AlzheimersIf you are not getting enough sleep at night, you may be at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. I think this equally applies to many other chronic diseases as well.

In a recent study published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers at University of California, Berkeley, found evidence that poor sleep, specifically a deficit of deep sleep, is associated with a buildup of the beta-amyloid protein. Restful sleep is required for us to store and save our memories. It is through this mechanism in which the beta-amyloid protein is believed to trigger Alzheimer’s disease attacks affecting the brain’s long-term memory.

Excessive deposits of beta-amyloid are the primary suspects in the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease. The good news is that poor sleep is treatable and can be improved by modifying sleep habits.

It is important that people go to sleep around the same time every night. When the timing of your sleep is shifted even if the duration of sleep is the same, it’s not going to be as restorative. In addition, avoid watching TV before bed. This also includes using your computer in the evening. Computer screens (smartphones and laptops) emit light in the blue part of the spectrum. This doesn’t cause a problem during the daytime, but at night, this blue light limits the production of melatonin. As a result, it disturbs your sleep-wake cycle. There are free apps you can install on your computer if you are one of those people that need to be on your computer at night that adjusts colors in a way that it reduces the stimulating effects of blue light at night. Caffeine and other stimulants can keep you up and interfere with sleep. It is best to avoid these four to six hours before bedtime. Finally, try to get your workout in earlier in the day. Exercise increases cortisol and can make hard trying to fall asleep.

The correlation between sleep, beta-amyloid, memory, and Alzheimer’s disease have been growing stronger. The data researchers have collected suggests that there is a causal link.

A buildup of beta-amyloid protein has been found in Alzheimer’s patients as well as in patients with sleep disorders. A study from University of Rochester in 2013 found that the brain cells of mice shrunk during non-rapid-eye-movement (non-REM) sleep to free up space for the cerebrospinal fluid to wash out toxic metabolites such as beta-amyloid protein.

Sleep is when our body repairs itself. Quality sleep prevents these toxic proteins from accumulating and destroying brain cells.

Overall, the results of the study demonstrated that the more beta-amyloid you have in certain parts of your brain, the worse your memory. In addition, the less deep sleep you get, the less effective you are at clearing out beta-amyloid protein. Researchers do not know yet which of these two factors, the poor sleep or beta-amyloid protein begins this cycle triggering this cascade.

This is a new pathway linking Alzheimer’s disease to memory loss which is significant since we can do something about it.

If behavior and lifestyle modifications are not enough, there are nutrients and botanical agents that can significantly promote restful sleep. Melatonin is a hormone with its primary role controlling the circadian rhythm. Its production is essential for quality sleep. Melatonin production declines significantly with age, often causing sleep difficulties associated with aging. Supplementing with melatonin has been shown improve sleep quality. In addition, 5-HTP can further support endogenous melatonin production during the night to help with staying asleep. Inositol is a member of the B vitamin family that promotes relaxation and helps maintain the proper metabolism of serotonin. In addition, L-theanine provides calming neurotransmitter production clinically proven to reduce stress and improve the quality of sleep.

Valerian root, German Chamomile, passion flower, and lemon balm are all calming botanicals used for centuries to treat insomnia. They have all been shown to decrease the amount of time it takes to fall asleep as well as improve sleep quality.

Source: Matthew P Walker et al. β-amyloid disrupts human NREM slow waves and related hippocampus-dependent memory consolidation. Nature Neuroscience, June 2015 DOI: 10.1038/nn.4035

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