How Sleep Helps Prevent Memory Loss
Sleep matters to your brain.
It was the beginning of the end for my laptop. Fifteen-minute lags for clicks that should have taken seconds, only to find that the desired file wouldn’t open, and I had deadlines.
My IT-guy husband looked at it and was appalled how many programs and internet windows I had opened. “No wonder it’s so slow! You can’t have so many things running at once! When did you last shut down your computer?”
I couldn’t remember.
Because my laptop rarely got a chance to cool down and rest from the constant influx of electrical transmissions, it suffered an untimely breakdown.
In much the same way, our brains become vulnerable to memory loss when our overloaded mental pathways hinder healthy signals.
Understanding the Brain
Our brains are designed with infinitely greater complexity than laptop motherboards, yet they too can malfunction when overloaded with excess “stuff” – just like a hoarder's impassable front hallway.
In post-mortem studies of people who succumbed to Alzheimer’s, two sticky toxic proteins are found in excess:
• Amyloid proteins, which form plaques and lesions, and
• Tau proteins, which form tangles that eventually prevent healthy signals from connecting throughout the brain.
Both of these toxic substances are also found in healthy brains in much smaller amounts. A healthy brain's glymphatic system regularly rids it of chemical waste, including these mind-robbing amyloid and Tau proteins, through a nightly flush of cerebrospinal fluid.
The Nighttime Maintenance Department
The success of any business can be halted or enhanced by the
diligence of its janitorial department. Working behind the scenes when everyone else has left for the day, this workforce is crucial to smooth operations.
In the same way, the glymphatic system’s janitorial work happens when the brain has clocked out and is asleep, and it works best when that sleep is uninterrupted for 7-9 hours.
Imagine if your building’s cleaning staff had to work around your team's sporadic shifts and random meeting times scattered irregularly through the day and night. Would your company be able to count on neat, sanitary working conditions?
This is precisely what happens to a brain that has no regular extended sleep habits. The glymphatic system, instead of spending the entire night cleaning out waste, gets limited to catnaps spread haphazardly through the day and night. Such short rest times provide slim chances of ridding the brain of toxic proteins successfully.
Sleep Saves the Day
Since so much is still unknown about Alzheimer’s and memory loss, prevention is vital. Much attention is paid to diet, exercise, and brain stimulation, and with good reason. Yet sleep, the invisible side of our lives, is easy to ignore – to disastrous consequences.
How to Improve Sleep
Although sleep is a broad topic that deserves much study on your own, here are a few ideas to get you started:
• Attempt to align your sleep and wake times with the natural rhythm of creation. Early morning sunlight falling on your skin and eyes (without glasses or contacts - only don't look at the sun directly) helps stimulate the natural production of melatonin, even though you don’t need that melatonin until nighttime.
• As much as possible, avail yourself to natural lighting, especially in the open air.
• As the sun goes down, try to limit exposure to artificial lights and flashing electronic screens. Allow your body to wind down with the natural signals that are designed to prepare you for sleep.
• When it’s dark, try to let it be dark. Even ambient lights from nightlights and streetlights can be detrimental to deep sleep so necessary for healthy brains.
The research on circadian rhythms and brain health is growing, and it’s in our best interest to learn how to prevent brain deterioration while we still can.
“Bad Sleep Increases Alzheimer's-Related Brain Proteins.” Medical News Today.
“Body Clock Disruptions May Be an Early Sign of Alzheimer's.” Medical News Today.
“Discovered: New Links Between Circadian Rhythm Disruption and Alzheimer's Disease.” Chronobiology.com
“Exploring The Spectrum - Dr. John Ott Documentary on the Health Effects of Light.”
“Sleep Disorders May Predict Alzheimer's Disease.” Medical News Today.