Sleep and Brain Health

We know that Alzheimer’s disrupts sleep. But the lack of sleep itself might encourage Alzheimer’s disease by allowing the buildup of amyloid-beta, which is thought to lead to the death of neurons. Sleep deprivation also affects the levels of melatonin which already have reduced levels as people age. Sleep deprivation also affects metabolism, an independent risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. One recent study found that the sleep-brain connection is so strong that people who suffer from sleep apnea have a 70 percent higher risk of contracting Alzheimer’s. So, if you are not sleeping well, what can you do?

Optimize Your Sleep Wake Cycle

1.Teach Your Body When It’s Time to Sleep

Our melatonin levels, which make it easier for us to sleep are driven by daylight and nighttime. The pineal gland, which secretes melatonin, is activated when it is dark.  Before the lightbulb, when darkness arrived, most people naturally slowed down their activity. Since the advent of electricity, lights, TVs, computers and phones, the brain is tricked into thinking it’s still daylight. So what is one to do?

2. Get Outside

Get as much sunlight during the daytime that you can. Open the curtains when you wake up. Go for a walk every day. Going to work? Make sure you have access to a window. If you don’t, take frequent breaks outside. If all else fails, use a lightbox during the day to get some sunlight.

3. Embrace The Dark

The other half of this is to have darkness at night. Close the blinds to shade yourself from street lights. Turn the lights down at home or off if possible. Use candlelight. If you have to look at a screen, wear glasses to block the blue spectrum light (amazon link here).

4. Make Your Bedroom a Place to Sleep

The bedroom is for sleep and sex only. If you have electronics in your bedroom, remove them. If they’re nonnegotiable, cover them with blue light blocking tape or fabric. A good eye mask can also go a long way to blocking out the light from electronics or otherwise. Have curtains/window coverings that block outside lighting.

We are also hard-wired to get sleepy when the temperature drops a few hours after sunset, so stimulate this by making your bedroom a little chilly. Around 65-67 degrees Fahrenheit is the best temperature for your deepest sleep.

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