Sleep: The Brain’s Protector
The Benefits of Sleep
The joys of sleep are hardly a recent discovery. Shakespeare’s Macbeth, suffering from a guilty conscience and fearing he will never be able to sleep again, rhapsodizes about the great gift of a good night’s sleep in a way that surely resonates with any insomniac or new parent:
The innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.
We all know what a good reboot sleep can be for us, giving us new energy, creativity, and emotional resilience. But recently, we’ve learned that in addition to all these benefits, sleep is critical for cognitive processing, general health, and longevity.
If you help care for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease, you won’t be surprised to learn that there is a high prevalence of sleep disturbance associated with Alzheimer’s. In addition, people without dementia who don’t get enough sleep are at a significantly higher risk for developing dementia.
Why Is Sleep-Deprivation Associated with Alzheimer’s Disease?
Our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease, though growing by the day, is still incomplete. However, there are several theories about why not sleeping enough can increase your risk for dementia.
First, we have learned that the brain contracts during deep sleep to rid itself of toxins, and then floods itself with cerebrospinal fluid to rinse and replenish itself. Sleep is thought to help clear the brain of the toxic build-up that can cause dementia.
Another theory is simply that your neurons are more active when you’re awake, and thus produce more of the amyloid plaques whose build-up is associated with Alzheimer’s.
Finally, the association might also be indirect. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll be less likely to engage in a brain-healthy lifestyle. For example, you’ll be less likely to feel like exercising or taking time to prepare a fresh, nutritious meal. The results of an unhealthy lifestyle, such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, are themselves strongly associated with dementia risk.
What Can You Do About It?
If your life is so busy that you’re simply not able to go to bed reasonably early, it might feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to prioritize your health. But consider the possibility that a well-rested you is a more efficient you. Sleep-deprived people spend lots of time spinning their wheels. The time you spend getting some extra sleep might pay for itself by helping you get things done faster.
What if you’re spending plenty of time in bed, but you’re tossing and turning? If you have insomnia, don’t discount the CDC’s sleep hygiene rules, like keeping a consistent sleep schedule even on weekends and avoiding screens before bedtime. They might seem like small changes, but together, they’re powerful.
Another important consideration is to check for sleep apnea, which can disrupt your sleep even though you get eight hours a night and don’t realize you’re waking up. Untreated sleep apnea stops you from staying in the deep sleep that’s so healthy for the brain. If your partner hears you stop breathing or gasp for breath, or if you are excessively sleepy in the daytime, talk to your doctor.
Most exciting of all, new clinical data shows that gamma frequency treatments can decrease the sleep fragmentation that Alzheimer’s patients suffer from. BEACON40® uses non-invasive light therapy to help the brain sustain its natural rhythm, which enhances the brain’s ability to clear away disruptive toxins. Gamma frequency neuro-modulation, such as that provided by Beacon40, has already been associated with a reduction of the toxic brain waste that disrupts cognitive processes. Now there’s evidence that it can also help the brain by supplying you with a good night’s sleep.