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New Developments in Alzheimer’s Care: Sleep Problems may be an Early Indicator

To improve Alzheimer’s care, scientists are constantly conducting research to identify the causes of Alzheimer’s disease and every day new insights are discovered. The Alzheimer’s Society of the UK recently released a study determining that sleep problems may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s. According to researchers, “Poor sleep may be a sign that people who are otherwise healthy may be more at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life compared to people who do not have those same problems.”

Healthy sleep patterns support a healthy brain that can avert dementia. 

Family history actually plays a factor in the need for Alzheimer’s care as we age.  Over one hundred people with an average age of 63 participated in the study. None of the participants had Alzheimer’s disease but were at risk for developing it. They either had a parent with the disease or carried the gene that makes them more susceptible to developing the disease. The participants were asked to complete a survey on their sleep quality. They also allowed researchers to take samples of their spinal fluid in order to test for bio-markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study showed that the people who had more sleep issues also had more bio-markers for Alzheimer’s disease in their spinal fluid than people who did not have sleep problems. Although the research is far from conclusive, it does provide one piece of evidence that will help scientists determine the factors that contribute to the disease.

Scientists acknowledge that while this study provides interesting findings, it requires more work. They will have to conduct more studies to determine if sleep quality is associated with Alzheimer’s risk or if people sleep poorly due to Alzheimer’s. One thing is certain: good sleep keeps the brain healthy and healthy brains can help to ward off Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

A good night’s sleep helps a healthy brain.

The National Sleep Foundation1 (NSF) recommends that you practice good sleep hygiene. Practicing good sleep hygiene requires the development of good habits so that you are more alert and fully awake during the day. Here are some beneficial habits to develop:

Power naps are best. Naps during the day should not be longer than 30 minutes. Naps of 20 minutes can improve your performance during the day and help to keep you more alert.

Don’t drink caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime – they will keep you awake. Alcohol may make you sleepy but as your body begins to process it, it may wake you up during the night. Nicotine is a stimulant as well. Quit smoking for your health. If you still smoke stop smoking before bedtime.

Exercise. The NSF says that ten minutes of aerobic exercise will help you sleep better. Don’t exercise right before bedtime, it will stimulate you more than relax you.
Don’t eat before going to bed. Foods that are difficult to digest or that cause heartburn should be avoided before bedtime. The list of foods that may cause indigestion is different for every individual, however, in general, you should not eat high fat, spicy or fried foods before you want to go to sleep. If you are hungry, eat something that will not take long to digest or drink something soothing that does not have caffeine.

Regular bedtime habits help. The better routine you have before bed, the more your body will recognize that it is time to slow down and get ready to sleep. Practice things that relax you. Turn off the TV and digital devices an hour before bed to let your brain slow down. Read a book, take a warm shower or bath.

Your bedroom environment is important. The room should be cool but not cold. A temperature between 60 and 67 degrees is best. LED screens should be darkened. If you live in a noisy neighborhood, consider using a fan or white noise machine in the bedroom to make it quieter.

Sleep contributes to a healthy brain that is strong enough to help fend off the onset of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. As researchers continue to decode Alzheimer’s, discover its causes and work toward a cure, we can all strive to take our long-term brain health into our own hands, keep our minds strong with good, healthy lifestyle practices and adequate sleep.

1: Sleep Foundation