase in beta-amyloid levels, a protein that’s associated with Alzheimer’s disease and impaired brain function. Previous studies have also linked irregular sleep-wake cycles and daytime sleepiness(due to impaired sleep) to Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting a link between sleep and brain health.
How Sleep Protects Your Brain
When you sleep, vital internal processes continue to take place. The glymphatic system is responsible for clearing beta-amyloid from your brain, and it works 10 times harder when you’re asleep. If this waste isn’t cleared out and instead accumulates in the brain, it can clump together to form plaques that block communication between brain cells. As plaques build up, they can prevent the brain from functioning properly.
Insomnia and Other Sleep Disorders
Having an occasional bad night’s sleep isn’t cause for concern. But a chronic lack of sleep creates a sleep debt, the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep. Poor sleep over time is not only associated with dementia but also increases your risk of heart disease, obesity, depression and infections.
If you do get enough hours of sleep but still don’t feel rested, you could have a sleep disorder. These ongoing sleep problems keep you from getting the rest you need, but a sleep medicine specialist can help. Some of the most common sleep disorders include:
- Insomnia: Having difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Sleep apnea: Breathing interruptions that rouse your body from sleep
- Restless legs syndrome: An uncontrollable urge to move your legs, which happens during periods of rest
Signs you may have a sleep disorder include:
- Feeling exhausted during the day
- Morning headaches
- Feelings of depression
- Waking up with heartburn or a sore throat
Tips for Better Sleep
If you have a hard time logging a full night’s sleep, you’re not alone. One in three adults doesn’t get the recommended seven to nine hours of shuteye.
But a good night’s sleep is not just a dream: Healthy sleep habits can lead to the deep sleep that recharges your brain and body. Make a significant impact on your sleep quality and quantity with simple adjustments:
Maintain a sleep schedule
Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day – even on weekends – creates a routine that helps regulate your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
Develop a bedtime ritual
Power down your laptop, tablet and smartphone at least an hour before hitting the hay. The blue light emitted from those devices can throw off your body’s internal clock by delaying the release of the sleep hormone melatonin. Instead, create a nightly routine to unwind. Try reading a book, taking a bath or doing gentle yoga stretches, journaling or meditation.
Get daily exercise
Exercise can help you fall asleep faster and get deeper, more refreshing sleep. However, try to exercise earlier in the day and not later than three to four hours before bedtime. Exercise increases energy levels, something you may not want to do too close to turning in.
Adjust the temperature
If you’re too hot or too cold, it’s difficult to sleep. The ideal temperature for feeling snuggly and sleepy is between 60 and 67 degrees. Your body temperature naturally lowers before falling asleep and a cooler temperature can help facilitate this process.
Block light and sound
Creating a restful environment is key to getting a good night’s rest. Is there too much light in your room? Use blackout shades or curtains, or an eye mask to block out the light. Is noise keeping you up? Use earplugs, a fan or a white noise machine to drown out distracting noise.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol
As anyone who has turned to a cup of coffee after a bad night’s sleep knows, caffeine is a stimulant. It temporarily perks up your mind and gives you a boost of energy. But those effects can last up to 12 hours and prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. Alcohol, on the other hand, may make you feel sleepy but can prevent you from reaching the deepest stages of sleep.
Practicing good sleep habits helps you get better rest, an important part of feeling your best both mentally and physically. However, if you’re still struggling to get adequate sleep, talk to your doctor about sleep testing to help determine what’s causing your sleepless nights.