Is Sleep the Answer to Alzheimer’s?

I think we all know that when we pull an all-nighter or don’t get sufficient sleep (fewer than five hours), our performance and decision making the next day are not up to par. Some of us walk around feeling tired pretty much all the time, while saying, “I can sleep when I’m dead.” Well, lack of sleep is more harmful to your health than the day-to-day results.

Three years ago, I learned about the link between getting enough sleep and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease during a meeting at the University of California, Irvine. The presentation highlighted the work being done at UCI MIND: Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders.

UCI Mind is doing research which involves testing and monitoring people of all ages to see how their memory changes over time. This extensive research maps the participants’ brains and brain functions.

In one of the presentations, a doctor who is doing the primary research told us it is important that people get at least seven and a half to eight hours of sleep each night. Why that number? That is the amount of time it takes for the human brain to “clean out” amyloid plaques. In lay terms, amyloid plaques are goopy stuff in the crevices of our brains. When we go to sleep, our bodies naturally clean out all the goopy stuff, effectively clearing the toxins from our brains. And that takes about seven and a half to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. If we do not get enough sleep to complete the “cleansing cycle,” then the goopy toxin remains. And it is that buildup of amyloid plaques that causes the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Click to read more about how our brains “self-clean” during sleep every night.

 So you can imagine what I did immediately after I listened to that doctor.

Yep, I decided to begin monitoring my sleep. I started going to sleep earlier each night. Early enough that it allowed me to set my alarm for eight hours after I went to bed.

It was an adjustment. No more late nights watching television. I put on my orange sleep glasses, do my reading, and get a good night’s sleep. I moved many of my early morning meetings back an hour or two, so I could complete my sleep cycle.

And you know what happened? I started feeling better, sharper when I first woke up, and I had more consistent energy all day long.

When I was younger, it was always fun to brag about how I burned the candle at both ends. I would stay up late and get up early. Sometimes I would exist on three to four hours of sleep. If you’re one of those people who almost wears as a badge of honor how little sleep you can function on, I would encourage you to read this.

It is doubtful that adequate sleep will eliminate the chance of memory issues. There are many other factors like genetics and inflammation in your body. (I will share some insights on this in a future post.) But the number of hours of sleep you get is 100 percent within your control. I encourage you to start monitoring your sleep. Go to bed earlier and feel better.

Good night!