For ages and ages, human beings followed the rhythm of the sun… going to sleep when the sun went down and rising with the sun in the morning.
Our circadian rhythm was in concert with the earth and ensured that we got deep, restorative sleep in order to face the next day.
These days, artificial lighting and long work days mean that most people (myself included!) have some sort of sleep abnormality and/or circadian rhythm disruption.
Although we know that lack of sleep causes everything from memory problems, fatigue, decreased concentration, stress, and increased food cravings, a recent study set out to see if chronic lack of sleep was associated with Alzheimers dementia.
The answer is yes.
Turns out, it’s not actually the length of time spent in bed that mattered as much as how deep and restorative the sleep was.
In other words, it’s the QUALITY of your sleep that seems related to dementia.
Poor quality sleep = increased risk of Alzheimer dementia progression.
Participants of the study who had worse sleep quality had the highest percentage of amyloid deposition in the brain (the classic hallmark lesion of Alzheimers disease.)
Participants with the worst sleep quality also had a 5 TIMES greater chance of developing Alzheimers Disease then those who slept soundly.
These results were just published on March 11, 2013 in JAMA Neurology.
The bottom line is that the it’s not how long you lay in bed… it’s how deep the sleep is.
In fact, participants who spent longer in bed and/or napped 3 or more times a week were the ones typically with poorer sleep quality and greater amyloid deposition in the brain.
Researcher theorize that longer time spent trying to sleep and the need to take naps is a manifestation of sleep—wake disturbance.
Here are some indications that your sleep quality may be poor:
- lack of physical activity during the day — here again we have evidence that being up and mobile throughout the day makes a HUGE impact on our well-being. Click here to read my recent blog post about how simply walking may be the best chemotheraputic agent around… and here to read my blog post about how being active is WAY MORE IMPORTANT then strenuous exercise from a cardiometabolic stance (read: healthier for your heart, metabolism, and diabetes risk.) Now we have a third reason to stand up and move about as often as possible: physical activity deepens sleep.
- depression — often a sign of early dementia, depression often manifests as insomnia
- napping — needing to nap during the day to catch up for poor quality sleep at night
- spending long amounts of time in bed awake — either struggling to fall asleep or during nighttime waking
But you KNOW I only post helpful, positive health news, and here is why this recent study definitely made it onto my blog:
Because here is a fantastic, wonderful thing we can PROACTIVELY DO to decrease our risk of developing Alzheimers: focus on sleep quality!
This is such great news for all of us who, like me, have a family history of Alzheimers and/or senile dementia.
There are lots and lots of things we can do to heal our fractured sleep and restore sleep quality to support our brains.
Here are my top 9 recommendations:
- Earthingâ„¢ — connecting to the earth has been shown in sleep studies to increase the amount of time we spend in deep sleep, as well as treat jet lag and other circadian rhythm disturbances. Find out more about earthing here.
- Melatonin — Melatonin is my constant friend. Taken 1 hour before bedtime, Melatonin allows my sleep to be deeper, less interrupted, and more restorative. I actually spend less time in bed and awake refreshed with Melatonin on board than without.
- Daily activity — simply getting up every single hour of the waking day and walking for a bit (instead of spending several hours in a row inactive) just might be the best gift you could ever give your body. Get a puppy if you need the motivation to get walking.
- Develop A Nightly Routine — turn off all the lights, make sure there are no computer screens or clock faces or nightlights lighting up the room while you sleep, and drink a soothing cup of warm milk, sleepytime tea, or take a hot bath to relax your body and transition into bed.
- Reduce Stress — high nighttime cortisol levels and constant stress (leading to adrenal fatigue) will sabotage anyone’s best sleep attempts. Seek help if you are in adrenal fatigue and make sure you are supporting your natural hormonal repair by including healthy fats (like whole fat yogurt, organic butter, organic eggs, coconut oil, fish oil) and consider a supplement like Ashwagandha at bedtime to decrease nighttime cortisol levels.
- Address Perimenopause — hormonal fluctuations and hot flashes can definitely interrupt your restorative sleep. Seek help if perimenopausalsymptoms are ruining your sleep, consider Maca Root supplementation to support hormone levels, or Black Cohosh to balance them out. Honor the energetic transition of menopause by understanding what this transition represents and make sure you give your body the space and down time itneeds to navigate the journey.
- Eat To Support Brain Function — Eating these fabbo brain boosting foods will make a difference to your brain’s health. In this blog post I review the very best brain boosting foods and what they can do for you.
- Counter Alzheimers Before It Develops — In this blog post I share the top three steps you can take right now to decrease your chance of developing Alzheimers…
- Support Your Brain’s Energy Flow — Understand the energetic dynamic of your brain and how to support long-term brain health through open-ended thinking. I’ve spent years as an intuitive physician developing a deeper appreciation for how to support our brain energetically — and explain it all to you in Part 1 right here and give you some solutions in Part 2 right here.
To your brain’s health and to a dementia free future…