In a day of quick fixes and easy explanations, sometimes it takes looking at several reputable sources to determine the validity of a health claim. Boy howdy, is Alzheimer’s and related dementias that way??? I am guessing each of you on the other end of cyberspace have been told/promised that if you just take vitamin supplement X or just exercise your body and mind through plan Y you will be either free of worry of having the condition or be cured of it if you do. It is both sickening and a blight on the medical system that snake oil so creeps into our lives merely for more website clicks or recognition.
What I plan to present here is the beginning of an ongoing series on “cures”, “causes” and “prevention” topics. I will do my best to find solid sources to show you in understandable words some of the claims and what actually science says about them. I am not in neuroscience professionally, as is painfully clear from my writing prowess and my sometimes challenging to accept premises, but I am slowly but surely starting to “get it” a tad better than I used to.
Sleep. Aye caramba, we need it, especially on a daylight savings time morning like this. It is 8pm CST and I already feel a smidge groggy. I know from experience that the lack of sleep causes me to have slower reaction times, make more questionable decisions, and make me generally less productive. But, what of the many claims that link sleep issues to dementia?
There are far too many studies that show negative consequences for the brain of having poor quality and/or not enough sleep for there to be no truth to the claims. There is far too much smoke, even in the easily combustible world of the internet for this not to have a spark of fire too. There seem to be valid cases for sleep issues causing both more beta-amyloid clumps (that seem to form plaque that may be a cause of Alzheimer’s and related dementia) and increased Tau protein (which seem to cause tau tangles which lead to brain damage and ultimately dementia). This double whammy really makes you appreciate the need for high-quality sleep, especially as you and your brain age.
Sleep seems to perform something of a washing effect on the brain, shielding it from these two always present but harmful in the wrong quantities substances.
Two analogies come to mind in a logical, simplistic way:
1. “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” from both the British sitcom I.T. Crowd and from my every-moment life in being an IT professional for many years. You would be surprised of the multitude of positive results of shutting down a computer, a router, a “Internet of Things” device and the like, then turning it back on again. I will spare you the wizardry behind it, but it has a way of resetting some important things, much like your brain can reset itself with enough sleep.
2. The children’s game Perfection. In this much-too-stressful-game for kids, the player must insert a bunch of small shapes into matching holes before the timer runs out and springs them into the air toward their corneas with a loud buzz. A future article will cover the harmful effect on the heart of games that shoot pieces at you.
So, your brain needs enough time to sort out the pieces, if you will, of what happened that day. Somehow memories are solidified partially through the serenity of sleep. Have too little sleep and your pieces are at risk of not finding their places enough. According to the research I looked at, it is still unknown how much of the harm would subside after a night of rest. Maybe it is cumulative, slow-but-sure, damage? Maybe the sockets get worn down from plugging round pegs in square holes too much, in a hurry for sleep before the timer goes off?
There is also a chicken/egg dilemma too. Could pre-dementia patents just sleep badly because of these two proteins? This could be although the NIH article I cited below states “To understand the possible link between beta-amyloid accumulation and sleep, the researchers used positron emission tomography (PET) to scan the brains of 20 healthy subjects, ranging in age from 22 to 72, after a night of rested sleep and after sleep deprivation (being awake for about 31 hours). They found beta-amyloid increases of about 5 percent after losing a night of sleep in brain regions including the thalamus and hippocampus, regions especially vulnerable to damage in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.” If the proteins cause bad sleep, it is at best part of a really cruddy spiral (a back of forth of cause and effect).
Summary for the three of you still reading: It is wise to sleep enough and for long periods when possible so that your brain can rest and solidify its memories. Amounts of needed sleep vary and are all over the map. Some don’t seem to depend on sleep as much as others. Perhaps their brain gets washed more efficiently? Generally, though, sleep as much as you can and without distractions. Put away your phone. Turn off the TV and the lights and let your brain rest and rejuvenate itself. It may help you fight off this cruddy disease as part of a bigger strategy that includes diet and exercise.
Anywho…mom had a solid day today. My stepdad and sister filled me in that she slept all night (!!) and was more energetic today than the last few. When she sleeps, especially at the right time and for the right duration, when she has her meds, when she poops, and when she eats and drinks, then things generally do decently. Strike out a variable and things get worse. Probably a life lesson for all of us. 🙂
No off to bed to sweep out some brain junk. 😉
Sources for study:
P.S. If you really want to lose sleep, note the few solid studies that suggest that oversleep causes similar issues. 🙁 Sleep the just right amount. 😉