Memory Issues, Dementia and Alzheimer’s Tied to Lack of Sleep

Memory loss, Dementia and Alzheimer's

One of the more frightening forms of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s a condition faced by more than 5.8 million Americans, and unlike some forms of dementia that can be cured, it’s currently permanent, degenerative and ultimately fatal.  It can accelerate over time from minor memory issues to full loss of mental and physical control to death.

Though a large amount of research continues to take place around this disease, there are still many mysteries about it, including causes of Alzheimer’s disease and who is most likely to contract it. No universal cure has been found, but science has found different ways to extend the time in which people stay in each stage.

Part of improving knowledge includes learning to recognize some of the signs of Alzheimer’s as well as identifying possible risk factors, including genetics and age. Several studies have concluded that a lack of sleep may lead to trouble with memory.

According to the National Institutes of Health, when we sleep fully, our brains remove a certain protein called beta-amyloid.

Research into the Alzheimer’s process shows that this particular protein creates plaque in the brain which prevents nutrients from reaching cells, causing them to die.

One study measured nutrient levels in 20 participants from age 22 to 72. Measurements were taken after a night of no sleep and a night of satisfying sleep. Higher levels of beta-amyloids were found after the period of no sleep, along with negative mood changes.

Another study measured sleep patterns and found that sleep disruption or sleep deprivation led to an increase in tau tangles in the brain which behave similar to beta-amyloids.Just because you’re not sleeping well doesn’t automatically mean you will have Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to dementia, poor sleep is also connected to poor long-term memory storage, a weaker immune system and increased risk of other serious health conditions.

Ideally, most medical experts suggest getting 7-8 hours a night on average. Some people need more, and some need less, but generally at least 4 hours are required for all full sleep cycle.

If you have problems falling asleep, waking up, or falling back to sleep when your sleep is interrupted, contact your primary care provider.  He or she can discuss if certain medications may be able to help or offer suggestions for changes in your diet or your environment. For instance, creating a cool, dark place for your sleep area is believed to help you sleep better and sleep longer, along with avoiding heavy foods or stimulating drinks near bedtime.

Overall, research into Alzheimer’s disease is slow but taking steps to improve one’s sleep can have benefits in the long run, including better memory.  

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