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Lack of Sleep May Cause Alzheimer's

Jessica Gwinn
By Jessica GwinnSeptember 19, 2016

If you or your loved one suffers from sleep deprivation, the consequences can be far more serious than simple crankiness and fatigue. Studies show that lack of sleep may cause Alzheimer’s disease.

But even if you’re not getting the rest you need, don’t lose hope; you might just want to get a little more creative with how you’re going about it. Learn more about how to follow your natural sleep patterns to feel your best each night.

How a Lack of Sleep May Cause Alzheimer’s

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic. In fact, an estimated 50-70 million U.S. adults have sleep or wakefulness disorder which can affect daily functioning, such as driving, and overall mental health and long-term well-being.

In fact, we’re told that sleep is just as important as diet and exercise when it comes to living a healthy life. Lack of sleep has been linked to a myriad of health problems including:

  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Type II diabetes
  • Weight gain

More concerning, a new study indicates that lack of sleep may lead to Alzheimer’s. Led by Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., who co-directs the URMC’s Center for Translational Neuromedicine, the researchers discovered that a waste-draining system they call the “glymphatic system” is ten times more active during sleep than while awake. This nocturnal cleaning system removes proteins called amyloid-beta, which accumulate into the plaques that contribute to Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Nedergaard and her team coined the term “glymphatic system” last year, when they used new imaging technology known as two-photon microscopy to discover a scrubbing process taking place around brain cells, known as glial cells. The mechanism of this cleanup process is fascinating: Nedergaard and colleagues found that cerebrospinal fluid flows through the spaces between neurons, flushing proteins and other neural waste into the circulatory system and away.

So what if you’re not getting those eight hours? Are you destined to get Alzheimer’s? No, not necessarily — and don’t buy any sleep remedies just yet. You might just have leftover sleep patterns from your ancestors.

The Myth of the Need for 8 Uninterrupted Hours of Sleep

Before the advent of the lightbulb, we went to sleep when it got dark. Interestingly, heading to bed around 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. meant that we had about 12 whole hours of restful time, so it was natural for us to wake up in the middle of the night.

The eight uninterrupted hours of sleep is a modern notion that, unfortunately, causes many sleepers a great deal of concern. But we should learn to rethink the way we sleep.

What’s ultimately most important about sleep is the quality of it, not the quantity.

Our modern lives simply don’t let us get the rest we need. Laptops and smartphones naggingly chirp and glow at us all day long, ad nauseum. If we could truly unplug, we might find the peace of mind we need to get that rest.

But most of us don’t have that luxury. So what can we do to get the sleep we so desperately need? It may simply mean accepting that “waking up during the night is part of normal human physiology,” says sleep psychologist Gregg Jacobs.

Use Your Natural Sleep Patterns to Feel Your Best

Furthermore, in 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech University, in a paper drawing on 16 years of research, revealed “a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks” of time, the British News Service reported.

Ekirch published a book, “At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past,” in which he revealed more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern. Such references were gleaned from diaries, court records, literature and medical books.

The references were like those reported by Wehr’s subjects in that they describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk which were followed by waking periods of one to two hours, then a second block of sleep.

This knowledge is comforting for the many of us who, all too often, feel sleep-deprived. But there are other ways to get rest:

  1. If you cannot sleep eight continuous hours, then spread it out.
  2. Sleep in four hour chunks.
  3. Take naps.

The quality of the sleep you get is the most restorative, not the quantity of it. Do whatever it is that is most natural for you or your loved one.

Did you know a lack of sleep could cause Alzheimer’s? What will you do to get more rest this weekend? Share your tips with us in the comments below.

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Jessica Gwinn

Jessica Gwinn

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