Up until now diet, exercise and mental stimulation have stood at the forefront of Alzheimer’s prevention or at least delay of onset. However, there is a new kid on the block – sleep. Apparently, research from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis claims that when mice are sleep deprived, there are more Alzheimer’s plaques deposited in their brains.
A neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s disrupts sleep; consequently, it might be important for patients to get enough sleep to reduce amyloid beta levels which form plaques. Senior author of this study, David M. Holtzman, M.D., explains, "The results also suggest that we may need to prioritize treating sleep disorders not only for their many acute effects but also for potential long-term impacts on brain health."
Holtzman reminds us that the risk of Alzheimer's increases with age, and at this time in a person’s life, the sleep/wake cycle starts to break down. For most people the older they get, the less sleep they get. New studies will also test the hypothesis that chronic sleep loss in young and middle-aged adults increases risk of Alzheimer's disease later in life.
Sleep is healing and restorative. In fact sleep deprivation has been implicated in more deadly car accidents than drunk driving. However, I’m not going to inform you of this new mouse study without some suggestions for improving sleep habits. Here’s what you can do tonight:
- Create a sleep ritual to help signal your body and mind to relax. This could be drinking a cup of herbal tea, stretching, taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music or reading a book which is not too exciting.
- Darken the bedroom and cool it down.
- Reset your natural rhythm by staying away from the computer or watching TV an hour or two before bedtime.
- Try this visualization. Lie in bed, close your eyes and breathe deeply – inhale 2 counts through the nose and exhale 4 counts through the nose. Imagine that you are visiting your favorite place - like a beach, mountain top, or a log cabin in the country. Use your 5 senses to imagine it. What sounds do you hear? What do you smell? In this happy place give yourself a serene message that you need to hear like “I am restored to serenity” or “I trust and let go.” Before you know it you will be asleep.
- Don’t go to bed hungry. Eat some multi-grain crackers, a banana or drink some low-fat milk. Avoid the night shade foods at dinner because they will keep you up. For example, do not eat: egg plant, spinach or tomatoes.
For more information on caregiving read my book, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout. To listen to archived radio shows with guest experts visit Turn On Your Inner Light Radio Show